Kick-Ass 2: Film Review

Sequel offers exactly the blend of R-rated nastiness and candy-colored action fans expect.

Hit Girl is an equal co-star in the follow-up to 2010's hit about teen crimefighters.

Real-world(ish) teen crime fighters are back in Kick-Ass 2, a sequel that responds to controversy by doubling down on both the violence and the unexpected streak of nastiness that troubled some viewers the first time around. Batons are passed -- from director Matthew Vaughn to newcomer Jeff Wadlow; from Nicolas Cage to this episode's marquee-worthy ringer Jim Carrey -- for an outing in which first-film scene-stealer Chloe Grace Moretz is as much a protagonist as the titular hero played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. The film delivers almost exactly what fans of the first installment are hoping for, and should perform accordingly at the box office.

Whereas Kick-Ass was aligned to the teen male perspective both in its comic book narrative -- in which Taylor-Johnson's Dave, despite being an ordinary kid, decided to dress up and fight crime -- and in its occasional nods to horny high school comedy, this one lets the young man retain voice-over privileges while spreading the narrative identification around. Here, Moretz's character is not just the focus of action sequences -- her "Hit Girl" alter ego, you'll recall, was trained for combat from childhood -- but of school-hallway dramas that offer a nice balance with Dave's girl troubles.

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Forced to socialize with the most popular clique in school by her guardian Marcus (Morris Chestnut) -- and realizing, after a visceral encounter with boy-band music videos, that being a normal girl might fulfill her in ways her samurai swords and nunchucks can't -- Moretz's Mindy Macready enters a familiar teen-pic template: She's introduced to the privileges of popularity only to be humiliated by mean girls bent on protecting their turf.

This storyline eventually reaches a satisfying (if cartoonish) conclusion, but its main effect is to make Mindy a civilian long enough for Dave's costumed alter ego to enjoy some heroic action that isn't upstaged by Hit Girl. After the first film's events, dozens of other normal folks have been inspired to adopt crime-fighting personae; Kick-Ass teams with some of them under the moniker Justice Forever. The only combat-ready member of the team is Colonel Stars and Stripes (Carrey), an ex-mob enforcer who knows where villains congregate and has the nerve to take them on.

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Carrey, under some jawline-enhancing prosthetics, plays the part with enough righteous zeal to arouse suspicion. As he leads the team to take down kingpins of gambling and prostitution, might he be clearing the underworld field for his own return to crime? Either way, a new villain is busy empire-building: Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the spoiled rich kid who spent the last film trying to be a hero, has rechristened himself "The Motherf---er" and hired all the thugs he can find in order to destroy Kick-Ass and those he cares about. As his name suggests, this creep's agenda is not PG-rated: In one scene, he rapes someone close to Kick-Ass, an event made more disturbing by the laughs the script hopes to get from it.

In that scene and elsewhere, the film's tone comes close to implosion. Central to the franchise's appeal is its insistence that real people are doing these things -- that, as the dialogue twice insists, "this is not a comic book." The first film cheated that premise by making Hit Girl capable of impossibly choreographed mayhem; this one goes further on that front, and on others as well. The indulgences may not bother the geek contingent, but they make it harder to distinguish Kick-Ass from the polished, name-brand superhero flicks it seemed to offer us respite from.

Production Companies: Universal Pictures, Marv Films

Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloe Grace Moretz, Clark Duke, Morris Chestnut, Donald Faison, John Leguizamo, Jim Carrey

Director-Screenwriter: Jeff Wadlow

Producers: Matthew Vaughn, Adam Bohling, Tarquin Pack, David Reid

Executive producers: Mark Millar, John S. Romita Jr., Stephen Marks, Claudia Vaughn, Pierre Lagrange, Trevor Duke Moretz

Director of photography: Tim Maurice Jones

Production designer: Russel De Rozario

Music: Henry Jackman, Matthew Margeson

Costume designer: Sammy Sheldon Differ

Editor: Eddie Hamilton

Rated R, 102 minutes