THERE ARE TWO MOVIES in Kick-Ass 2. That probably sounds awesome: two movies for the price of one! But it isn't, because one of those movies is really short and the other is really bad.
2010's Kick-Ass seems like it came out forever ago, which is probably why its sequel spends its whole first act playing catch-up: High-schooler Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is also Kick-Ass, a part-time superhero; every once in a while, he teams up with Hit-Girl, AKA Mindy Macready (Chloë Grace Moretz), whose chipper grin and purple wig belie the fact she can brutally beat down jerks twice her size. Meanwhile, angry nerd Chris D'Amico (played by McLovin! remember McLovin?) has decided to become New York's first supervillain, which he does by dressing up in his mother's bondage gear, renaming himself "The Motherfucker," and hiring a squad of mercenaries. He calls his cohorts the Toxic Mega Cunts; your grandmother probably wouldn't like this movie very much.
In his one-star review, Roger Ebert called the first Kick-Ass "morally reprehensible," and while that was a bit of an overreaction, it's hard to deny that much of that movie's appeal came from its then-novel outrageousness. Based on a comic by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., Kick-Ass was also, at times, really fun, thanks to a great turn from Moretz, solid action, and Nicholas Cage channeling Adam West. (Cage is absent this time; Jim Carrey, as the leader of a team of superheroes, does his best to dispense a comparable sort of weirdness. He cannot compete with Cage in this regard; no one can.)
Alas, Kick-Ass 2 is not fun, which brings us back to the two-movies-in-one thing: whenever Kick-Ass 2 tries to revel in the same gleeful amorality as Kick-Ass, it feels like a tedious rehash. What writer/director Jeff Wadlow is better at, though, is the other half of the movie, which is a weirdly charming story about... parenting?
As Mindy and Dave's beleaguered guardians, Morris Chestnut and Garrett M. Brown have thankless roles: as dictated by the rules of every movie about rebellious teenagers ever, it's their job to look square and lecture. Chestnut and Brown do those things, but they're good at them: Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl really are idiots, a fact that both of their fathers try to impart to them while still, you know, loving them. When Dave's dad finds his son's stupid superhero costume, or Mindy, at Chestnut's urging, tries to fit in with the popular girls at school, Wadlow and his cast find genuine conflict and humor. It's then that Kick-Ass 2 becomes about two outsiders trying to fit in, and their two fathers trying to keep up. It's a surprising, earnest, entertaining story—or at least it is until McLovin shows up to make some rape jokes.
Comics writer Mark Millar has never been accused of sensitivity or subtlety, but in his best work, he underscores his boorishness with a subversive wink. There's no wink here, and Kick-Ass 2 is mostly clunky, unfunny, and lame. But every once in a while, it turns into a pretty fun coming-of-age movie about teens acting out and parents trying, and failing, to be cool with it. Hopefully next time, Wadlow will just makes a high-school movie, not a superhero sequel nobody asked for.