Kick-Ass 2 doubles down on the love-hate relationship with ultra-violence that typified its predecessor, but David Cronenberg's A History of Violence this is not. Neither was Kick-Ass, for that matter, but the earlier film's director, Matthew Vaughn, at least found a small spot of fertile narrative ground to explore the superhero fantasy as an expressive, blood-bathed escape from the uniformity and humiliations of pubescence and high school. Outside of that small spot, however, was a deeply cowardly movie: Vaughn feigned a sense of social, moral, and ethical responsibility, but only when it proved convenient. When Chloë Grace Moretz's Mindy, a.k.a. Hit-Girl, giddily laid waste to a dozen low-level criminals, all scored by a blast of gleeful pop-punk, any sense of the corruptive power of violence felt decisively excised.
The sequel retains the original's blithely manipulative tone, and writer-director Jeff Wadlow barely pads this irritating continuation with new or, heaven forbid, original ideas. His best one is his first one: shifting the narrative focus away from the eponymous homegrown hero, the alter ego of teenager David Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and more toward Mindy, now a high school freshman. Under the guidance of Marcus (Morris Chestnut), her new guardian, she hesitantly attempts to go straight, just as David is getting back into the game. In essence, they both seek and find (unsteady) acceptance, as she joins up with a triptych of bitchy cheerleader types—an unacknowledged rip-off of Mean Girls—and Kick-Ass finds himself the new star in a league of masked do-gooders, led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey), a born-again ex-assassin.
The league, which also includes Donald Faison's Dr. Gravity and Lindy Booth's Night Bitch, break up a prostitution ring and foil a few small crimes, but the gauntlet isn't thrown down until Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) returns as the Motherfucker. Chris summons his own league of villains, brokered through his family's bodyguard, Javier (John Leguizamo), and starts offing Kick-Ass's loved ones, out of revenge for his late father, but like Mindy, the legacy Chris is burdened with is only of base interest to Wadlow. The director's real joy is in garnishing this wailing tantrum of a movie with misogyny, homophobia, and racism for nothing more than shock value, and that's not even mentioning the "sick stick," a weapon that causes Mindy's would-be besties to simultaneously vomit and shit their pants.
Wadlow would like to see his film as brash and punkish, but it's really just hypocritical. Seeing a female superhero go righteously berserk on the shallow and sexist alike is invigorating, but then Wadlow hangs perversely on a gyrating dance number by scantly clad Brooke (Claudia Lee). (At one point, X-Factor contestants Union J appear in a doozy of a video-cum-plug that makes a Brooke acolyte, in her words, "soaked," which doesn't particularly help matters.) The film luxuriates in its edginess, and yet Henry Jackman and Matthew Morgeson's soaring, pedestrian score often takes the sting out of otherwise brutal sequences. The film is stuck in the self-aggrandizing mindset of its most delusional characters, which is in direct opposition to its central premise of what unbridled heroism and evil look like in reality. Ultimately, the film shares less of the identity issues of Kick-Ass or Hit-Girl than of the Motherfucker, a fraudulent, sadistic, and wealthy twerp who's desperate for any kind of attention his audience can provide.