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There’s a big split in the way the first Kick-Ass ends between the comic and film, mainly in the romantic realm of our hero, Dave Lizewski. In the film, our lead character gets the girl, Katie Deauxma, after a jet-fueled victory. In the book, our lead character gets a slug to the face by his crush’s boyfriend after starting a misleading relationship as Katie’s “gay” confidante. It’s a pretty grim ending, but the comic doesn’t end there: Dave receives a text message from Katie that shows her performing oral sex on her boyfriend, and because he is equally sad and turned on, both emotions take over. Oof, Dave. Growing up is hard. At least he still had his adoring fans of Kick-Ass.
For readers and viewers alike, it’s the best example of the split between Kick-Ass: The Comic and Kick-Ass: The Screen Adaptation Made to Please Hopefully More People than Comic Readers. But with the film’s sequel, Lizewski and Mindy Macready (better known as Hit-Girl) both see that gap draw a little closer to the rougher paper version of Kick-Ass, a series created by Eisner nominee Mark Millar that boasts covers with tags like “Sickening Violence: Just the Way You Like It!” “Ass Kicked!” and “When Titans Pimp-Slap!”
Audiences were already primed for something more extreme than the original, simply based on a stand made by Jim Carrey. The film’s biggest name plays Colonel Stars and Stripes, a born-again Christian, ex-military type who wrangles together a Justice League/Avengers-style group of DIY heroes called Justice Forever. Carrey made a pre-press cycle decision not to support the film based on its violent content, citing recent tragedies like Sandy Hook as reason enough not to celebrate body counts.
We know we’re in for a different kind of ride early on, where it’s almost like the Kick-Ass 2 team—led by writer/director Jeff Wadlow (Cry_Wolf), who takes over for Matthew Vaughn—doubles back from where they left off on the first installment, ripping away the safeguards from volume one’s jagged edges. Dave is quickly served with a nasty breakup from Katie, who gives a not-so-graphic nod to the comic’s original ending after seeing what she thinks is him flirting with Mindy. Chris Genovese, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, picks up his dead mother’s bondage gear (and a, er, beady surprise) as inspiration for his new supervillain, morphing from the unreliable Red Mist semi-hero to a new, past-repair character dubbed The Motherfucker.
Luckily, there’s plenty of comic relief peppered in to keep the mood from approaching too dark, but in line with the new tone of the movie, the jokes are filthier as evidenced by the wealth of C-bombs dropped in the sequel. The exceptions here are Donald Faison’s excellent appearance as Doctor Gravity—a care-free, squeaky-clean hero—and Carrey’s hilariously executed take on an ass-kicking Colonel who is serious about his team never using the Lord’s name in vain.
Controversy aside, you don’t get Millar-level recognition without some decent storytelling. Kick-Ass 2 has that, especially in Hit-Girl. The now 16-year-old Chloë Grace Moretz does another great job filling those little combat boots, creating both the movie’s most feared and most compelling character. Drawing from the Hit-Girl series published last year, we see a budding Mindy attempting to give up her superhero past while trying to fit in with some worse-than-Mean Girls high schoolers. After the first film took us through her origin, it’s an interesting ride to see this fully formed character now trying to change in her freshman year, all while dealing with puberty, primped-up bitches and boys. After all, most kids’ problems at that age extend to chores, popularity and homework—Mindy has to act like she doesn’t want to eliminate crime from city streets in the most brutal ways, practice restraint on clique-y teens and keep under the radar with her cop stepdad.
As a reader of the comics from the start, there’s a harsher element this time around of seeing Kick-Ass’s scenes jump off the red-splattered page and onto the big screen, in real life, with real people. There was something so charming about the first set of comics and the initial film—as gory as it might have been—when they dove into the realistic side of the question, “What if some ordinary guy took justice into his own hands?” In Kick-Ass 2, we’ve shifted to a new, all-too-common cyclic comic question: “Do the superhero masks erase the bad guys? Or do they inspire even worse ones to come out and escalate the fight?” And while it feels like this might be an exploration of the consequences of one-upping violent acts, the motives behind the violence to begin with are a little light.
Despite the fact I already knew what I was in for heading into Kick-Ass 2, and though Millar’s on-page work kept me engaged, disturbed and giggling through its second run, there was something unsettling about this truer, harsher silver screen treatment. (And not because the level of blood is necessarily deeper than the first.)
For me, many of the sanitizing, safer changes made from the first comic to movie, while not necessarily true to the page, are what made for a successful adaptation. The second time around all involved are pushing harder to be more extreme. But maybe a piece of art with cartoonish characters, crude humor and body count should stay as just that, a freeze-framed cartoon. Then again, much like AC/DC’s discography, maybe giving too much thought to it is a clear sign among those who love it most that I’ve just missed the point—maybe I should shut up, sit back, relax and watch something Kick-Ass.
Director: Jeff Wadlow
Writer: Jeff Wadlow
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz, Jim Carrey, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Release Date: Aug. 16, 2013