I really didn't expect much out of the first Kick-Ass. Then again, I had no idea this film was based on a graphic novel, so all I had to go on was a trailer and the inherent promise that plenty of ass would indeed be kicked. I was mildly interested at the prospect of watching 'real' kids moonlight as superheroes in the 'real' world, but was that enough of a selling point? I wasn't so sure. By the time this flick debuted in 2010, I was already bored to tears with the genre. Every crime fighter in spandex was being thrown on the big screen, and it was rarely for the better. If you cut through the fat - which would be the interchangeable superpowers and plot devices - most every origin story has been little more than a copy and paste job. There are exceptions of course, but I was tired of seeing the same film, over and over again... but Kick-Ass proved to be the much needed shot in the arm the genre needed.
I know I should be talking about the sequel, but it's important to identify what made the original work as well as it did. Dave Lizewski - an underdog in every sense of the word - set things in motion by asking, "How come nobody's ever tried to be a superhero?" An innocent enough question, but as his friend so eloquently put it, "…if anybody tried it in real life, they'd get their ass kicked!" In the world of comics, caped crusaders are virtually immune to damage, and if they're not, they have enough money and gadgets to improve their odds. Not so in Kick-Ass, which unapologetically delivered its protagonists the consequences you'd expect from masked vigilantism - Bones are fractured and broken, serious wounds send them to the hospital, and death is always final. The reality card may not sound like much on paper, but it allowed all-too-familiar genre tropes to breathe satirical new life, while the story itself played out with a witty meta-narrative. I'm not going to pretend that Kick-Ass was a perfect film, but it was refreshing to see a cast of characters that weren't just unremarkable in their daily lives, but whenever they donned their costumes as well.
That said, utilizing meta-humor for a series of films is rarely a good idea, because before you know it, the references fly a little too close to the sun, and we're the ones that get burned when they do. As a result, I found myself back to square one - I really didn't expect much out of Kick-Ass 2.
Some time has passed from the previous course of events, and Dave has since retired. Kick-Ass has remained prevalent in the public eye however, as his actions inspired a movement amongst average Joe's to brand themselves with hokey names, dress in tights and fight the good fight. This entices Dave to get back in the game, so he asks Mindy Macready - otherwise known as Hit-Girl - to train him to be an expert in hand-to-hand combat. Unfortunately, her legal guardian puts the kibosh on her dangerous extra-curricular activities, and encourages her to make friends and enjoy life as a normal teenage girl. Left without the aid of Hit-Girl's expertise, Kick-Ass begins the process of looking for a new partner, and finds one in Dr. Gravity. This alliance opens the door for his membership to Justice Forever, a crew of misfits lead by the honorable - if not somewhat crazy - Captain Stars and Stripes… and why not? After all, there's greater strength in numbers, and their presence on the streets would be enough to deter small time criminals from wreaking havoc. Unfortunately, their efforts draw the watchful eye of Chris D'Amico, who still hasn't forgiven Kick-Ass for blowing his father to kingdom come with a bazooka. After his mother meets her untimely end, he acquires the family fortune and uses his newfound wealth and power to become The Motherfucker and assemble a gang of supervillains. The first thing on his agenda? To rid the world of Kick-Ass and his pals, of course.
To be perfectly honest, this film echoes and amplifies much of what we were treated to the first time around. Dave's character arc is very much a retread, but the central themes are reiterated in a much darker tone than before. While the original Kick-Ass drove the point that wearing a mask and fighting crime risks your personal welfare, Kick-Ass 2 expands on that by saying - no, showing us - that you also risk anything and anyone you've ever loved, and that's regardless of which side of the fence you fall on. Furthermore, it begins to question the merits of becoming a hero in the first place. When a masked vigilante steps on some toes and earns a reputation, a supervillain is bound to rise from the ashes with a vengeance. They'll fight dirty, too - They'll amass greater numbers and do whatever it takes to draw you out of hiding, meaning collateral damage is inevitable. Then there's Mindy Macready who has nothing left to lose - Her dilemma is figuring out which lifestyle defines her once and for all. Kick-Ass 2 may not be the first film to put these concepts on the table, but it's up there as one of the most effective outside of Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy.
So is more of the same a bad thing? No, but that's not to say the film is without issue. No worries though - If you're a fan of the ultra-violence and meta-humor, then Kick-Ass 2 is almost as entertaining as its predecessor. As far as its flaws however, outside of some minor pacing issues, it's just too absurd for its own good. I know we had to suspend our disbelief a bit for the first flick, but the new characters on display go above and beyond breaking the rules set by the franchise. Jim Carrey's portrayal of Colonal Stars and Stripes is appropriately restrained - at least when compared to some of the other films he's done - but it's still too artificial to take seriously. That's nothing compared to Mother Russia though, because she's as strong as The Hulk and seemingly immune to pain. This is why meta-humor over multiple films is a bad idea, because upping the ante will inevitably transform a clever idea into the very thing it was standing against in the first place. Mindy's journey is just as wild a stretch, as it plays out like a spin-off of Mean Girls.
In the grand scheme of things however, these are all minor blemishes. I was able to forgive them and I think a majority of you will do the same. There's no doubt that this is a lesser film than the last, but nobody is watching Kick-Ass 2 expecting a masterful opus. People just want to have a great time with some laughs and bone crunching action, and this movie delivers that and then some.
Kick-Ass 2 comes to Blu-ray with a AVC encoded transfer (1080p, 2.40:1) that… well, kicks ass. Detail and clarity are both immaculate, and lend the image a decent amount of depth and dimensionality. Colors are bold as you would expect, skin tones natural more often than not, and contrast is nearly flawless. Black levels are deep and inky as well, although there's a couple of occasions where The Motherfucker's costume blends into the darkness. Considering how consistent the video tends to be however, I'm going to assume this is a direct result of the source and not some kind of encoding issue. And speaking of the encode itself, there's no edge enhancement, banding, digital noise reduction or motion artifacts to worry about. I can't imagine a single person would walk away from this title feeling disappointed, because the presentation on this disc is superb.
Kick-Ass 2 is also a stunner in the audio department, as its 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is a solid rumbler and entirely immersive. There's a lot of action in this film, and you can expect the depth and precision you'd expect from a modern motion picture. Even when things quiet down a bit, the surrounds are utilized for environmental ambience, so you'll never feel like you're being pulled in and out of the film from scene to scene. Bullets and explosions carry an impressive amount of LFE, but never come off feeling so bombastic they escape the rest of the mix. Dialogue is always prioritized and crisp and clean. Other than that, what can I say? Listen to this one loud folks…
-Commentary with Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloe Grace Moretz and Writer/Director Jeff Wadlow - It's an entertaining commentary for sure, because everyone has a great time conveying their personal experiences during the time of production. With Jeff Wadlow on board, there's plenty of information in regards to making the transition from graphic novel to the big screen, while the rest of the cast behind the mic give us more of the fun stuff. Diehard fans and newcomers alike will probably enjoy this commentary for what it is - Entertaining and informative with no dead air. It's also not overly technical, as some commentaries can be.
-Alternate Opening - It's an interesting inclusion, because the opening scene as it stands feels a little… I don't know, out of place? I'm not sure the alternate opening would have worked any better, but Jeff Wadlow provides an optional commentary to fill us in on why this was filmed and ultimately cut.
-Big Daddy Returns - The Unshot Scene - These storyboards detail a scene which never made it to filming, and Jeff Wadlow is on board once again with an optional commentary.
-Extended Scenes - There's 14 minutes of material here. Some of it's interesting while most is forgettable or would have needlessly dragged the film on. Wadlow appears for commentaries here as well.
-The Making of Kick-Ass 2 - With a little over 50 minutes of material, this series of featurettes covers the majority of the film's production, and is a perfect solution for anyone that can't stand commentaries, or just loves seeing behind-the-scenes stuff. Featurettes include - Upping the Game, An Ass Kicking Cast, Going Ballistic - Weapons and Stunts, Creating a Badass World, and Street Rules - Showdown at the Evil Lair.
-Hit-Girl Attacks - Creating the Van Sequence - Three short featurettes detail one of the more complicated sequences in the film.
Reviews have been mixed on the sophomore Kick-Ass film, and while it's definitely inferior to its predecessor, it's still up there as one of the most entertaining flicks I've seen all year (although, I was disappointed with 2013 as a whole). That said, you should stay away if you can't look past some of the broken franchise rules, or would cringe at a Hit-Girl starring version of Mean Girls, but everyone else is likely to find themselves grinning like an idiot throughout the entire runtime. There's plenty of the meta-humor and ultra-violence we've come to expect, and the body count is stupid high. The best part of this disc is undoubtedly its marvelous A/V presentation, and the extras are certainly thorough enough. Recommended.