And regardless of your knowledge of the original, Kick-Ass 2 is repetitive on its own terms, even or especially when it seems like it's heading somewhere new. At a sleepover, Mindy—reluctantly adjusting to a post-superhero lifestyle—watches a music video for a One Direction-y boy band, and feels the belated stirrings of sexual desire, and for a few minutes, I thought the movie was about to go someplace clever and unexpected (ditto the scene where Mindy auditions for dance team by picturing herself as Hit-Girl, athletically kicking ass). But writer-director Jeff Wadlow pits Hit-Girl against cartoony queen bees rather than her own hormones, and it's the kind of grossly caricatured high school schlock dreamed up by tone-deaf screenwriters claiming candy-colored satire rather than total disinterest in the psychology of actual teenage girls. Even as caricature, the movie doesn't know how to stage these interactions: the big, humiliating mean-girl prank involves... everyone hiding in the woods to tell a poor unpopular girl that she's not really going to a keg party?
Yet the Kick-Ass series repeatedly insists that it's realer than its bigger-budget counterparts. Those gestures toward realism—repeated invocations of "pretend" superheroes like Batman and Spider-Man and reminders that this "isn't a comic book"—are less convincing than ever, particularly when one of the Motherfucker's team members, strongwoman Mother Russia, seems to have actual superpowers (as long as an irradiated spider isn't the reason you can tear a door off a car and hurl at people, I guess it counts as grounded?). So instead of bloodless cartoon violence, the movie, like its predecessor, indulges in bloody horror-cartoon violence. Occasionally these violent sprees have the invention of darkly funny horror kills, but if that's what you're after, there are already five Final Destination movies of varying quality.
What Kick-Ass 2 really offers is the sight of a barely teenage girl perpetuating that violence. Though the movie still relishes Hit-Girl's profane talk and murderous edge, it also conveniently ages her out of real controversy: Dave has only aged a year or two between the first movie and the second, while Mindy, 11 years-old last time around, has somehow gone up a gap-narrowing four years or so. Just enough, I guess, to try to assuage any audience guilt about their admirations of Moretz (game as never, though only marginally better at sounding like a person saying things, not a trained actor reading lines). While the movie never quite crosses the creepy sexualization line, it does oscillate between concern-trolling about the cost of vigilante violence and ogling that violence: the plot hinges on two different teenage superheroes promising at least three different people to never again don their costumes and patrol the streets. Then the bad guys brutalize an important good guy to send messages and further build up the case for revenge and murder. Despite those oppositions, and maybe because those oppositions are repeated so many goddamn times, Kick-Ass 2 never feels complicated. The movie isn't wrestling with morality; it's grasping for drama.
The best thing about the movie is a semi-recognizable Jim Carrey, the sequel's equivalent to Cage's hilarious performance in the original film. Carrey plays Colonel Stars and Stripes, a former mob enforcer turned amateur superhero; he's like a Dick Tracy villain reborn as a psychotic Captain America. Wadlow backs off the character's satirical potential, but Carrey, with a Jersey-ish accent voicing his dislike of profanity, is nonetheless vividly funny. He's also crazy underused, with only 10 or 12 minutes of screentime. Carrey made news a few months ago by announcing that he wouldn't be promoting Kick-Ass 2 due to his different feelings on violent films following the Newtown tragedy. At the time, it seemed like a silly whim, an unintentional concession to gun-owners who'd rather blame a movie than a weapon. Yet watching the movie, which only could have benefitted from additional Carrey, I wondered (admittedly, maybe projecting) if maybe the film's violence didn't turn him off so much as the moral muddle Kick-Ass 2 happily, unthinkingly creates.