Review: Kick-Ass 2

Warning: A few spoilers from the first Kick-Ass below. But if you haven’t seen the first film, I’m not sure why you are reading a review of the sequel. But whatever – your call.

Kick-Ass 2 is an unfortunate mess. While it has a few moments that hearkened back to what I enjoyed about the first film, most of its run time is spent wandering around in a sea of its own ineptitude.

The story picks up 4 years after the last film left off. Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) (somehow still in high school) wants to get back into the superhero game after seeing how his time as Kick-Ass has inspired so many other civilians to suit up and fight evil. But this time around, he wants a partner. So he calls on Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz). In the subsequent years, Mindy has not given up the fight, honoring the promise she made to Big Daddy to continue defending the city. She takes him on as a trainee, but the partnership is short-lived, when she promises Marcus (Morris Chestnut) that she will hang the suit up and commit to being a normal, well-adjusted teenage girl. This starts an entire tangent of Mindy trying to adjust to normal, bullshit-ridden teenage life. In the meantime, Kick-Ass finds companionship with a league of heroes calling themselves Justice Forever who have teamed up to work together. They begin a successful run of crime fighting, until they cross paths with Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who has rechristened himself The Mother Fucker and is working toward building an army of super-villains to obtain revenge for his father’s death.

This movie feels like a mindless copy of its predecessor – but getting all of the important details wrong. Seriously – it feels like writer/director Jeff Wadlow (taking the reins from Matthew Vaughn) had never seen the first film. Or at least hadn’t been paying much attention to it. He focuses on all of the wrong parts. He pus the violence and the jokes at the forefront of the story, and keeps the more important elements (gravity and character development) in the back seat.

What worked so well about Kick-Ass was that yes, it was telling a rather juvenile story about a teenager who dresses up to fight crime and meets a pair of fellow crime fighters (one of which is a foul-mouthed little girl who could easily beat the living shit out of you) and the story unfolds from there. But what worked so well was that this light and rather comedic premise was so well-grounded in reality. The first time Dave attempts to fight crime, he gets his ass handed to him. When things go south with Frank D’Amico, Kick-Ass and Big Daddy get the shit kicked out of them on a live internet feed and Big Daddy doesn’t even make it out of the fight. Even with all of the jokes and humor and entertaining action sequences, you know that the stakes are high. Because we are taking the premise of costumed heroes, and putting them in real life. And in real life, people get hurt. In the sequel, Wadlow tries to put the humor and ridiculousness front and center, and just barely lets some of the heavier moments creep in. So when the serious shit starts going down, it doesn’t hit nearly as hard, or carry the same level of weight.

Character-wise, nobody feels as developed as in the first film. The actors all do well with what they are given, but it could only go so far. Chris D’Amico is a cartoon character. Yes, I get that he’s gone off the rails after the death of his father, but he used to be a character that I could get behind and empathize with – a lonely kid desperate seeking the approval of his father and trying to take the first steps to proving himself a man. Here, he’s just a buffoon. They rely too heavily on Hit Girl’s attitude and mouthiness for it to really be of any use – particularly since what made it work so well in the first film was Chloë Grace Moretz’s age. The absurdity of some of those lines coming out of the mouth of a girl that young was what made it work. Now, she’s just a mouthy teenager, and the effect isn’t the same. At all. Especially when you hammer it as hard as they did here.

The shining point in all of this is Jim Carrey’s work as Colonel Stars and Stripes. He was such a likable character and he delivers it so well that it almost made up for the void filling the screen around him. There is one particular moment that he carries off so perfectly that it almost made me feel what I loved so much about the first film.

And there is a ton of missed potential with the new superheroes that made up Justice Forever. As we are introduced to them, each one reveals their reason for taking up a life of crime fighting – a missing child, a lost sister, a desire to seek forgiveness for past misdeeds. These are all characters and stories I would have liked to have learned more about, but the story quickly glossed over them and left them bland and boring.

My biggest gripe in all of this is that I just didn’t have much FUN. And I wanted to. Kick-Ass was a blast and I really enjoyed connecting with those characters and seeing Dave realize his dream of making the world a little bit better through his actions. When he has his first successful fight and defends the guy from all of the thugs in the parking lot, my heartstrings get pulled a bit when you see what one person can accomplish. I didn’t really have that feeling here. It really felt like Wadlow just didn’t understand what he was making. Sure, there were some funny moments and bits of dialogue, but they weren’t enough to carry the entire movie.

Ultimately, it was a really disappointing experience that left me feeling hollow and gross. It had none of the heart of the first film, and filled the void with mean-spirited crap. It is an example of the fact that you cannot simply try to copy a blueprint to make a movie – you have to understand exactly how and why that blueprint worked in the first place. Wadlow went for the lowest common denominator here and left behind all of the things that made the first film really work. He focused primarily on profane humor and violent action sequences, and while I normally enjoy both of those things. you have to have to have something else in the film to back them up. Kick-Ass succeeded because brought a fun premise to life, but still imbibed it with some serious and heart-touching moments. Kick-Ass 2 failed to bring that same level of empathy and understanding to the table, and just sort of sits sadly in the shadow of its predecessor.

Review: Blackfish

In 2010, the world was stunned by the tragic death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau. She was killed in the middle of a show at the marine park by the orca (killer whale), Tilikum. SeaWorld representatives were quick to label the incident the result of “trainer error” and go about their business. OSHA had different ideas. They launched an investigation, the result of which was that SeaWorld was barred from having their trainers in the tank with the animals during the performances. The incident sparked much conversation regarding the ethical implications of keeping these animals in captivity, and many of these concerns are addressed in the new documentary, Blackfish.

Blackfish explores the history of our relationship with captive animals through the life history of Tilikum himself. We learn how he was initially captured in the early ‘80’s and started out at a marine park in Canada, before eventually winding up at SeaWorld Orlando in 1992. Over his years as a theme park attraction, Tilikum has been responsible for three different deaths – a fact that SeaWorld has tried to keep under wraps.

Through the documentary, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite explores the life that these animals have in captivity and why it is not well-suited to their instincts or genetic makeup, while also delving into how they interact with people and the toll that years in captivity can take on their psyche.

What I found to be particularly interesting in this film was the fact that Cowperthwaite chose not to focus on the obvious animal rights activists for the majority of the interview subjects. Anyone against the work the SeaWorld does would be happy to sit in that chair and tell you how horrible the organization is. And, while that would have offered interesting and valid opinions, the path she chose to follow proved to be much more interesting. She chose to spend the majority of the time talking with former SeaWorld trainers. People who had been there and had worked closely with these animals and with Dawn Brancheau and knew intimately how the place ran and what went on there. People who were so excited to be hired on as trainers and work with these animals, only to later be discouraged by thoughtless and controversial company policy and cover-ups. These were not merely talking heads with facts – these people have their own stories and experiences to add to the proceedings, and their thoughts and opinions on the events that have transpired surrounding Tilikum and SeaWorld are both interesting and revealing.

Blackfish is an amazing documentary that highlights how little we understand about nature, yet how eager we are to jump in and manipulate it for profit. To the detriment of the animals and the people who work with them. Example: Orcas travel in pods, each with their own specific and individual communication patterns. So when we toss one whale from one pod into a water tank with two other whales from different groups, they are probably not going to mingle well. Tilikum endured many attacks from the females in his pen, and isolation whenever they have been separated. Living in a concrete pen is just not conducive to the whales’ behavioral patterns, and yet we continue to keep them there, regardless of the results.

It’s like when we fucked with dinosaur DNA in Jurassic Park and were all shocked when we realized we couldn’t control our own creations. We capture these animals that we knew relatively little about, force them into unnatural habitats and living conditions, and then make them do stupid tricks for dumbshit tourists in exchange for fish. And yet we are shocked when these animals, with their own habits, psyches and responses, lose patience with our bullshit.

Blackfish is a well-made and informative documentary that has a great deal to say. It is a fascinating look into a practice that many people might not think of as harmful, yet, hopefully someday, we will look back on and wonder what the hell we were doing. It is currently doing a limited theatrical run now, and will continue spreading throughout August and September. It is a highly recommended film.