Kick-Ass 2 is everything the first movie is not -- a braindead comic book film with nothing to offer other than gratuitous violence and shocking language, apparently for the sake of base amusement and little else. What made the first Kick-Ass great was that it asked what would motivate people to dress up in costumes and fight crime and then showed the consequences of that decision in humorous and unflinching fashion. There were different reasons for suiting up. Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) became Kick-Ass out of boredom, isolation and the naive belief that he could fight crime. Mindy Macready (Chloe Grace Moretz) and her father became Hit Girl and Big Daddy, respectively, to pursue vengeance.
And there were different consequences for their actions. Kick-Ass managed to take down a crime boss in spite of his limited ability to actually fight crime. Big Daddy lost his life in the same pursuit. Ostensibly, the sequel addresses the fallout of the emergence of real-life superheroes who fight villains. Dave has promised his father to put away his suit for good. Mindy, meanwhile, is trying to lead a normal life under the guardianship of Det. Marcus Williams (Morris Chestnut). Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who goes by Red Mist in the first film, is plotting his revenge after the death of his mafioso father.
In that effort, he recasts himself as The Motherfucker and assembles a team of baddies using the sizable fortune left to him as inheritance. This, in turn, draws Hit Girl and Kick-Ass back to crimefighting, though there are hints all along that neither really ever wants to be a normal citizen again. There's a half-heartedness to these developments even for a sequel, where the impetus, generally speaking, is to restore all the characters to their positions in the preceding film as quickly as possible.
It belies the laziness of director Jeff Wadlow and company, as if we'll be placated by a bunch of gore and Hit Girl's foul mouth and expect nothing else. And it resonates throughout the film. Moretz seems disinterested. Jim Carrey, entering the series as Col. Stars and Stripes, a vigilante that follows in Kick-Ass' footsteps, is no proxy for Nicolas Cage. John Leguizamo is in the film for ... some reason (as The Motherfucker's adviser). Most laughable of all is Mintz-Plasse's attempts to fill the shoes of Mark Strong as the primary villain. Even in a winky send-up, McLovin can't pull off the bad-guy role. All of these factors make Kick-Ass 2 lousy.
What transforms it in to one of the year's worst is the enormous missed opportunity. If the first film explored what makes people don a mask in the name of justice, then the second could have been an exploration of what keeps them from taking it off -- what a normal life means when you have a secret identity.
It's been done before in Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight, but for a universe so interested in the existential affairs of superheroes, it feels almost mandatory here. Some lip service is paid to those ideas in Kick-Ass 2, but it's muttered and half-formed, lending an extra layer of disappointment to a profoundly disconcerting film.