Skip to main content

If I was thinking about a Kick-Ass sequel, I had to get serious.

Kick-Ass 2: Balls to the Wall
(2013)

I groaned inwardly when the Kick-Ass sequel was announced; a completely unnecessary follow-up to an original that didn’t demand continuation. That Matthew Vaughn wasn’t returning as director reconfirmed this response; he brought a sense of fun and heart to a movie that could otherwise have been wholly misconceived (like the way no one else seems to have been quite able to make a great X-Men movie lately; First Class had personality, whereas the other entries since X2 has been going through the motions). Balls to the Wall, written and directed by Jeff Wadlow, isn’t actually as terrible as I’d feared, but it’s wholly redundant, roundly failing to justify revisiting these characters.


The first movie was crude, vulgar and revelled in the shock value of having a young girl mouthing obscenities while inflicting ultra-violence on unsuspecting bad guys. Now that girl is at school, attempting to fit in, and this is the plot thread of Balls to the Wall that kind of works; Mindy/Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), having forsaken the superhero lifestyle, is thrown into a sub-Heathers inferno of teenage cruelty, while also discovering she’s attracted to boys. It isn’t terribly original, but neither is Kick-Ass/Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) joining up with a gang of fellow super-heroes/vigilantes (why Dave needs to learn how to fight all over again here – twice! – is anyone’s guess) while Chris/the Motherfucker (Christopher Mintz-Plasse; only actors with three-word names take the leads in this series) decides to reinvent himself as a super villain. The result is replete with the kind of lazy comic book sequel referencing the Scream sequels supplied for horror movies (but more successfully). The pervading air is of “how can we make a sequel work?” rather than “We’ve got a great reason for continuing this story”.


Everything that was fresh now feels tired. What was shocking now seems like cheap repetition. Just the name Motherfucker evidences the level of wit on display. The dodgy superhero/villain names (Night Bitch, The Tumor etc) were more amusing in Mystery Men fifteen years ago, and Mystery Men wasn’t really very good. Wadlow (working from Mark Millar’s source material, which apparently revels in its capacity to shock the readser) finds himself laying on even the half-decent gags too thick (“You’ve got to quit with the racist stereotypes, Chris”, John Leguizamo’s Javier tells the Mother Fucker; “Archetypes” he responds). Occasionally there’s a flash of the first movie’s successful contrasts between comic book and “real” world; the Motherfucker’s insulted reaction when it is suggested he kills the dog belonging to Captain Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). But Wadlow’s idea of a theme is to repeat ad infinitum that there aren’t superheroes in the real world, all the while informing the viewer with the choreography, fight moves, set pieces and a generically stylised visual palette that this is a superhero world.


The violence of the first picture, where Kick-Ass takes a beating or where Hit-Girl goes to work to the accompaniment of the Banana Splits theme, is delivered dutifully but without motive, and so has an unpleasant edge. It can’t shock because it could only shock the first time. So now these scenes feature because they’re what the audience expects of a Kick-Ass movie (this isn’t as bloody as the original, but I’m still not sure how it gets away with a 15; God knows what the BBFC are thinking). Tellingly, the most effective Hit-Girl scene here isn’t one where she kicks ass but instead induces a trio of mean girls to vomit. There’s also the small factor that Hit-Girl’s language has little impact delivered by a 15-year old; four years makes all the difference. And when the best she can come up with as an insult is “Puke face” you start to wonder. The coarse language between schoolgirls is more effective, but indicative of an unpleasant undercurrent in respect of the depiction of women in the film, with references to snatch-kicking, muff munching and a would-be rape that is played for laughs on account of the assailant’s inadequacy (considerably toned down from Millar’s original scenario, but no more acceptable as a result). For a movie as schematic and manipulative as this one (Dave’s emotional journey includes an especially under-cooked development that never sufficiently pays off; we’re presumably expected to think the mere fact of its occurrence is weighty enough), such material doesn’t translate as daring or edgy; it’s merely evidencing how lucky the first effort was to have Vaughn.


Johnson, Moretz and Mintz-Plasse return to their characters fairly effortlessly, but the latter is utterly typecast as the nerd du jour at this point; I’m slightly surprised he’s gone on as long as he has (what, eight years?) Jim Carrey, who famously disassociated himself from the movie, is solid if unspectacular as Stars and Stripes; his physical transformation is impressive, and he never drops the character to indulge in his usual schtick, but the Captain isn’t a terribly interesting character. Barely anything is made of his Born Again disposition, for example. Lindy Booth is memorable as Night Bitch, and a smattering of British thesps appear in small roles; Benedict Wong, Iain Glen, Steven Mackintosh, Monica Dolan.


Balls to the Wall is very cheap looking. Tim Maurice-Jones cinematography is unpersuasive, and there’s a pretty awful fight sequence atop a speeding van complete with horribly obvious green screen work. In general, the tone is one of straight-to-video cash-in whose stars should have known better. Even the score sounds recycled, the really rather great four composer-led work on the original now limited to Henry Jackman redoing the (admittedly great) main theme from the first with Matthew Margeson.


I don’t think anyone really expected there to be a Kick-Ass sequel apart from the reliably self -promoting Mark Millar. Kick-Ass didn’t make enough ($96m worldwide) for it to be a forgone conclusion, so someone obviously did a sum based on the home entertainment market. Since this one cost about the same but made a third less, and wasn’t very well received I expect there’ll be even less clamour for another. I’ll be happy to forget about it, while holding up the first movie as a genuinely great little surprise. Maybe in 20 years, when studios are dusting off old properties that have a lot of nostalgia value (as they always are), a return of Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl might have some merit, but for now they should just leave it alone. No matter how much Millar talks them up.


**1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

I am so sick of Scotland!

Outlaw/King (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that it isn't enough just to want to make a historical epic, you have to have some level of vision for it as well. Say what you like about Mel's Braveheart – and it isn't a very good film – it's got sensibility in spades. He knew what he was setting out to achieve, and the audience duly responded. What does David Mackenzie want from Outlaw/King (it's shown with a forward slash on the titles, so I'm going with it)? Ostensibly, and unsurprisingly, to restore the stature of Robert the Bruce after it was rather tarnished by Braveheart, but he has singularly failed to do so. More than that, it isn’t an "idea", something you can recognise or get behind even if you don’t care about the guy. You’ll never forget Mel's Wallace, for better or worse, but the most singular aspect of Chris Pine's Bruce hasn’t been his rousing speeches or heroic valour. No, it's been his kingly winky.

If this is not a place for a priest, Miles, then this is exactly where the Lord wants me.

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)
(SPOILERS) Sometimes a movie comes along where you instantly know you’re safe in the hands of a master of the craft, someone who knows exactly the story they want to tell and precisely how to achieve it. All you have to do is sit back and exult in the joyful dexterity on display. Bad Times at the El Royale is such a movie, and Drew Goddard has outdone himself. From the first scene, set ten years prior to the main action, he has constructed a dizzyingly deft piece of work, stuffed with indelible characters portrayed by perfectly chosen performers, delirious twists and game-changing flashbacks, the package sealed by an accompanying frequently diegetic soundtrack, playing in as it does to the essential plot beats of the whole. If there's a better movie this year, it will be a pretty damn good one.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

It was one of the most desolate looking places in the world.

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old, broadcast by the BBC on the centenary of Armistice Day, is "sold" on the attraction and curiosity value of restored, colourised and frame rate-enhanced footage. On that level, this World War I documentary, utilising a misquote from Laurence Binyon's poem for its title, is frequently an eye-opener, transforming the stuttering, blurry visuals that have hitherto informed subsequent generations' relationship with the War. However, that's only half the story; the other is the use of archive interviews with veterans to provide a narrative, exerting an effect often more impacting for what isn't said than for what is.

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

You kind of look like a slutty Ebola virus.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
(SPOILERS) The phenomenal success of Crazy Rich Asians – in the US at any rate, thus far – might lead one to think it's some kind of startling original, but the truth is, whatever its core demographic appeal, this adaptation of Kevin Kwan's novel taps into universally accepted romantic comedy DNA and readily recognisable tropes of family and class, regardless of cultural background. It emerges a smoothly professional product, ticking the expected boxes in those areas – the heroine's highs, lows, rejections, proposals, accompanied by whacky scene-stealing best friend – even if the writing is sometimes a little on the clunky side.

Prepare the Heathen’s Stand! By order of purification!

Apostle (2018)
(SPOILERS) Another week, another undercooked Netflix flick from an undeniably talented director. What’s up with their quality control? Do they have any? Are they so set on attracting an embarrassment of creatives, they give them carte blanche, to hell with whether the results are any good or not? Apostle's an ungainly folk-horror mashup of The Wicker Man (most obviously, but without the remotest trace of that screenplay's finesse) and any cult-centric Brit horror movie you’d care to think of (including Ben Wheatley's, himself an exponent of similar influences-on-sleeve filmmaking with Kill List), taking in tropes from Hammer, torture porn, and pagan lore but revealing nothing much that's different or original beyond them.

It seemed as if I had missed something.

Room 237 (2012)
Stanley Kubrick’s meticulous, obsessive approach towards filmmaking was renowned, so perhaps it should be no surprise to find comparable traits reflected in a section of his worshippers. Legends about the director have taken root (some of them with a factual basis, others bunkum), while the air of secrecy that enshrouded his life and work has duly fostered a range of conspiracy theories. A few of these are aired in Rodney Ascher’s documentary, which indulges five variably coherent advocates of five variably tenuous theories relating to just what The Shining is really all about. Beyond Jack Nicholson turning the crazy up to 11, that is. Ascher has hit on a fascinating subject, one that exposes our capacity to interpret any given information wildly differently according to our disposition. But his execution, which both underlines and undermines the theses of these devotees, leaves something to be desired.

Part of the problem is simply one of production values. The audio tra…