The title character of the new superhero sequel "Kick-Ass 2" is a teenage vigilante (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) known for his ability to take a licking and keep on ticking. Time will tell if the movie itself displays the same resilience, because the first wave of film reviewers are clobbering it.
The Times' Mark Olsen writes, "Just as the characters in the film are average people running around in homemade costumes calling themselves super, 'Kick-Ass 2' is a lesser version of what it appears to be, an uncertain jumble rather than a true exploration of outrage, violence and identity."
As written and directed by Jeff Wadlow, "Kick-Ass 2" is constantly "reaching for outrage but hesitantly pulling back," Olsen says. "The sequel's violence feels soft-pedaled compared with the first film, continually shying away from being too graphic and with little of the gleeful revelry that give the first 'Kick-Ass' its energy and punch. … The entire film feels like something of a cop-out, a soft shrug rather than a hard slap."
The San Jose Mercury News' Tony Hicks agrees that "the sequel doesn't come anywhere close to matching the freshness, outrageousness and fun of the original; nor does it manage to keep alive the irony and tongue-in-cheek delight of having overmatched nerds putting on costumes and trying to fight crime."
The strongest part of the film is the subplot involving Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) abandoning crime fighting to try to lead a normal high school life. "Hit-Girl stole the first movie … and she doesn't lose her appeal in the sequel. If only you could say that about the rest of the movie."
Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune says the film "comes in right on the bubble: It's no better, no worse and essentially no different from the jocular, clodhopping brutality of the first one." But as it progresses, "The sequel sets up one round of heinousness after another, and the audience waits for the money shots." One particularly off-putting scene plays an attempted rape for laughs, leading Phillips to declare, "Honestly, this movie is rank."
The Boston Globe's Ty Burr calls "Kick-Ass 2" "a special kind of crap: the kind smart people make for audiences they think are stupid." He continues, "I can’t remember a more unpleasant time at the movies than the 103 minutes I spent watching this needless, witless sequel. It’s a mean-spirited, ultra-violent action-comedy with the emotional maturity of an arrested 12-year-old and the ethical compass of a turnip." And that's just the first paragraph.
Alonso Duralde of the Wrap adds, "While the 2010 'Kick-Ass' was far from perfect, it did feel like a movie that understood the power fantasies of teenage boys with deadly accuracy. If the original felt like it was designed for adolescents, however, this follow-up feels like it was made by an adolescent, one with a whopping case of ADHD."
He continues, "the blend of ultra-violence and dark humor feels forced and inorganic this time around," and Wadlow "never shows the skill that ['Kick-Ass' writer-director] Matthew Vaughn mustered last time, plodding through a series of hackneyed characters and contrived events."
Among the more positive reviews is that of Variety's Justin Chang, who declares "Kick-Ass 2" a "crudely entertaining genre hybrid that merges smart-alecky comicbook satire and semi-plausible vigilante fantasy to weird and wobbly effect." Echoing Hicks, he says, "Moretz remains the standout asset of a series that, like Hit Girl herself, has entered an awkward adolescent stage."
In the end, Chang writes, ''the screw-loose sequel is certain to command a degree of attention, despite or perhaps even because of its maddening unevenness."