Kick-Ass 2 picks up where the original movie left off with its outrageous comic book superhero adventures
Kick-Ass 2 (15)
Directed by: Jeff Wadlow
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jim Carrey
* * * *
Released at a time when superhero culture was on its way to becoming thoroughly embedded in the mainstream, the first Kick-Ass film was a delirious reminder of the comic book form’s anarchic, obnoxious potential to outrage and offend.
Playing very much like a fun, punky riposte to the sombreness of the Dark Knight films and the sudden popularity and respectability of the Marvel Universe, Matthew Vaughn’s independently financed adaptation of Mark Millar’s uber-violent comic book saga served up the kind of outlandish bloodshed not seen since John Woo’s Hong Kong action movie heyday.
The fact that it also featured warped, profanity spewing superhero-obsessed kids determined to right the wrongs of the world by becoming costumed crusaders themselves only added an extra layer of subversion, making it a superhero film that willfully courted the kind of hysteria that has historically attached itself to comic books ever since the US Senate’s Juvenile Delinquency Subcommittee of the 1950s identified them as a threat to the moral wellbeing of America’s youth.
Happily Kick-Ass 2 pretty much picks up where the first film left off. Written and directed by Jeff Wadlow (with Vaughn serving as producer), it may lack the transgressive edge that made Kick-Ass such a blast, but its snot-nosed attitude is still very much present and correct, ensuring that while it does all the things one might expect a sequel to do – expand the world a little, deepen the characters, build on what went before – it remains obnoxious enough to sideswipe expectations by going in some fairly oddball, willfully juvenile and occasionally tasteless directions.
At the centre, though, Kick-Ass’s nerdy alter ego Dave Lizewski (once again winningly played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson) remains the vulnerable, likeable Luke Skywalker-esque hero around which the craziness coagulates – even if he isn’t quite the weedy wetsuit-wearing wannabe he was in the first film. In the few years that have passed since helping take down notorious crime boss Frank D’Amica with a jetpack and a bazooka, he’s built up some muscle mass, developed some proper fighting skills and acquired a bit more confidence, largely on account of being trained by Chloë Grace Moretz’s pint-sized assassin Hit Girl.
Trouble is, he still needs her to get him out of a jam when things get really serious and with Hit Girl vowing to hang up her spandex in order to live the life of a normal teenage girl called Mindy McCready, Dave is forced to seek out an alternative crew of caped crusaders to continue his fantasy of becoming a fully fledged superhero.
It’s here that the film starts to schism in amusing ways as Dave joins a low-rent Avengers-style team of wannabe heroes called Justice Forever and Mindy enters a world of vicious cliques that is more akin to Heathers and Mean Girls than Watchmen.
Both subplots allow Kick-Ass 2 to riff on the dynamics of the superhero genre. Justice Forever (led by Jim Carrey’s Born Again Mafioso hitman Col Stars and Stripes) functions as a sort of support group for misfits with tragic back-stories, while Mindy’s high-school hell finds a superhero parallel in the way that teenage girls sneak out at night, dress in provocative clothes and pretend to be someone they’re not. The latter, in particular, is a neat twist on the largely male-centric superhero-as-a-metaphor-for-adolescence theme plundered by the Spider-Man films and Moretz plays it brilliantly, once again, becoming the highlight in a film that is careful to use her sparingly so that every scene she’s in counts.
Also good, though, is Chrisopher Mintz-Plasse, returning from the first film as Chris D’Amica, the orphaned son of Frank D’Amica. Having vowed to get revenge on Kick-Ass for killing his dad (and after accidentally killing his mother with a sunbed), he vows to use his inheritance to become a super-villain.
Dispensing with his previous moniker Red Mist, he thus rechristens himself the Mother F*****, dresses up in a gimp mask and bondage gear and recruits his own team of henchmen to help him wreak havoc, picking up additional followers along the way – mostly miserable Goth kids – via Twitter.
Silly as it sounds, this ensures the level of over-the-top violence that ensues – the violence that so concerned Carrey that he belatedly chose to disassociate himself from the film in June – remains unmistakably comic and fantastical even as it follows through by showing the serious consequences that this violence has for its heroes.
As an action movie, though, it’s also a bit meatier than most, with the last act battle between Hit Girl and a van full of gun-toting heavies a sublime piece of outrageous comic book action of the sort the recent Wolverine movie could have used. But then that’s the advantage of being the scrappy, scurrilous underdog of the superhero world: you can dare to have your cake and eat it.
Directed by: Leslye Headland
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan, Isla Fisher, Rebel Wilson
* * * *
Sneaking into British cinemas a year after debuting as a video on demand release in the United States, the Sundance-sanctioned wedding comedy Bachelorette is much funnier than its path to these shores might suggest. Based on debut writer/director Leslye Headland’s off-Broadway play, the film may share some DNA with Bridesmaids, but it’s a darker, spikier riff on similar themes rather than a cheap clone.
Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan and Isla Fisher are on deliciously deranged form as a group of coked-up, foul-mouthed, former high school friends who can’t quite put aside their own insecurities, resentments and bitterness for long enough to help their about-to-be-married friend Becky (Rebel Wilson) prepare for her big day. Wrecking her dress the night before the wedding, they’re forced to embark on a desperate, drug-fuelled odyssey to get it fixed, a plot device that Headland uses to explore in nuanced ways the complexities of childhood friendships that somehow manage to outlast their natural lifespan.
Though Dunst and Fisher are clearly relishing the chance to cut loose, it’s Caplan – as the most damaged of the three – who emerges as the film’s real star. It also marks Headland out as a talent to watch.
2 Guns (15)
Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur
Starring: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Bill Paxton, James Marsden, Paula Patton
* * *
Very much a throwback to the kind of mismatched buddy action movies that ruled Hollywood in 1980s and 1990s, 2 Guns casts Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg as a pair of not-quite-what-they seem crooks whose professional relationship takes a turn for the worse when they rob a bank and drive off with around $40 million more than they were expecting to score. Though the film’s minor pleasures don’t depend on the early revelations that Washington’s character Bobby Trench and Wahlberg’s character Michael Stigman are ignorant of each other’s real motives for pulling off the heist, the tricksy plot works better the less you know about who they really are.
Suffice to say that, as with all mismatched buddy films, there comes a point when their mistrust of one another has to be put to one side so they can deal with the fact that everyone else in the film seems to be trying to kill them. This facilitates a familiar but entertaining pattern of extreme violence punctuated by voluble bickering, with Washington and Wahlberg matching each other beat for beat. Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur keeps the pace rattling along fast enough to prevent plot holes from becoming too obvious.
Directed by: Klay Hall
Voices: Dane Cook, John Cleese, Teri Hatcher, Val Kilmer
Disney-Pixar’s much-maligned (albeit very successful) Cars movies are like black marks against a name that’s become synonymous with quality storytelling. Small wonder, then, that this spin-off is not an official Disney-Pixar release, but a product of DisneyToons Studios, the Mouse House’s straight-to-DVD production company. Aimed at kids too young for superhero movies and too fidgety for two-and-a-half-hour adventure films, it’s hard not to view this as an extended toy advert. As with Cars – and some characters from those films do make cameo appearances – it’s full of bright colours with an uncomplicated follow-your-dreams story (this time involving a rickety crop duster determined to become an around-the-world racer).
Sadly, the anthropomorphic aviation action fails to yield any especially memorable characters or any good gags, save for a half-hearted Top Gun reference that utilises the voice talents of Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards.
Paradise: Hope (15)
Directed by: Ulrich Seidl
Starring: Joseph Lorenz, Melanie Lenz, Michael Thomas, Verena Lehbauer, Viviane Bartsch
* * * *
The concluding chapter of Austrian auteur Ulrich Seidl’s remarkable and unflinching Paradise trilogy promises to take his penchant for explicit explorations of sexual depravity to an even queasier place than was reached in Paradise: Love and Paradise: Faith. What unfurls, however, makes this the least ironically titled film of three. Not that there aren’t plenty of moments of discomfort along the way, of course. Revolving around Melanie (Melanie Lenz), the overweight 13-year-old daughter of Paradise: Love’s sex tourist single mother, the film brings the trilogy full circle by following her travails at “fat camp”, where she develops a crush on the camp’s middle-aged doctor.
Alarm bells start ringing as the males with whom Melanie comes into contact begin reacting in nauseatingly inappropriate ways to her defiant presence, but Seidl’s usual withering view of humanity has mellowed enough to suggest that the worst doesn’t always have to happen and that his heroine isn’t doomed to follow in her mother’s footsteps – which, in the bleak world of these films, counts as a minor triumph.
Call Girl (15)
Directed by: Mikael Marcimain
Starring: Pernilla August, Sofia Karemyr, Simon J Berger
* * *
A film of some controversy in its native Sweden, Call Girl is inspired by a 1976 prostitution scandal allegedly involving members of the Swedish government. The irony the film hooks on to is that ministers promoting a liberal political system espousing equality for women were employing the services of a notorious madam (played by Pernilla August) to procure them young – and often underage – girls for sex.
That’s a fascinating contradiction, so it’s unfortunate that the film – told from the perspectives of both a 14-year-old inductee into this prostitution ring and a detective encountering mounting political pressure as he attempts to investigate it – is that Call Girl never quite shakes off the feeling that it is, itself, an exploitation film dressed up as a serious exposé.
The gritty aesthetic and 1970s political thriller tropes may give it the appearance of a serious work, but the camera is also a little too fond of lingering over the naked forms of its female cast members. The end result is well acted, but the points it’s making can feel a little disingenuous.