Last week, the internet was exploding with rage over Kick-Ass comic book creator Mark Millar's nasty attitudes about women. And today, the movie Kick Ass 2 will shock you — not by being violent, rapey, and sexist. But by being the opposite. And sort of lovable to boot.
My expectations for Kick-Ass 2 were pretty low. First of all, who wanted another Kick-Ass? The original film was great, in part because of Nic Cage's psychotic performance as real-life superhero Big Daddy — and his demented relationship with his 11-year-old ninja daughter Hit Girl (the always-amazing Chloe Moretz). But somehow this sequel manages to charm — and not just by using cheap knee-jerk irony like having Kick Ass wear a t-shirt that says "I hate reboots." Kick-Ass 2 actually develops its main characters, Hit Girl and Kick Ass, allowing them to grow up in ways that are surprisingly fun and interesting.
The movie takes place four years after the end of the last one. Big Daddy is dead, Kick Ass is no longer wearing the mask, and Hit Girl is hiding from the mean girls in high school by ditching to go to the gym every day. Inspired by Kick Ass, the world is now crawling with amateur superheroes who dress up and try to make the world a better place — or just get a million hits on YouTube.
When Kick Ass decides to get back into the superhero scene, he begs Hit Girl to help him. She starts his training regimen, but her stepfather figures out what's going on. He insists that she try making friends with the girls in her high school, and leave Hit Girl behind. And that's when the story really blooms. While Hit Girl discovers why teenage girls are the ultimate adversaries, Kick Ass joins a genuinely adorable league of superheroes. Led by ex-mafia dude Colonel Stars and Stripes (a fantastic Jim Carrey), Justice Forever is full of ordinary schlubs who really do want to do good, like a gay nerd who refuses to wear a mask "because that's like being in the closet," and an older couple who became heroes after their young son disappeared and the police refused to help.
Meanwhile, Hit Girl's arc among the evil cheerleaders is a thing of true beauty. After snarking about how none of the girls know about Marvel comics, she delivers a revenge smackdown that every nerdy girl in the universe has dreamed about. Well, maybe not every nerdy girl — but it certainly worked for me. It's one of the few movies I've ever seen that has a "triumph of the nerds" moment for young women. This shit goes so far beyond passing the Bechdel Test that your head will explode.
And Kick-Ass 2's curious streak of girl power subversion continues throughout the film, where it's simply a given that the strongest and most capable heroes (and villains) are female. Kick Ass says repeatedly that Hit Girl is the only "real" superhero, and supervillain The Motherfucker (played with vicious goofiness by Christopher Mintz-Plasse) has a not-so-secret weapon in his female henchman Mother Russia. Plus, even the comic book's rapey moments are evoked only to be artfully and humorously sidestepped.
Though many reviews of Kick-Ass 2 have suggested that it's actually more violent than its predecessor, I didn't see it that way. If anything, it has far more character development and non-hero action than the first film — we get to know Dave and Mindy, as well as Kick Ass and Hit Girl. That means the flick has well-earned those ultra-violent scenes when they happen. The violence is extreme, and often disturbingly funny, but not gratuitous.
I don't want to paint this movie as a superhero tale on par with Dark Knight, or a satire as cutting as James Gunn's Super. But it managed to rise above all my expectations, delivering a fun action flick that tells a few stories I hadn't seen before. And ultimately it delivered the message that all good superhero movies should: If you want to save the world, don't wait for permission. Don't worry if they laugh at you. Just fucking go for it.