At The Movies: Kick-Ass 2 (2013)

(Long Island, N. Y.) Kick-Ass 2 is basically more Kick-Ass but less of the irony that defined the original film, with its real-world take on the whole superhero business. In other words, while entertaining on a base level, it’s also basically become what it first set out to parody.

The first Kick-Ass, released in 2010 and directed by the awesome Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class), was based on a “mature readers” comic book created by writer Mark Millar and artist John Romita, Jr. To make the movie he wanted, Vaughn achieved independent backing, which enabled him to thumb his nose at the Hollywood bigwigs and do pretty much whatever the hell he wanted.

Kick-Ass was the heart-warming story of average geek Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), who one day decides to don a goofy green wetsuit and fight crime just like the superheroes in comic books. Dubbing himself “Kick-Ass” but possessing no equivalent abilities that such a nom de plume would suggest, he is

soon left battered and broken by thugs after attempting to stop a robbery.

But, lucky for Kick-Ass the extensive nerve damage and the plates and screws now holding him together create a hero far more capable of taking a beating, and once he’s discharged from the hospital, he goes right back into crime fighting.

Filmed defending a beating victim from a gang attack (’cause you know kids love filming cool stuff with their smart phones), Kick-Ass ends up a YouTube sensation and attracts the attention of a real crime fighting duo: Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), a cross between Batman and The Punisher, and his daughter, Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), an 11 year-old kid who swears like a sailor and brutally slices and dices bad guys without remorse. Together, they enter into conflict with Mafia kingpin Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) and his son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), blood is spilt, things blow up, the bad guys are beaten, etc, etc, etc.

kick_ass_2Kick-Ass 2 picks up with Kick-Ass being trained by Hit-Girl to be a better crime fighter, while she attempts to give up the game and lead the life of a normal teenage girl (at the behest of her guardian Marcus after the death of Big Daddy in the previous movie). Meanwhile, Chris D’Amico, whose father perished at the hands of Kick-Ass and his bazooka in their last encounter, uses his inheritance to become a super villain, calling himself…um…well, “The M-Fer.” Only, that’s not the whole name. It’s a bad word. I can’t type it here or I’ll get fired. But I’m sure you get it, right?

Anyway, Kick-Ass’ exploits have inspired the city, and soon there’s costumed vigilantes everywhere. Kick-Ass joins a team of heroes called “Justice Forever,” led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). Meanwhile, The M-Fer hires a team of super villains to back him up, and starts doing his best to make Kick-Ass pay for his father’s death. Meanwhile, Hit-Girl, who is honestly the only real capable fighter in the entire movie, is trying her hardest to fit in with the popular girls in high school…and failing miserably. Will she become Hit-Girl again and save Kick-Ass from certain death at the hands of The M-Fer and his gang, the Toxic Mega-C…um, well…it’s another bad word.

It rhymes with “runts.” You do the math.

Overall, the first Kick-Ass was a pretty fun movie, especially when you take into consideration the writing/directing skills of Matthew Vaughn; whereas the characters of the comic

book were rather loathsome and unlikable (even the good guys), Vaughn did what he could to humanize them and, in the case of Hit-Girl, tone down some of the REALLY objectionable aspects of her character for the film adaptation. Oh, you didn’t think she could be more offensive (or awesome)? Well, for example, Vaughn thankfully omitted her

habit of doing cocaine before battle, which I think REALLY would have sent people over the deep end. No, there was still some glaring issues regarding the characters of Kick-Ass and how invested the film got you in their plights, bit overall it was a solid and fun movie.

However, the sequel, written and directed this time by Jeff Wadlow (Matthew Vaughn co-produced), while still fun in many respects, seems to fall a bit short of the mark set by the first movie. Wadlow seems unwilling to put the effort into it to either make the characters semi-relatable or wholeheartedly embrace the parody of superhero films like his predecessor did. Thus, you get a movie that basically almost becomes what the first installment set out to make fun of. It’s a shame, because the cast is as solid as before and the actions scenes are just as hard-hitting, gory, and intense.

Aaron Johnson, with his awkward delivery, was really good, although something seemed to be missing from his performance this time around; he seemed slightly less intense for whatever reason. But once again the scene-stealer, of course, is Chloë Grace Moretz’s Hit-Girl. Yes, she’s a good actress, but it’s her bravery in taking such a messed-up role that really makes her stand out. After shocking audiences with the brash and foul-mouthed Hit-Girl when she was

just 12, she returns to do it again as a teenager, whereas most actresses her are more worried about starring in the latest crappy Twilight rip-off film. She owns this movie, plain and simple.

Oh, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse? He’s okay, but man, if he wasn’t typecast as a nerd before (and he was), this movie seals the deal forever. I just couldn’t take him seriously as a villain. Not for a second.

Kick-Ass 2, just like the original, hits a speed bump and slows way down in the middle, throwing off the pace rather significantly (it does recover for the ending, however). And, despite being a major part of the marketing, Jim Carrey‘s role is basically one step up from a glorified cameo; it’s that brief.

Also, some of the humor is hit or miss, and at times even far too tasteless for even someone as twisted as myself; an attempted sexual assault is actually played for laughs (the perp couldn’t “perform”), which is just gross. Yes, I know that, in the comic Kick-Ass 2 is based on, the rape actually takes place (that’s one reason out of many that I won’t be reading it), so at least the director had the good sense to reign in that scene, but I think the movie would have been better served if he had just removed it altogether.

Otherwise, if you liked the first Kick-Ass, there’s (almost) no reason why you wouldn’t like Kick-Ass 2. It’s certainly not for everyone, however, but if you dig your action bloody and tasteless (who doesn’t?), you should dig it.

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At The Movies: Elysium (2013)

(Long Island, N. Y.) One of my favorite films in the last few years (heck, possibly of all-time) is Neill Blomkamp“s

amazingly awesome 2009 writing/directorial debut District 9. A gritty, funny, and altogether mind-blowing and original sci-fi action movie set in South Africa, the independently-produced District 9 put Blomkamp on the map in a big way. I really can”t say enough about how good this movie is.

That said, the stakes were high when his second film, another sci-fi effort entitled Elysium, was announced, and after what seems like forever, it”s finally upon us. Now, I”ve tried to be realistic with my expectations – after all, people were expecting probably way too much out of Blomkamp for his debut with a major studio – but nonetheless, my expectations were met. Mostly,

anyway.

Elysium, set in the year 2154, is the tale of Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) a guy living in Mexico, the squalor of Earth”s many disgusting slums, along with all of the other “Have Nots.” Meanwhile, the “Haves” live in orbit in a posh space station, the eponymous “Elysium,” where they have access to advanced medical pods that can pretty much heal any disease or injury (apparently even an exploded head isn”t too much for these things to handle). Earth inhabitants, with little access to

proper health care (sound familiar?), often attempt to “jump the border” into Elysium via outlaw shuttle-crafts; provided they aren”t shot down in the process, they then run into the nearest home and utilize its medical pod (using fake generic ID) to fix what ails “em, only to be deported right afterwards. It”s risky, but sometimes it”s the poor populace”s only choice to survive.

Max, a former gangster, is trying to get his life back on track by working in a robot factory, but after he receives lethal radiation poisoning from an industrial accident, he becomes obsessed with getting to Elysium and using their medical pods to cure his condition. In his bid for life, he joins up with his former gang and is outfitted with a powered exo-skeleton to aid in the violent theft of data from a visiting

Elysium resident overseeing business operations on Earth; once the mysterious data is retrieved, Max will be granted a one-way ticket to Elysium and salvation. However, the stolen data contains a startling secret, one that has Elysium”s Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster) pulling out all the stops to get it back…even going so far as to activate the deadly and ruthless Agent C.M. Kruger (Sharlto Copley), a loose cannon that commands a team of mercenaries under Elysium”s employ.

elysiumWith all of this against him, and the complication of a childhood sweetheart getting involved in the mix, is there any chance that Max will make it to Elysium before his five days to live are up?

Elysium is really good. It didn”t completely blow me onto my backside like District 9 did – it”s not THAT good – but it was wasn”t a letdown, either. It featured a lot of great action scenes; innovative speculative future-tech; and rather biting social commentary that, while unfortunately not nearly as subtle as the messages presented in District 9, are still effective and, in this day and age of the Haves vs. the Have-Nots, very, very relevant. The message of the film wasn”t particularly heavy-handed for the most part…at least, until the very end, when it went into overdrive. I was slightly annoyed, but whatever; it could have been worse. Another minor complaint about Elysium is the toned down humor and emotionalism that were very much present in District 9; as a result, Blomkamp”s sophomore effort feels a tad dry. But only a

tad.

I”ve also seen complaints about excessive shaky cam, but I personally think it”s all overblown; I”ve seen way, waaay worse shaky cam in other films… Elysium wasn”t that bad in that regard at all.

Matt Damon, aside from being oddly miscast as online casinos a Mexican gang-banging car thief (huh?) trying to get on the straight and narrow, is otherwise excellent and proves that he”s still one of this generation”s most capable action stars who can also deliver a dramatic, nuanced performance as well. Jodie Foster plays a capable ice queen, showing a ruthlessness that we don”t normally see coming from her. Alice Braga and Emma Tremblay were okay, but not really needed in my opinion…they just formed the stereotypical duo of the mommy and daughter that the self-absorbed hero bonds with to learn selflessness. I”d love to see a movie without this plot element shoehorned into it in one form or another for once; a hero who is just a total jerk without any growth or arc that humanizes him would be awesome.

And Sharlto Copley as Agent Kruger…oh, man. Copley owned District 9 in its quirky lead role and, playing the exact opposite here as Elysium”s horrifyingly creepy villain, Copley owns yet another movie. This guy is the real deal, and I hope he has a long career ahead of him.

The visuals…well, it”s a Neill Blomkamp movie, and I think he”s using the same effect studios as he did for District 9, so yeah, it”s pretty, but in a way that runs against the usual “LOOK AT ME AND MY EYE-SEARING EFFECTS” offered by your average big-budget film. Blomkamp understands that the effects just supplement the action and, most importantly, the characters; so, in the case of Elysium, we get CG that compliments and supports the film as opposed to overpowering it. Everything is functional, and nothing feels inserted simply as a “wow” shot. But, just purely from a “wow” standpoint, the shots of Elysium itself are pretty impressive, and the robots pretty much blew me away- they”re obviously guys in green suits with extensive, photo-realistic CG laid over them, giving them a definite physical presence with the other actors that most movies lack.

Overall, Elysium is

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a really good movie, but I think top honors for the Summer Blockbuster season have to go to Guillermo del Toro”s fantastic Pacific Rim, which was just as good in its own way, but holds the edge in being just plain old FUN. But really, two great, intelligent sci-fi movies in one summer season? The real winners are movie-going audiences, in my opinion; if you haven”t seen either of them yet (how is that possible?), go make a double-feature of Elysium and Pacific Rim. Trust me, your mind will be blown.

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