"This isn't a comic book! If you die, there is no do-over! There are no sequels!"
--Dave Lizewski, aka Kick-Ass
I lost track of how many times the characters in "Kick-Ass 2" reminded me that what I was watching was real, not just pretend -- as if to give weight to the proceedings that did not otherwise exist. The joke, of course, is this is very much a comic book movie, super-heroes get do-overs all the flipping time, and it's a sequel that is trying so hard to convince us that sequels and reboots are soulless affairs with little point for existing.
I'm not sorry they made a sequel to "Kick-Ass," or that I watched it. But it feels like the original's vital juices all got sucked out of it.
The 2010 film, directed and co-written by Matthew Vaughn based on the comic books by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., was shocking, hard-edged, hyper-violent and whip-smart. The sequel is jokey, surprisingly soft around the edges, sorta-violent and not half as clever as it thinks it is.
Writer/director Jeff Wadlow takes over the reins, and to his credit the characters haven't just been frozen in time since last we saw them. Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), the rail-thin high school dweeb who first started the masked vigilante craze, is now a burned-out senior who looks like he's been living at the gym. Seeing so many would-be superheroes copycatting his style finally convinces him to get back in the game.
More problematic is Hit-Girl, the pint-sized terror who spewed vile curses while literally chopping up bad guys with her arsenal of blades and guns. Now she's a trembly 15-year-old freshman, uncertain of her place in the world and feeling ostracized by the mean girls at school.
Chloë Grace Moretz is one of the brightest lights of her generation, but her character's back-and-forth dithering gets really old, really fast. We know she's eventually going to put the purple wig back on again, so everything until then feels like marking time.
There's a long sequence where Hit-Girl gets sucked into the bitchy schemes of the ruling clique, led by Brooke, deliciously played by Claudia Lee. It's like the movie goes all "Heathers" for a time, and while it's engaging enough in its right, this section belongs in another movie.
Rejected by Hit-Girl in his quest for a partner, Kick-Ass hooks up with a bunch of other supers, who dub themselves Justice 4 Ever. These include Battle Guy (revealed to be Dave's oldest friend), Dr. Gravity, Night Bitch and Insect Man. For wannabes, they sure come up with lackluster names for themselves.
They're led by Colonel Stars and Stripes, a deranged fascist played by Jim Carrey, nearly unrecognizable under a mountain of prosthetics. The Colonel teaches his disciples not to use foul language, but sees nothing wrong with siccing his attack dog (also masked) on the nether regions of his foes.
Of course, you couldn't have a super-hero story without a villain, and it's Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Chris D'Amico, former Kick-Ass friend-turned-foe after the latter killed his mob boss father.
Recognizing that his super-power is that he has gobs of money, he gives himself a new (unprintable) moniker and sets about recruiting an evil army. His own costume is salvaged from his mother's S&M outfits, which aren't improved by his wearing them.
This leads to the inevitable showdown between the two teams, which carries a certain amount of thrills -- especially Hit-Girl's faceoff with Mother Russia, a former KGB enforcer vividly portrayed by bodybuilder Olga Kurkulina.
I didn't hate "Kick-Ass 2," but I didn't particularly like it, either. The movie just sat there for me, going through the motions of the original but with the violence and swearing toned down about 40 percent. What's most clear is that very little ass is actually kicked.