Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Movie Reviews: "Kick Ass 2" (2013)

2010 was an interesting year for movies. When it first began, I didn’t expect much to come out of it. By the end of it all, I realized that the whole year had given us some really wonderful movies, including “Black Swan,” “The Social Network,” “Tangled,” “Toy Story 3” and the sleeper pick “Kick Ass.”

When I first watched “Kick Ass,” I was blown away. I didn’t expect much out of the movie going in. Maybe a joke or two at the superhero genre and its quirks, but what we got was an edgy, smart and stylistic approach to a coming-of-age story, a genre that I normally don’t care for. The writing was tight, yet funny, the fight scenes expertly handled, the characters were all diverse and interesting to watch, especially the smart-mouthed and feisty Hit Girl and her father played by the always funny and excellent Nicholas Cage, and it had a soundtrack that kept on giving great hit after great hit. 

Yet concerning the subject matter of the movie, it would be inevitable that “Kick Ass” would mostly get bad reviews. Copious amounts of blood and violence, a foul mouth that really went over the top at times and a twelve-year old girl that regularly gets beat up but then also kills more than a dozen people. It reminded me of the initial critical reactions to Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange,” with critics hating it simply because it had a teenage boy killing and torturing innocent people for fun and pleasure.

The reason I don’t have a problem with the large amounts of violence in films like “Kick Ass” and “A Clockwork Orange” is because, for the world which the film sets up, these kids acting violent and full of rage and passion is perfectly normal. Their world is vastly different from our own, so much so that normal teenage rebellion isn’t enough for them. Killing is fun for them because the world is dark and ugly. As far as they are concerned, Hit Girl and Alex DeLarge are doing the world a favor.

Which brings us to the recent sequel to “Kick Ass” and the ensuing problem that I have with the film and its vastly different approach to the superhero genre. In the first film, the violence and amount of corruption and evil was necessary to establish why people like Kick Ass, Hit Girl and Big Daddy would dress up in tights and fight crime. While at times I did feel there was too much computer-generated blood and guts, I could get over that. 

“Kick Ass 2” on the other hand is unnecessarily violence, graphic and detailed. I don’t mean just blood either, but acts of torture, rape and bodily functions that had no purpose being in the film. These actions did not add anything to film that wasn’t already there, and mostly just served to gross the audience out. 

My feelings on violence and graphic imagery in cinema is to imagine it as another piece in the puzzle of the film. To try to analyze it, find where it fits in with the rest of the picture and if it helps to make the movie whole or if it only serves as a distraction. 

In some cases, like many great war movies, like “Apocalypse Now” or “Saving Private Ryan,” graphic images of people being killed in horrifying ways need to be accepted, since that is an essential part of the film. It helps to paint the image of the dangers and hellish behavior of war. Another picture like “Seven,” where the world has been corrupted by greed, crime and poverty that diabolical plans are constructed by evil masterminds to show the world just how weak it has become.

In other cases, violence can be overdone and only detracted from the film, like many terrible horror movies. One example that comes to mind is “Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem,” in which the simple action of being shot or stabbed will cause gallons upon gallons of blood and guts to be spilt. Or “300” where one slash of a Spartan’s spear will send huge arcs of blood to be sent across the sky. The only way something like that would work is if every person in that world had insanely high blood pressure.

It would come down to asking yourself, “Does the amount of violence and graphic imagery seem justified, given what we know and are shown about the world of this film?” If the answer is yes, there should be little to no problem with the movie. If you answer no, then odds are it is unjustified and superfluous. 

“Kick Ass 2” is an example of the latter. Which is odd, considering the first “Kick Ass” was a great example of the former. 

So what exactly does “Kick Ass 2” do that is so much more graphic and detailed than “Kick Ass?” Well, quite a few things, but mostly revolving around the actions of death and torturing people.

While “Kick Ass” had plenty of death in it, the film didn’t linger on it. Someone would die, and the film would quickly move on. Only once did someone die where the dwelled on it for more than a few seconds. 

“Kick Ass 2” on the other hand would take its sweet time on dealing with violent images. For example, there’s a scene where a non-superhero supporting character is killed off by some thugs of the villain (McLovin’...I mean Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Yet the film decides that instead of just cutting to the funeral of this character and letting the actors emotions tell the story, that we need to see every graphic detail of this character being killed even though no one else was around. 

There are also scenes where terrible actions that would be painful to experience are played up for laughs, including one where Hit Girl gets revenge on some school bullies by subjecting them to bodily torture. This had almost everyone in the theater cracking up laughing and I couldn’t understand why. Maybe it was the sound effects or the fact that these bullies were mean to Hit Girl and that its satisfying to see them get their comeupins. I’m sorry, just because someone picked on you during high school doesn’t make it okay to do what Hit Girl did.

It may sound like I hated “Kick Ass 2,” but I will say there were parts I enjoyed. Some of the fight scenes had interesting aspects to them or had cool gimmicks for certain people in the fight. For example, Jim Carrey plays a wisecracking hero has as much fun as he can with being a superhero, including sicking his dog on unsuspecting bad guys. It’s too bad Carrey only gets one good fight scene in the entire movie.

As for the villains, McLovin’ recruits several psychopaths into his ranks to fight off Kick Ass and his army of good guys. One of which is a Russian wall of a woman who isn’t afraid to kill immediately. While she has an incredibly stupid and unnecessary fight sequence with a group of cops, its her battle with Hit Girl that is the highlight of the movie. To see this sweet yet violent little girl who isn’t afraid to battle anything take on this behemoth and uncaring woman is fun to watch. 

It’s a pity that the fights are handled so differently from the battle sequences in “Kick Ass.” In the first film, there was very little use of shaky cam, the sets all felt unique yet vast, you could tell who was winning a fight at any point and the pacing was quick yet effective. “Kick Ass 2” however relied much more has fast editing and more unbalanced camera shots, making it harder to tell what was going on in the battle. Other than the two fights I previously mentioned, none of these sequences really stood out. 

If I could wrap up “Kick Ass 2” in one word, it would be “disappointing.” Considering how well the first film turned out with its simplistic yet effective approach to a real-life superhero, I went in thinking that this film would turn give us a solid follow-up to that. But poor cinematography, cutting great characters short out of the best moments and relying way too much on violence and graphic detail really brings this movie down. 

Final Grade: C-

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