Mon
Aug 19 2013 5:00pm

Kick-Ass 2 Doesn’t Have a Conscience (and What That Says About America...)

Kick-Ass 2

In the first 45 minutes of Kick-Ass 2, Mindy Macready—AKA Hit-Girl—(Chloë Grace Moretz) is embroiled in a cartoonish, Mean Girls-style sleepover. The teenage Queen Bee forces Mindy to do “girly things” which includes watching a fictional music video from a fictional boy band, “Union J.” But wait, is Hit-Girl really getting hot and bothered by this? Is this a joke?

The original Kick-Ass film, and its source material in the Mark Millar comics, are seemingly all about appropriating violence, sexism, racism, and general mindlessness with the intent of taking down that mindlessness in front of the audience. The heroes Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl and their friends are here to kick the ass of ignorance, right? But, after seeing Kick-Ass 2, I’m not sure anymore—and I’m worried this whole Kick-Ass thing might not have a conscience after all.

Like the first movie, this film’s appropriation of offensive tropes mixed with the depiction of those tropes makes for a confused, and confusing, tone. And while he’s great as Col. Stars & Stripes, Jim Carrey infamously withdrew public support for Kick-Ass 2 following the Sandy Hook massacre. Should everyone else feel the same way? Or, as its defenders (including Moretz) have pointed out, maybe the film is totally meditating on all the negative consequences of violence and vigilantism, so everyone should chill out?

Jim Carey Kick-Ass 2 Col. Stars and Stripes

To put it another way: if Kick-Ass has a conscience, then it is a story that fights real violence with fake violence, because all of this violence stuff is “smarter” than you might think. When Charlie Chaplin appeared as a Hitler-like character in The Great Dictator, he was making fun of how terrible Hitler was—and a thoughtful fan of Kick-Ass 2 would likely say this is a movie that mocks our violent American tendencies by depicting those tendencies in a similarly ridiculous and sometimes frightening way. And about 45% of the time while watching Kick-Ass 2, I would agree with that hypothetical fan I just created (and her awesome Chaplin reference!)

But the rest of the time, I was just confused. To an inexperienced teenager, or a particularly thoughtless adult, Kick-Ass 2—like Kick Ass Uno—is just violence porn. It’s impossible not to invoke Tarantino here, because with all the blood-spurting and limb-hacking, we’re bound to think this is being done as an homage to something. But what is Kick-Ass 2 paying homage to, other than violence in comic books? And isn’t that weird, since it is, actually, an extremely violent comic book? Monty Python had pointless (and hilarious) blood-spurting long before Tarantino or Kick-Ass existed. So what gives? Is this art, or what?

Kick-Ass 2 character poster

Sadly, as much as I might have sometimes enjoyed Kick-Ass 2 on a gut level, the answer is no. This ain’t art. In a telling scene, Chris D’Amico AKA “The Mother Fucker” (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is going over names for his new super villain gang with his buddy Javier (John Leguizamo). For each new henchperson, The Mother Fucker keeps coming up with dumb monikers like “Mother Russia” for the Russian, and “Genghis Carnage” for someone from Asia. Javier tells Chris/The Mother Fucker to cool it with the racist stereotypes, to which The Mother Fucker retorts: “Not stereotypes! Archetypes!” While this line is meant to be funny, as it's uttered by the delusional teenage bad guy of the film, it sums up exactly what’s troubling about Kick-Ass 2. The movie doesn’t seem to know the difference between those two things, but decides to just depict all of this stuff together anyway.

Kick-Ass 2 Lindy Booth Night-Bitch

This holds true for sexism, as well. While this film version leaves out the totally deranged gang-rape scene from the comic book, the vigilante Night-Bitch (played by Lindy Booth, and not the same character from the comic) still gets assaulted, and nearly raped. (And it’s at least implied she might have been, anyway). Night-Bitch is not a bad character, per se, in this film, but there are all kinds of problems when you consider she’s the pseudo-love interest for Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).

And when I say “pseudo,” I mean Half-Ass, because these two really only have sex when in costume, as their superhero alter egos. While I don’t have a problem with this decision in itself, Night-Bitch (her real name in the movie is Miranda) doesn’t have any actual agency in the movie whatsoever, beyond the fact that she started doing the superhero thing to avenge her sister’s murder. Too bad we don’t get to see any of that, because, mostly, Night-Bitch is relegated to the roles of kissing Kick-Ass, then getting beat-up, and later, assaulted.

Hit Girl Kick-Ass 2 Mindy Chloe Moretz

Now, we live in a sexist world, and the depiction of this kind of violence, when done properly, can arguably help to combat it. But, Kick-Ass 2 makes those problems even worse by way it handles Hit-Girl and her war with the Mean Girls. At some point, Mindy comes to school all dolled up and delivers a speech in which she says “it doesn’t matter if I dress like you or not.” Well. It does. We didn’t need Hit-Girl to become Hot-Girl. Mindy isn’t less “sexy” just because she’s a tomboy. Having her dress “sexy” and show everyone up oddly makes the movie play out like a dumber version of Clueless. (Clueless, by the way, is a movie that actually does successfully appropriate negative stereotypes by turning them on their heads.)

So, here’s the weird thing about Kick-Ass 2: while managing to be pretty offensive, it's trying really hard not to be. It really, really wants you to think all of this terrible stuff can be overcome through the belief that we can be real heroes in the real world. Honestly, that’s a nice thought, and one I can’t fault the movie for kinda trying to make. And this is where I find the film to be oddly emblematic of where America is right now in terms of dealing with social problems, particularly sexism, racism, and violence. We are really, really are ashamed of ourselves, and we really wish our country wasn’t like this. But, hey! We’re Americans and we want to be entertained! So why can’t we have a movie like Kick-Ass 2 that lets us pretend to attack our shameful shortcomings by exploiting those very same shortcomings? We all get the message, right? So it’s okay?

Kick-Ass 2

Well, I would like to see that movie, I think, if it were actually successful. But unfortunately when I start checking off the boxes, Kick-Ass 2 is just a little too racist, a little too violent, and way too sexist to pay off as a convincing attempt to subvert these problems. Because the real deal with effective subversion is actually adding something new into the mix. And since I like the characters of Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl, and all their buddies enough, I’m willing to believe that they might still be able to do just that.

Next time.


Ryan Britt is a former staff writer and longtime contributor to Tor.com. His science fiction criticism has appeared here, as well as Clarkesworld Magazine, The Awl, The Mindhut, and is forthcoming in Omni Rebooted. He lives in New York City where he teaches at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop. His robot duplicate is on Twitter.

21 comments
Katharine Duckett
2. Katharine
@1 Comment unpublished. Please make your point while respecting the author of the article, and refer to our moderation policy for our commenting guidelines. Disagree with an idea, not a person. Thanks!
olethros
3. olethros
Yeah, the source material, at least, isn't interested in any high-minded meta commentary. It's just Millar's idea of fun.
olethros
4. Wodan
Some thoughts... Overall I think the review has some interesting points, but it really is trying to hard to be critical of the film. (Ironic, since the review's stance is that the film is trying too hard too.)

What makes for a good sequel? Taking the characters we know and love, putting them into new situations, and having some (gasp) character development. But somehow there's fault in that? While the conclusion is that it'd be nice for Kick-Ass 2 to be "actually adding something new into the mix," the review finds fault with the parts of the film that were new. So I'm not really sure what it's saying here, except perhaps that the new bits were over the top. Which is okay, though we must admit it's a completely subjective evaluation.

Personally I didn't go to see it with a predisposition to jump on the Jim Carrey bandwagon; not that the review did either, but nevertheless that's where it ended up. If anything, knowing in advance that the film was violent, used racial stereotypes, etc. allowed me to overlook them and focus more on the plot, new elements, character development, and
enjoyable dialogue.

If this were Kick-Ass 1 that would be completely backwards and we would be right to be critical... there would be no established characters to develop, so the "new situations" would have fallen completely flat, and so on. As it is, a sequel, I find myself having enjoyed it quite a bit seeing it. And, thanks to this review, I am looking back with a critical eye and finding that it was even a better film than I thought walking out of the theatre. I'm eager to go see it a second time.
(continued)
olethros
5. Wodan
Both Hit-Girl and Kick-Ass go through crises of conscience, along with the conflict of believing their parent (father, and father-figure in Hit-Girl's case) knows best and has good advice, yet not being really where they feel led in their own life.

Yeah, every teenager in the history of time goes through that too.

And, every teenager in history came up with the exact same answer (basically "I respect you Dad but I'm going to do it my way anyway.") But what's interesting is how Hit-Girl and Kick-Ass get there, both in different ways, yet ending up in the same place. And how Mother-F'er chooses, also. It's the evolution and affirmation of self-identity, experimenting and checking out other life choices, before deciding what they really believe in.

Kick-Ass 1 was a morality story, about standing up for what's right. Kick-Ass 2 is about three young people growing up and making critical life choices, even knowing the possible consequences (the characters in KA1, like most kids, thought they were immortal... ever see a 10 yr old go snow skiing and you know what I mean). It's particularly interesting that the review points out how confusing the film might be to "an inexperienced teenager," since that's exactly the audience that will resonate most with the existential parts of KA2.
(continued)
olethros
6. Wodan
On "violence porn." Okay, let's get this over with. Having a violent film does not imply gratuitous violence, nor does it imply some allusion to previous works with some subliminal point or homage being made. Tarantino aside, action movies tend to have action in them. Gore doesn't bother people the way it used to. Is that the densensitization of the modern world, or simply that people have their blinders off?

In any event, I myself don't feel we need to ascribe some hidden reason to having intense action films, any more than we need to lambast an amusement park for having more thrilling roller coasters than the rickety wooden things of yesteryear.

All that said, is the violence in KA2 gratuitous or is it really enhancing some plot device, the atmosphere of them film, or some other theatrical purpose?

Reminds me of the "gratuitous" (according to critical reviews, anyway)
underwear scene of STAR TREK: Into Darkness. When I saw it, I didn't even think twice. Furthermore, when I read about J.J. Abrams' "fair is fair" response, that made sense. So, it didn't bother me going in to see STID, and upon reading reviews it didn't bother me then either.

The same is true here. KA2 is violent. Over the top or out of place? I don't think so.

Yeah, KA2 presents an overall internally-consistent universe which works as a whole. Take parts of it away and it's likely the whole will fall apart like a game of Jenga. Might as well make Mean Girls.
(continued)
olethros
7. Wodan
On "Like the first movie...." I think that qualifies as "baggage." Right or wrong, when going forward with something, it's fair to voice disagreement with choices that were made. Once voiced, and knowing that it's a subjective valuation, continuing to voice disagreement is just sour apples. Don't like fish the first time having seafood? Well, not liking it the second time is becoming less of a criticism of the fishy taste and more about personal preference.

ps misspelling "desensitization". Also, no hard feelings, Ryan! Your review caused discussion and honest debate, which is a Good Thing.
Mike Marino
8. MinkyUrungus
I really wish Wodan's piece was published to the site.

For a change of pace, at least.
olethros
9. lugucho
I just really want to ask: Did anyone who read the comic actually expected a less violent, over the top movie? Because the comic is one of the most violent things I've ever read, and I don't see anyone complaining for its depiction of violence and sexual abuse. As far as I am concerned, Kick Ass 3 (the comic) is currently in print, so I am assuming none has complained enough as to put some kind of pressure on the comic book or Millar.

I'm not from the US, so I am not really well informed about the national debate on fire arms and violence on teenagers. I do know it's a serious issue. However, I grew up playing Mortal Kombat (like when I was 9 or 10) and RE games, and when I was a kid I watched Terminator 2 and Aliens and it seems to me it NEVER crossed my mind to cut somebody's head off, or pull out his or her heart.

I agree that those movies' violence is not as strongly developed as the one on KA2 or even 1, but then, how about the violence on Reservoir Dogs when the cop is tied up in a chair and White or Black (can't remember) is dancing and cutting the guy's ear off? How about the amount of blood and guts on Kill Bill? Or the fact that the bride killed a mother in front of the little girl's eyes? How come I never see anyone protesting on The Human Centipede or A Serbian Film, but in fact I see people claiming those movies shouldn't be censored in the first place? How come, in literature, I read people like Daniel Ray Pollock on The Devil All The Time or Frank Bill on Donnybrook and see nobody complaining on the themes those authors propose?

Tarantino has said that violence is a form of art (or something like it). It could be argue that it is even when you see a Pollock painting. That been said, this movie is rated R, so, why would a half-brain dead teeneger be allowed to watch it on the first place?

I guess that I what I want to say that it seems to me society chooses certain battles that are COOL just because its COOL to think you are involved in a community, that you have a stand on something. It has happened with Ender's Game and now with KA2. But it seems to me that society, as a whole, its growing everyday to be a lot more sanctimony (sp?) and hypocritical. Why this movie, and not everything else I mentioned?

Anyway, don't flame me. I'm not an American, so I really wouldn't know just how heavy and current the fire arms debate is. I am seeing this movie when it comes to my country, for the fun of it, because one thing is a movie an another thing is real life.

I hope I haven't disrespect anybody. Cheers!
John Adams
11. JohnArkansawyer
Gore doesn't bother people the way it used to. Is that the densensitization of the modern world, or simply that people have their blinders off?
It's neither desensitization nor enlightenment, but longing and desire.
olethros
12. Colin R
Mark Millar is a total cynic without a conscience, so it sounds like the film is probably true to the source material. If there is a common thread to his work, it seems to be contempt for his audience, and the belief that they all secretly desire sexism, racism, and sadism, so that's what he gives them. He seems to sell enough comics that people want to make movies out of them, so I guess he's figured something out.
olethros
13. Ragnarredbeard
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a movie isn't supposed to have a message. Just sit back and watch the movie.
Thomas Thatcher
14. StrongDreams
It's an interesting article, and I must confess I have not seen either movie and don't intend to. But the article strikes me because...

I just watched a bit of Tim Burton's Batman last night, and I noticed that the Joker kills maybe a hundred people with virtually no consequences, no mourning, no notice at all. First, the mass poisoning via cosmetics, then gassing all the occupants of the art museum. We see them lying on the floor (or face in the spaghetti, ha ha) and that's it. Even the Joker shows more interest in Vale's photos of the Corto Maltese revolution than in the bodies he created. And this is followed up by a bunch of the Joker's henchmen, in highly distinctive purple and green cars, chasing the Batmobile while the police are at best ineffectual, or at worst also focused on Batman, who might have killed one person (Napier) instead of Joker who has provably killed dozens or hundreds. (And preceeded by the Joker and his henchman gunning down a dozen mobsters and at least two uniformed cops. Seriously, where was the GPD when Bob sent a dozen sedans to get repainted and no one noticed?)

So I'm thinking about that in light of the Boston Marathon bombing, and imagining all the funerals for all Joker's victims, and the police requesting people to remain indoors, the chaos that would have ocurred in a large city had the Joker really done all those things.

Which brings me back to Kick-Ass and Kick-Ass 2. Batman is practically a kids movie yet it probably has a higher body count. It's just not personal. Maybe the point is not ultra violence, but consenquences. Do the kids understand the violence they are perpetrating, are they scarred by it, or how do they react/learn/grow? Not having seen the movie, I can't answer. But at least on principle, I don't object to a movie showing kids committing violence if there are consequences.
olethros
15. Colin R
If the makers of Kick-Ass could have made a violent movie that was good as even the least of Quentin Tarantino's offerings, maybe we'd have something to talk about. But no, Kick-Ass is basically just an insult to its audience. It acknowledges a certain amount of wish-fulfillment involved in a superhero story, then mocks its unloveable and unadmirable hero (and by proxy, the audience) for having these wishes.
olethros
16. jencat
I can't believe I'm actually saying this, but... the boyband you mention in the first paragraph are actually real rather than fictional. Not that it matters, but it's just product placement really rather than anything significant.

Union J are one of the multitude of inane and interchangable groups Simon Cowell spawns via the X Factor show in the UK every year They all get to number one in the charts frequently. Pity us.
olethros
17. jono123
It's fiction. Life is full of violence. Get over it!
Chuk Goodin
18. Chuk
@16; damn, I was hoping that "Union J" were just a really accurate parody. I have One Direction loving daughters and thought the band in the movie was an attempt at a joke.

(The violence was if anything less than in the comics, and I'm not sure how much of it was supposed to be commentary and how much was just for cool action shots. I liked the first one, liked the comics, took my son to the movie and we both had a good time without necessarily thinking it was a good movie.)
olethros
19. DYA
I'm happy to confirm that Union J are not fictional, and their new single, "Beautiful Life", is now in media preview. It will be available for download shortly, and will also feature prominently in their upcoming "Magazines and TV Screens" tour.

Oh, and unlike some other boy-bands, every member of Union J can sing.
olethros
20. Splicer
There is an interesting and underlying message that I get out of the this film. It's about our lives online. It's interesting that the "true selves" of all the characters can only be expressed when they are anonymous and costumed -- sort of like the bravery you see online when people are called Splicer (who is usually NOT a nice person). They say or do what they feel they have to do with few restrictions, unlike real life where there are personal consequences.

Just my two cents.
olethros
24. Buster Casey
The whole night-b issue is somewhat of a non-issue when you consider her character is somewhat of a non-charatcer in the comic, infact outside of being there in a MORE racey outfit in the comic she's completely non existent/fodder for the slaughter(Kick-ass 3 gets messy). I'm okay with Kick-ass's lack of conscience because it's not even Amercian made, it's a scottish man who originally wrote it and was film in Canda.
olethros
25. Ashley J
"watching a fictional music video from a fictional boy band, “Union J.”"

Union J aren't a fictional boyband. -_-

They were on the UK X-Factor and have had 2 top 10 hits in the UK. Please do research before writing an article.

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