There’s a refrain that’s repeated over and over in this film: “this is real life”. It’s repeated often enough that I get the feeling the writer-director must have a bit of a complex about quite how abstracted all this stuff is from any kind of recognisable reality. I mean, that’s fine — it hardly hides its comic book origins with all those luridly saturated colours, the glib violence, the superheroes and supervillains storyline and the superimposition of comic book captions — but the repetition of that particular phrase just comes across as witless irony in such a uneven work.
The unevenness is in the tone, which bounces around in a rather discomfiting manner. There are so many big melodramatically emotional crescendoes that it’s very easy to stop caring about any of the characters, though certainly the filmmakers must expect their audience to be fairly apathetic given the casual slaughter involved (most notably of a squad of police officers, who appear to have done little to merit such treatment, unlike the misanthropic ‘super’-branded characters). There’s scarcely a scene lacking a major character repenting of his/her actions, pledging to change, being confronted by the bitterness of life, and grappling with their life choices. There are earnest close-ups and stirring music but little real emotional catharsis — it feels more like desperate sententious back-peddling to justify the next bout of “real life” cartoon violence, all nunchucks and red dye packs.
And yet, somehow, I don’t really hate this film. It’s not that it’s particularly funny — it may be going for action-comedy, but the latter never really gets much beyond the colourful cartoonishness of the characters and a bit of underage swearing, and so is easily forgettable. It also has a troubling relationship to race — (white) characters make jokes at the expense of racist stereotypes yet the fact that there are always other characters to call them on it doesn’t really change some of the racial dynamics in play. Almost all the ‘super’ characters are white, and more often than not possess a fair amount of independent wealth, while there’s an extended sequence of them battling a group of shady oriental clichés lifted straight from some fever dream of Hong Kong cinema. Plus there’s a real underlying nastiness to the film’s worldview, that familiar reactionary politics of vigilantism with which filmmakers like Michael Winner or John Milius would surely be comfortable — but that was all there in the first film, and every bit as troubling.
No, I think what I like is Chloë Grace Moretz as an action hero, and as Hit-Girl she’s very much the focus of this second film (over the nominal titular character played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, gawky, geeky and very much post-adolescent by this point). She’s charismatic and capable, with greater fighting skills not to mention self-confidence than most of the rest of the cast, and hardly requires saving at any point — except perhaps from her ‘normal’ self, as she spends rather too much of the film not being Hit-Girl. Her nemesis in the film is Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s pathetically-likeable supervillain Chris, who dubs himself The Motherfvcker, and gets the closest in the film to laugh-out-loud comedy, generally while doing something unspeakably vicious. Pretty much everyone else is rather lost amongst the peaks and troughs of ersatz emotion.
Reading back over what I’ve written makes it sound like I was seething throughout this film, but if that’s not the case, it’s certainly not a film that leaves me feeling particularly charitable. It’s a nasty vision of a broken society that’s only barely held together by brightly-coloured spandex and pleather.
Director/Writer Jeff Wadlow (based on the comic books Kick-Ass 2 and Hit-Girl by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.); Cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones; Starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jim Carrey; Length 103 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Haymarket, London, Monday 9 September 2013.