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Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013 03:26 pm

Kick-Ass 2 a surprisingly effective look at identity confusion

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Jim Carrey as Colonel Stars and Stripes and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Kick-Ass in Kick-Ass 2.
PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSAL PICTURES

Though not a complete success, Jeff Wadlow’s Kick-Ass 2 is far superior to its predecessor, a blood-soaked surprise hit from 2010 that wallowed in excessive violence and lacked the awareness to turn the film into a postmodern take on the superhero genre. That’s not to say that this sequel is squeaky-clean – far from it – but there’s more at play here. The director, who also fashioned the screenplay adaptation of the groundbreaking comic book, delves deeply into questions of identity in a world that regulates us to lives of anonymity.

For those who missed the first film, Wadlow gets viewers quickly up to speed as the title character, a very good Aaron Taylor-Johnson, recounts his adventures as the world’s first superhero and how he retired from the streets but is now getting restless and is eager to go out and bust some skulls. He asks Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), a masked vigilante he’s become acquainted with, to help get him back into fighting shape, a task she embraces as she’s been feeling a bit lost since the death of her father and partner in crime fighting, Big Daddy. Having promised her guardian (Morris Chestnut) to stay off the streets, she’s been looking for evildoers without his knowledge, which comes to a quick end once she’s caught blood-spattered in her bed. All the while, Kick-Ass’ arch enemy Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is plotting to revenge his father’s death and takes on a new identity, the name of which cannot be published in a family publication of this sort, and begins to recruit a team of super-villains in order to wreck havoc on New York City.

Kick-Ass is recruited to join a similar group devoted to helping others and it’s at this point that the film hits its stride, giving us a group of sympathetic do-gooders who’ve had their lives shattered in some way and are striving to redefine themselves. Colonel Stars and Stripes (a surprisingly subdued Jim Carrey) is attempting to redeem himself having been a mob enforcer during his early years; Insect Man (Robert Emms) is a gay man who’s attempting to combat bullying after being an object of ridicule; while Remember Tommy is a married couple (Steven Mackintosh and Monica Dolan) whose son went missing and hope to prevent this from happening to anyone else. That the film bears more than a passing resemblance to Fight Club is one of its most pleasant surprises.

Identity confusion abounds and it’s the primary focus of the film. In an age in which the pressure to conform seems paramount to survival, whether that means defining yourself in your teen years or complying to adult responsibilities, preventing your sense of individuality from being completely erased seems futile. Each of the characters has had their lives altered radically in some way, causing each of them to question their sense of purpose. It comes as no surprise that they would each decide to hide behind a mask and delude themselves by adopting a persona with questionable motives. Kick-Ass and his cohorts insist that they are acting on behalf of the public welfare and while they have the best of intentions, their actions often lead to more mayhem. It’s suggested that their presence has given rise to their foes.

And while these characters are misguided, the ones devoted to evil are more tragic. Their lack of moral conviction leads them to create civil unrest for attention’s sake. Allowing the media to dictate their actions and using Twitter and other social outlets to brag of their deeds, they provide chilling examples of the extremes that today’s disenfranchised youths might go to.

The most intriguing character in the film is Hit-Girl and only Moretz’s skill prevents her from being nothing more than a fetish object. Having been transformed into a lethal weapon by her father at an early age, she’s denied the opportunity to embrace her true identity as masked vigilantes operate outside the law, no matter what their moral imperative. When she’s forced to try to be a “normal” high school student, she’s unable to assimilate. Once you’ve tasted blood, it’s hard to get excited about joining the cheer squad. Hit-Girl is a tragic figure in the classic mold of Batman and Spider-Man, forever an outsider, dealing with a life that’s been thrust upon her rather than chosen.

Like its predecessor, Kick-Ass 2 has a problem with the way it portrays violence. In no way does it try to assume an ironic, over-the-top approach and instead comes off as brutal and gratuitous at times, though it must be said it is milder than the series’ first installment. Still, seeing a teenage girl flirt with a perspective beau by shooting him in his bulletproof vest-clad chest and seeing someone repeatedly stabbed with shards of glass simply doesn’t jive with costumed characters cavorting about. This disconnect is predominant in our society what with glorified displays of violence in the media prompting far too many impersonal, vicious actions. While Wadlow may argue his film is commentary on this problem, he hasn’t yet mastered the ability to walk that fine line between calling attention to an issue and becoming an example of it. Still, what the director has to say about forging an identity in today’s confused world bears hearing, even if you have to watch his film through your fingers.  

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.


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