: I can't claim a blow-by-blow account of the events of Matthew Vaughn's 2010 film Kick-Ass
, so it's hard to be sure, without a full-on rewatch, whether Kick-Ass 2
is really a sequel or just one of those half-remake follow-ups like Evil Dead 2
. Literally speaking, it's not: the movie picks up some time after the events of its predecessor, in which teenager Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) dressed up as a superhero, got beaten into a hospital stay, and damaged his nerves enough to build up if not imperviousness at least resistance to pain. At the beginning of Kick-Ass 2
, Dave has hung up his suit, as has mini-sociopath Mindy, AKA Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), a pint-sized death dealer trained by her affably psychotic father (Nicolas Cage, sadly only appearing via still photograph). Meanwhile, his fellow superhero Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) has decided to switch over to the supervillain side, rechristened the Motherfucker. So the big narrative hook of this movie is more or less: Dave deciding to become Kick-Ass, again, meeting up with other nascent superheroes, again, and comic ultraviolence ensuing, again.
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.
: Just in time for the parts of the country that go back to school in mid-August (seriously! That happens! As a lifelong New York State resident, this blows my mind), here are two Hollywood history lessons. In one, a White House butler (Forest Whitaker) Gumps his way through recent American history, only instead of newsreel footage we get a parade of stars playing Eisenhower (Robin Williams!), Kennedy (James Marsden!), Lyndon Johnson (Liev Schreiber!), Richard Nixon (John Cusack!) (!), and Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman!). Why they didn't get Stephen Dorff to play Gerald Ford, we may never know. The Butler
(or as it is legally required to be known, Lee Daniels' The Butler
), is directed by, you guessed it, Lee Daniels, but costarring Oprah Winfrey, so I'm guessing even without an official producer credit she'll temper his loonier instincts. It'll probably make for a better movie, but a perverse part of me wants to see the version of this story made with the same unfettered lunacy
as last year's The Paperboy
. At least we know that John Cusack is all in for the Lee Daniels rep company. Meanwhile, I'm not sure if any of those weirdly cast presidents seem as offhand clumsy as the casting of Ashton Kutcher and Josh Gad as Steves Jobs and Wozniak, respectively, in Jobs
. Before Aaron Sorkin sometime in the future unleashes his sure to be Scott Rudin-produced version probably framed by some sort of wise-assed deposition, we get the version cast like it could be rebooting Dude, Where's My Car?
Ain't Them Bodies Saints
: Given that Casey Affleck has starred in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
and now Ain't Them Bodies Saints
, do you think it eats him up that Terrence Malick has upped his productivity but still cast his brother Ben, not Casey, in To the Wonder
? Especially given that his Saints
costar Rooney Mara is in one of Malick's supposedly upcoming films? I feel like David Gordon Green should at least throw Affleck a bone or something. In the meantime, we have some perfectly decent imitation Malick—a possibly unfair yet unavoidable description of Saints
, which is set in some hard-to-identify past version of Texas (no cell phones, old-looking cars, no mention of the exact year; very easy, in other words, to assume it's set either around the time of Badlands
or around the time of the release of Badlands
) as jailed outlaw Bob (Affleck) escapes from prison (offscreen) and heads back to meet his lover Ruth (Mara) and the daughter he's never met. So it's sort of an inversion of Badlands
, with the outlaws going home and staying put, respectively, rather than heading on the lam (ok, Bob is on the lam, but the movie for the most part is structured as even less of a thriller than Badlands
is). Like a Malick movie, it's beautifully acted and shot—and if anything, even duskier than a Malick magic-hour special! It's also a touch dull, because it's primarily a movie about waiting around. But writer-director David Lowery may turn out to be worth waiting around for.
: I missed the screening of this presumably light comedy about Jane Austen superfans at some manner of Jane Austen theme park, but can we talk about the utter failure of the movie's poster
? Absent an actually visual way of conveying the Keri Russell character's love of Austen, they stick her with a T-shirt that screams I HEART MR. DARCY. I suppose this is a step up from having her hold up a sign that literally says I LOVE JANE AUSTEN BOOKS SUCH AS PRIDE AND PREDJUDICE, but only just barely. Admittedly, finding a visual cue without resorting to costumes that would get the movie mistaken for a period piece is tricky, but this looks suspiciously like the poster designers just ran out of time.
: It's been a good 12 months or so for retro-90s thrillers: Jack Reacher
and White House Down
both felt 1993-ish in a pretty fun way, and now Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman costar in the kind of corporate-espionage thriller that used to feature someone Tom Cruise or a young Woody Harrelson or maybe one of those guys who looked like Johnny Depp (or, actually, in the mid-90s, possibly actual Johnny Depp) but now stars Hemsworth the Lesser as an entry-level employee recruited to spy on his betters, or something. I just hope Amber Heard gets to kick someone in the groin at some point. I also wonder if this is going to be one of those young-people thrillers where the generic title refers to something that doesn't actually happen in the movie—like this movie will somehow not actually have any paranoia in it, the way that Abduction
featured zero abductions.