4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

“I used to hang out with a lot of losers” — Kick-Ass 2

Both the comic book and the movie Kick-Ass were successes, so each got a sequel. Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. did a more open-ended sequel to the original miniseries, which lasted seven issues, and followed it with a bridge between the two series, Hit Girl, which focused on the breakout character from the comic.

Matthew Vaughn returned to produce a sequel film based on those two new miniseries, tapping Jeff Wadlow to write and direct.

Most, thought not all, of the cast returned, most notably Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the title role and the magnificent Chloë Grace Moretz as Hit Girl. Clark Duke returns as Marty (now a superhero also, Battle Guy), Christopher Mintz-Plasse reprises his role as Chris D’Amico (who is now the super-villain the Motherfucker), as does Garrett M. Brown in the expanded role of Kick-Ass’s father. Also back in smaller roles are Lyndsy Fonseca, who’s in all of two scenes as Katie Deauxma (she’s on screen just long enough to break up with Kick-Ass), Sophie Wu as Erika Cho, and Yancy Butler as the widow D’Amico.

Two other roles were re-cast. Morris Chestnut replaced Omari Hardwick as Marcus Williams, and the movie was also one Quicksilver down, as Augustus Prew replaced Evan Peters as Todd, who also puts on a costume, serving as both a hero and a villain as the Ass-Kicker. In addition, Jim Carrey, Lindy Booth, Donald Faison, Steven Mackintosh, Monica Dolan, and Robert Emms play the other members of Justice Forever, while Olga Kurkulina, Tom Wu, Daniel Kaluuya, and Andy Nyman play the core members of the Motherfucker’s villain team, the Toxic Mega-Cunts. Claudia Lee warms up for her role as a mean girl in The Outcasts by playing the mean girl Brooke here, and John Leguizamo plays Javier, the Motherfucker’s bodyguard/aide.

The movie was the subject of some controversy when Carrey refused to do any publicity for the film. Between when Carrey’s role finished filming and the movie’s release, the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre happened, and Carrey found himself unwilling to support a movie that contained that much violence. Carrey’s presence in the cast was meant to be a selling point of the movie, especially with Nicolas Cage not available for the sequel (Big Daddy being dead and all), so this proved problematic for the film’s producers.

The sequel disappointed at the box office, so plans for a third film never came to fruition, though Vaughn has made noise about rebooting the franchise.

 

“If I was even thinking about a Kick-Ass sequel, I’d have to get serious”

Kick-Ass 2
Written and directed by Jeff Wadlow
Produced by Matthew Vaughn and Adam Bohling and Tarquin Pack and David Reid
Original release date: August 14, 2013

Dave Lizewski is bored. Since he stopped being Kick-Ass, he’s returned to the life of a normal teenager, and found it wanting—especially since dozens of new superheroes have popped up all over New York, inspired by Kick-Ass’s example.

Mindy Macready is pretending to go to school every day—and has hacked the school computer to show her having perfect attendance—and going out to train and patrol and fight as Hit Girl. Eventually, Lizewski goes to her asking to be her partner. He wants to be Kick-Ass again, and he thinks she would want someone watching her back like Big Daddy did. She agrees, and trains him.

Chris D’Amico wants vengeance on Kick-Ass. He argues with his mother—who insists that D’Amico’s father died in a fire, not from a bazooka fired by a superhero. D’Amico angrily kicks her tanning bed while she’s in it, causing a short circuit that kills her.

Having inherited the family fortune—as well as both his father’s pistols and his mother’s BDSM gear—and Javier, the bodyguard his mother hired, D’Amico transforms himself into the super-villain the Motherfucker, intending to take revenge on Kick-Ass. He hires an MMA fighter to train him, but that takes too long, and involves too much violence, so he just hires the MMA fighter to be part of his team of villains, the Toxic Mega-Cunts. Javier hires some more muscle, and the Motherfucker dresses them up: Black Death, the Tumor, Mother Russia, and Genghis Carnage. (Javier’s protests that the names are either racist, repetitive, or both fall on deaf ears.)

Macready’s adoptive father, Big Daddy’s ex-partner Marcus Williams, finds out she’s been going out at Hit Girl, and expressly forbids her from continuing, reminding her that Big Daddy’s dying wish was that Williams take care of her. Macready agrees and retires from being Hit Girl, focusing on trying to be a normal fifteen-year-old. To that end, she befriends one of the popular girls, Brooke, which results in a certain amount of culture shock.

Having lost Hit Girl as a partner, Kick-Ass seeks out other heroes. First he teams up with Dr. Gravity, who claims to be a physics professor with a high-tech baseball bat that can levitate up to ninety pounds. In fact, he’s an ad copy writer with a regular baseball bat covered in tin foil, but he just wants to do some good in the world. When someone wants to beat up Kick-Ass in order to get hits on his YouTube channel, it’s having Dr. Gravity around that enables Kick-Ass to come out ahead in the fight.

The two of them are then invited to join Justice Forever, led by Colonel Stars and Stripes, a born-again Christian with a nasty German Shepherd named Eisenhower and a baseball bat covered in the American flag. The team also includes Battle Guy (who turns out to be Kick-Ass’s friend Marty), Insect Man (a gay man who doesn’t wear a mask, who is in it to defend against discrimination), Night Bitch (who wants vengeance for her sister’s death), and a married couple who go by Tommy’s Mom and Tommy’s Dad (who became heroes after their son went missing).

Justice Forever’s first mission has them breaking up a white slavery ring, busting up the perps’ poker game and giving their winnings to the women they’ve kidnapped as they put them in a battered women shelter. Kick-Ass and Night Bitch start hooking up, though they always keep the masks on when they have their quickies.

Lizewski and Marty’s friend Todd also becomes a superhero, but his costume is just a negative image of Kick-Ass, and all the names he tries are variations on Kick-Ass. Frustrated, he leaves.

The Motherfucker has thousands of followers on Twitter. He robs a bodega in order for the security footage to go viral, but is stymied by the bodega not actually having a security camera. He nonetheless shoots the place up.

Macready tries out for dance club and amazes everyone with a routine based on how she’d fight four guys at once. Brooke is livid at being shown up, and sets up a false date with a boy for her so she can embarrass her at it. Macready retaliates by taking a device from DARPA that Big Daddy got his hands on a while back that causes uncontrollable nausea and diarrhea, and using it on Brooke and her friends in the cafeteria. This gets her suspended and grounded.

D’Amico is summoned to visit his uncle in prison, who isn’t happy with the boy hiring so much valuable muscle for his gaggle of super-villains. To accentuate the point, the uncle orders Javier killed—but this has the reverse effect, making the Motherfucker more determined to be evil.

The Toxic Mega-Cunts invade Justice Forever’s lair, surprising Colonel Stars and Stripes, who is killed by Mother Russia. They track Night Bitch down through social media and put her in the hospital—the Motherfucker wants to also rape her, but he can’t get it up. When the cops arrive, Mother Russia kills all of them.

This prompts a major response from NYPD, who were willing to look the other way when costumed heroes were helping folks, but now that cops are being killed, they arrest anyone in a costume.

When they come for Lizewski, having traced his IP address, his father claims to be Kick-Ass and allows himself to get arrested. Lizewski is devastated.

The Motherfucker invites more villains to join the Toxic Mega-Cunts, offering them lots of money. They gather at a warehouse in Brooklyn. The Motherfucker knows that the old man they arrested isn’t really Kick-Ass. Todd has joined the Mega-Cunts, and accidentally reveals that the person who was arrested is Kick-Ass’s Dad, at which point the Motherfucker realizes that Lizewski is Kick-Ass. He has the elder Lizewski killed in prison.

At the funeral, which is attended by the majority of the superhero population (including Hit Girl), the Mega-Cunts attack and kidnap Kick-Ass. Hit Girl manages to stow away on the van and takes care of everyone in the van, except for the Tumor, whom she takes hostage and threatens to make eat his dick if he doesn’t reveal where the Motherfucker’s HQ is.

Kick-Ass and Hit Girl put the word out to all the superheroes they know, and they invade the Mega-Cunts’ HQ. Todd, realizing he’s done wrong, switches sides and helps the heroes. Hit Girl takes down Mother Russia after a prolonged fight, while Kick-Ass and the Motherfucker’s fight takes them to the roof. The Motherfucker plunges through the skylight; Kick-Ass tries to save him, but the Motherfucker lets go. Halfway down, he realizes that he doesn’t want to die, and is relieved when he falls into the shark tank and survives. Then he remembers that he’s in a shark tank…

The remains of Justice Forever realize that they need to stop being costumed heroes, though they do continue to help people as civilians. Hit Girl leaves town, as she’s wanted for murder. She bequeaths her and Big Daddy’s secret HQ to Lizewski, who keeps training and gets himself some better equipment so he can be a better Kick-Ass.

In a post-credits hospital scene, we see that the Motherfucker survived the shark tank, but no longer has hands, feet, or a penis.

 

“We are the Toxic Mega-Cunts!”

I know it’s popular to shit on this movie as an unworthy sequel, but honestly, I enjoyed this one a lot more than I did the first. It’s got its issues, the pacing is pretty poor, and Taylor-Johnson’s blandness that worked so well in the first one works against him this time, but I still came away from it more pleased with what I saw that I was last week.

For starters, the movie really is about being a hero. I adore that the one mission we see Justice Forever go on sees them rescuing women who’ve been enslaved as prostitutes, and they don’t just free them, they send them to a shelter with a bag-load of cash. Tommy’s parents are honoring their child, and Colonel Stars and Stripes is trying to redeem himself from his past as a mob enforcer.

Unfortunately, it’s done in by the very quotidian quality that made Taylor-Johnson so enjoyable in the previous film. The problem is, we know that Kick-Ass isn’t a normal kid—he’s an inspiration to everyone, the person whose presence broke the dam and led to the wave of costumed heroes. True, he wasn’t really the first one as everyone claims—that was Big Daddy—but for someone who’s supposed to be inspirational, he’s incredibly boring. In a movie that’s supposed to be about stepping up and being a hero—and also knowing when to step down—that lack of charisma works against the character. (Though I am amused that Kick-Ass continues to almost never win a hand-to-hand fight, needing Hit Girl or Dr. Gravity or the rest of Justice Forever to help him out.)

Luckily, others pick up the slack, notably Jim Carrey. The erstwhile Riddler and Mask gives one of his finest performances here, as he’s barely even recognizable with his swagger, his Noo Yawk attitude, and the prosthetic nose and teeth. I particularly love the fact that he castigates his teammates for swearing, which is especially hilarious in a movie in which one of the main characters is called the Motherfucker and has a team called the Toxic Mega-Cunts. Williams also has a swear jar for Hit Girl, who laments at one point that he’s going to need a much bigger jar.

Speaking of whom, Moretz remains the rock star of this series, and the only real problem is that her plot seems to have wandered in from a different movie (or, rather, a different comic book miniseries). Hit Girl’s arc is too separated from Kick-Ass’s, and the entire battle against the Motherfucker seems removed from Macready trying and failing to be a normal teenaged girl—or, more accurately, a normal upper-middle-class teenaged girl in a city. Somehow I think Williams would have been better off sending Macready off to have a sleepover with the nerdy brunette we see later on rather than the popular blonde. Not that it isn’t cathartically enjoyable to watch Brooke and her mean-girl friends be forced to projectile vomit…

The Motherfucker’s storyline is the one that’s actually the most compelling, as it has neither the clichéd predictability of Hit Girl’s story, nor Taylor-Johnson-induced blandness of Kick-Ass’s. I particularly like the way Mintz-Plasse’s face hardens when his uncle orders Javier killed, and the uncle himself realizes what a terrible mistake he’s made.

I also like that the storyline deals with consequences. Everything that happens has far-reaching, unexpected consequences. Sometimes it’s little, like Todd off-handedly mentioning that the person arrested as Kick-Ass is actually his father, a revelation that leads directly to the elder Lizewski being brutally murdered; or Brooke not realizing that the person she’s built up in order to tear down and torment to make herself feel good is trained in warfare. Sometimes it’s much bigger, like everything the Motherfucker does is due to Kick-Ass killing his father in the previous film. Hell, both movies are a consequence of Lizewski’s decision to become Kick-Ass.

But the biggest one of all is the massacre outside Night Bitch’s house, when Mother Russia starts mowing down cops. At that point, all bets are off, and everything changes, because cops have been killed, and they crack down.

This time, the changes made from the comics are actually for the better, as the comic book story gets pretty gruesome. The movie removes, for example, the gang-raping and multiple mass murders by the Toxic Mega-Cunts (the body count in general is far lower in the movie).

Both of these movies are interesting looks at what really might happen if a normal person decided to put on a costume and fight crime. Both of these movies come to the conclusion that it would likely be an unmitigated disaster.

 

Next week, we kick off Phase 1 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, starting with Iron Man.

Keith R.A. DeCandido has written one novel (The Case of the Claw), three novellas (Avenging  Amethyst, Undercover Blues, Secret Identities), and two short stories (in the anthologies With Great Power and The Side of Good/The Side of Evil) in the world of Super City Cops, about cops in a city filled with superheroes. They’re awesome and you should read them.

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