I really loved Kick-Ass, especially its tween psychopath/heroine Hit Girl and its subversive take on superhero culture. But Kick-Ass 2 was a slog to get through, both boring and inane, and in an unintentionally ironic turn, it glorifies precisely the kind of violence the first movie made so ugly and brutal. Well I suppose it was unintentionally ironic, simply because I cannot imagine someone missing the point of Kick-Ass so badly—it wasn’t exactly subtle. But writer/director Jeff Wadlow (Never Back Down) failed to see the burning car on the side of the road and drove Kick-Ass 2 directly into the flaming pile of shit before him.
Kick-Ass was directed by Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class) and co-written by Vaughn and Jane Goldman (X-Men: First Class, The Debt), and the sequel sorely missed them. Vaughn for his visual flair and sly sensibility and Goldman for both her smarts and her feminine touch—Hit Girl really needs a female voice behind her. Because Hit Girl, in the form of sweet-faced Chloe Grace Moretz, is an avatar for women fighting back against men—against patriarchal ideals, domination and violence. It sounds high-falutin’ but there is a reason the vast majority of her aggression in Kick-Ass is directed at men. Hit Girl is the ultimate power fantasy, an unstoppable force of revenge and retribution who happens to spend a lot of her time castrating men, emotionally and sometimes even physically.
But in Kick-Ass 2 Hit Girl spends most of her time out of her costume and in the guise of Mindy McCready, the orphaned child left in the care of her father’s former partner Marcus (Morris Chestnut). One of the few things Kick-Ass 2 does right is the relationship between Marcus and Mindy as he tries to give her the normal childhood that her father robbed her of in the first movie. The plot of Kick-Ass 2 is pretty simple: Mindy and Dave—aka Kick-Ass—are back in high school and trying to adapt to “normal” life. But Dave longs to go back to being Kick-Ass even as Mindy tries to settle into being a normal girl. So Dave ends up involved with a superhero ring as Mindy falls in with some cheerleaders.
It’s not a bad setup, especially as Hit Girl is meant to embody the exact opposite of the kind of normative, pink-princess experience the cheerleaders represent, but Wadlow handles that plotline with all the grace of a ravening murder beast. The cheerleaders are straight out of Mean Girls—the queen bee, Brooke (Claudia Lee, Hart of Dixie), is a Regina George parody—and Mindy’s revenge on them involves nothing more than dressing in an overly sexualized way, just like them, albeit in Hit Girl’s signature purple, and embarrassing them in the cafeteria.
As I watched this unfold with minimal interest, I wondered why Brooke and her cohorts couldn’t be nice, average girls who honestly accept Mindy. Why did they need to be villains? Hit Girl doesn’t need a nemesis—as a young girl trying to find her own voice and power, the entire world is her nemesis—but she does need friends. Why not give her friends? It would have been much more powerful—and on point—for Hit Girl to have a legitimate alternative and to choose her own path anyway, instead of being driven out of Normal Town by those catty bitches. After all, that’s the choice most women must make at some point—to take the easy, expected path or to forge ahead on the altogether rockier, harder road of defying expectations.
The handling of new superhero Night Bitch (Lindy Booth, Dawn of the Dead) is similarly disappointing. She’s Dave/Kick-Ass’s predictable love interest, wears a predictably revealing outfit, and her major plot point is that she gets raped by supervillain the Motherfucker (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who really deserves better). It happens off screen though the implication is clear—and we later see her in the hospital—but the scene isn’t subversive or making any kind of comment on male/female power dynamics or sexual politics. No, it’s played for laughs. The setup is that he’s going to rape her; the punchline is that he can’t get it up.
Night Bitch is already fetishized, and now she’s victimized, and her rape happens only to provide a cheap laugh. And worse, he only manages to attack her after she taunts him, opening the door to “she asked for it” and “mouthy bitches need to be taught” interpretations. Wadlow probably didn’t mean that, but it’s that lack of consideration that hobbles Kick-Ass 2. There are ways to incorporate a rape subplot into a world that includes Hit Girl, but using it for a bad impotence joke is the worst possible option.
And that was pretty much Kick-Ass 2 across the board: the worst possible option. At every turn Wadlow chose to glorify the violence that the first Kick-Ass de-glamorized, and worse, he cut Hit Girl off at the knees, turning her from a fem-rage-fueled crusader into a passive doll, shaped and defined by everyone around her. The only nice thing I can say about Kick-Ass 2 is that the score by Henry Jackman (Wreck-It Ralph) and Matthew Margeson (Skyline) was pretty cool. Other than that—gross.