KICK-ASS 2: Teen Angst and Nunchucks

Class Orientation
KICK ASS 2 movie posterWhen KICK-ASS first hit the theaters in April of 2010, its stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Chloë Grace Moretz were relatively unknown. He was 20 and she, a mere 13 years of age. Cast as a foulmouthed little ass-kicker, her role as Hit-Girl was a revelation. At the time, comic book adaptations had found audiences were willing to return to their seats for superhero sequels and spin-offs, a lackluster Wolverine spin-off in 2009 and the massive DARK KNIGHT the year before. IRON MAN 2 was a month away and about to kick-start superhero movie franchises as we know them today. But in 2010, there was still room at the front of the class those less recognizable comic properties.

Mathew Vaughn had just successfully adapted STARDUST in 2007, an illustrated short story originally written by Neil Gaiman and published by the mature reader imprint of DC comics, VERTIGO. Up until that point, he had built a career in the quick-witted English crime movies that earned Guy Richie the street-cred to shoot SHERLOCK HOLMES. Audiences knew he could do crime and wit, but the synthesis of the two proved hilarious in KICK-ASS. Vaughn was set up to spend his foreseeable future directing and producing comic adaptations.

No one expected an R-rated piss-take of the superhero genre to make nearly twenty million in its opening weekend. The remarkably similar movie SUPER, which featured a 23-year-old Ellen Page in a role similar to Moretz, grossed little more than $300,000. Another other comic book adaptation premiered the following weekend in April of 2010; THE LOSERS was a fun and stylish action shoot-em-up. More like the A-Team, which followed in June, neither could complete with the big guns of alpha-jock THE EXPENDABLES whose premiere had been anticipated by Action and Martial Arts Movie fans for years. There was one other movie more popular to martial artists than THE EXPENDABLES and whose kicks aimed for the heart rather than the groin. Rated PG, THE KARATE KID starring a 12-year-old Jaden Smith under the tutelage of the 56-years-strong Jackie Chan.

Taking Attendance
Three years later, the DARK KNIGHT trilogy is ostensibly complete (though the question of who will play Batman opposite Henry Cavill's MAN OF STEEL is on many a fan's blog). IRON MAN can still be expected to appear in a sequel to THE AVENGERS, and THE WOLVERINE will return to the X-MEN franchise now that his own sequel is still in theaters. A sequel to THE KARATE KID is in the works as well as a third for THE EXPENDABLES. Chloë Grace Moretz is now 16-years-old and has quickly made a name for herself playing distinctly non-TWILIGHT vampire and werewolf roles in LET ME IN and DARK SHADOWS (of those two, the former is superior, but nowhere near as chilling as the original Icelandic movie LET THE RIGHT ONE IN).

It's interesting to witness a young actor like Moretz develop such a quirky filmography. Few other actors of her generation have proven so willing to stray down the darker allies and rougher neighborhoods of central casting. Saoirse Ronan runs a close second with such movies as HANNA (2011), BYZANTIUM (2012), THE HOST (2013) and SNOW & THE SEVEN, or whatever it will be called, if that ever comes to be. Moretz is most widely recognized for her portrayal of perfect innocence in Martin Scorsese's HUGO (2010), but she seems discontent to simply cultivate the typical leading lady roles. Later this year she'll continue to foster her genre-queen tendencies by playing the epitome of teen angst in the remake of CARRIE.

KICK-ASS 2 gives Moretz the perfect opportunity to refine that angst-ridden bottom-lip quiver. The environment for super-hero-send-ups has changed and most audiences have at least a passing knowledge of the genre tropes which made the first movie so hilarious. As a result, the sequel takes shots at broader laughs and grapples with a measure of pathos. The movie spends as much time with Hit-Girl's alter ego Mindy Macready as it does with the titular Kick-Ass, Dave Lizewski to his classmates. Now a high school senior, Dave comes out of retirement to reclaim his role as New York City's premiere superhero while Mindy attempts to reconcile her vigilante activities with the demands of a legal guardian who believes her training and Hit-Girl persona to be the product of a lost childhood. He argues that her upbringing as a killer has cost her childhood innocence, a new twist on parental abuse.

Kick Ass fight training

Gymnastics
The characters' time together is spent in training montages where Hit-Girl kicks the wimpy out of Dave in hopes a real bad ass will surface. Her secret base is a dream come true for any weekend warrior& wall-to-wall tatami mats and pegboards filled as much with guns as they are with martial arts weapons. The astute martial artist will recognize a pair of Yin Yang Sai (which are never put to use, but look nice on the wall) and some very specific Nunchucks. The pair Hit-Girl does actually use look more like the colorful graphite competition nunchucks popular at tournaments; at least they aren't glittered. Her weapon of choice is revealed later to be a cross between a double-headed spear and a horse-chopping blade, and chop she does. But before then, the fight training consists mostly of kickboxing with the occasional arm bar thrown in.

Replacing Rudolf Vrba as fight choreographer, Mike Lambert has done Hong Kong work. His Wing Chun and TKD background got him on the set with Yuen Woo-Ping and others. He eventually faced off against Jet Li in BLACKMASK and was one of Li's fight coordinator for THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR in 2008. He's also worked with Jackie Chan in WHO AM I way back in the 90's and Donnie Yen more recently. Some of those sensibilities come into play once the action steps out of the gym and onto the streets. But once Hit-Girl gets grounded, the action losses that bit of flair. Kick-Ass stays mostly in the school of roundhouse haymakers when he doesn't have escrima sticks in hand, but he's meant to take a beating anyway. His pain makes people laugh.

Class Clown
Now that people actually do dress up as superheroes to stop crime or help society, KICK ASS 2 can't be as cruel to its own characters while looking for laughs. Instead, it calls out the obnoxious 15-year-old in everyone. The emotional stuff somewhere in the middle feels a bit like detention, but it completes the effect. Not as hilarious as the first KICK-ASS, its humor goes broad, keeping funny for most of its two-hour runtime. There's a sly kink to the costume jokes and it's not above poo-poo jokes or bloody slapstick, Jim Carey's weapon of choice. The script is determined to make use of that R-rating, sharing bits of slang and promoting the classic "Is that what kids are calling it these days?" response. There's something to be said for a movie so filled with crazy characters it uses John Leguizamo as its comedic straight man.

Of course there are some nods to comic readers as well as the occasional spoof. Mindy performs the central conceit of SUCKER PUNCH in a high school try-out, with Ninjas. Chuck Liddell reps some UFC product placement as trainer to the bad guy. He earns a dangerously funny super villain name of his own. By the time this movie jumps the shark, it's a laugh-out-loud payoff to the increasingly colorful absurdity and smirking wish fulfilment. There should be a drinking game made from the number of times someone says ‘sequel,’ but most important, stay for the after-credits sequence. It's a knock-out punch line.

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About Patrick Lugo :
Find us on facebook Patrick Lugo has been Senior Designer at Kung Fu Tai Chi Magazine, since the 90's, has done design work for martial art books as well as illustrations. Most notably, he illustrated the award winning Little Monk & the Mantis. More artwork and comics can be found at PLUGOarts.com.

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