Even though 2010’s wonderfully entertaining superhero satire Kick-Ass underperformed at the box office, its cult status and strong critical acclaim guaranteed a sequel, which has at long last become a reality. With British filmmaker Matthew Vaughn electing for a producing role this time, Kick-Ass 2 was written and directed by Jeff Wadlow (Never Back Down), and luckily the end result is just as giddily enjoyable as its predecessor. With most of the surviving cast returning, and with an R rating in place, this is a fine follow-up beset with bloody beatings, foul language and even a bit of heart, making it a refreshing alternative to 2013’s other superhero offerings. If you loved the first movie, you’re almost definitely going to enjoy Kick-Ass 2. But if you didn’t like the 2010 picture (and if this is the case, why the hell not?!), there’s no talking to you.

Unsure about his abilities as a superhero, Dave/Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) asks 15-year-old Mindy/Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) to help him train and become his crime-fighting partner. She agrees, but this infuriates her guardian (Morris Chestnut), who wants Mindy to live a normal life, stay out of trouble, and focus on high school. Consequently, Dave joins a gang of superheroes, led by Colonel Stars & Stripes (Jim Carrey), who call themselves Justice Forever. Meanwhile, Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) vows to avenge the death of his mobster father, reinventing himself to become “The Motherfucker,” a leather-clad supervillain looking to build an army of heavies to raise hell and defeat Kick-Ass. The Motherfucker and his Toxic Mega Cunts gang, including towering behemoth Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina), soon begin their reign of terror, hunting members of Justice Forever and threatening Dave’s personal life, compelling Kick-Ass to ponder the real-life consequences of being a superhero.

Much like the original film, Kick-Ass 2 substantially deviates from the Mark Millar-written comic books, to the extent that Wadlow’s script bares almost no resemblance to the source. Happily, the alterations improve the movie, and allow the production to stand as its own independent entity. If Kick-Ass 2 is not on the same level as its extraordinary predecessor, it’s through no real fault of its own. Kick-Ass was just so much out of left field; an unpredictable, audacious and anarchic gem that defied expectations at every turn. The story of Kick-Ass 2 is more straightforward; the character arcs for Dave and Mindy are foreseeable, and there’s a climactic battle that we all saw coming. Fortunately, it’s the journey that matters the most, and Wadlow has created one hell of a ride. The picture moves at a brisk pace, and Wadlow’s screenplay is beset with witty banter. Kick-Ass 2 is a frequently funny film; Mindy enjoys the art of post-mortem one-liners, Dave’s interactions with his friends are hilarious, and Carrey gets a few funny lines to chew on. Wadlow’s script does falter on a few accounts, however. The depiction of Mindy’s school life is sloppy, leaning on ridiculous caricatures straight out of Mean Girls. It’s not a deal-breaker, but the subplot should’ve been handled with more maturity and sophistication. Added to this, Dave’s girlfriend Katie is suddenly tossed by the wayside for no real reason, which feels incredibly out of place.

Despite the change in directors as well as the multiple-year gap, Kick-Ass 2 feels like an incredibly organic continuation of the first film, with a similar look and feel making us believe that this is the same world. The budget was reportedly trimmed several times by the studio, who brought funding down to a scant $28 million (a little bit less than the first movie’s $30 million price-tag), but you would never guess it. Shot digitally with Arri Alexa cameras, Kick-Ass 2 carries an attractive look belying its meagre funding, and the special effects are terrific. Action scenes are fluid, inventive and fun, too. Perhaps nothing compares to the hugely inventive action beats of the original, but it’s hard to complain about the set-pieces here, including a gleefully fun sequence spotlighting Mindy atop a van killing loads of hired goons. It’s hard to imagine the technical execution being any better, a real credit to Wadlow’s ability to do a lot with such little money. Fortunately, Kick-Ass 2 is as R-rated as its predecessor – the violent carnage and foul language remains refreshing in an age full of PG-13 superhero movies, and action fans seeking an R-rated fix will be in heaven here. Indeed, Kick-Ass 2 is not just for superhero enthusiasts, but for anyone seeking a fun time.

Reprising the titular role, Taylor-Johnson continues to display great acting chops, though his geeky, awkward demeanour inherently means that he’ll be again overshadowed by the supporting cast. And my word, the supporting cast here is something to behold. Young Moretz has lost none of her sass or manic energy as the scene-stealing Hit Girl, effortlessly earning big laughs. Moretz is also given more depth to deal with, and she does a superb job. It’s Jim Carrey, however, that will get people talking. This is easily Carrey’s best, most audacious performance in years, forgoing thankless kiddie stuff (let’s forget about Mr. Popper’s Penguins) to slide into a thoroughly adult role. He wears a mask and doesn’t sound like himself at all, making this a welcomely unexpected turn from the actor. Mintz-Plasse also continues to impress, while returning cast members like Clark Duke effectively hit their marks. Perhaps the big unsung hero of the acting department is Garrett M. Brown as Dave’s dad. He’s not a main player, but he’s such a warm, compassionate presence, coming off as a believable father figure. Brown deserves more credit than he gets.

The Justice Forever gang are all played well, with strong characterisations and warm performances making them sympathetic and likeable enough. On the other hand, The Motherfucker’s Toxic Mega Cunts are shallow and one-dimensional, though that’s the point since they’re literally a bunch of hired goons in costumes. The exception is Mother Russia, played by bodybuilding champ Olga Kurkulina. She’s a terrific find; an imposing presence and a decent actress who handles the physicality of the action set-pieces with utmost confidence. Now we wait and see which franchise picks up Kurkulina first – The Expendables or The Fast and the Furious.

Carrey spoke out against the movie a few months before its release, refusing to be involved in the promotional campaign due to a crisis of conscience. See, due to recent massacres (most notably Sandy Hook), Carrey felt he could not promote a movie with such violent content. But the actor is completely off-base here, since there’s a very fine line between fabricated movie violence and horrific real-life violence. Besides, Carrey’s role is a born-again Christian who fights for good, punishing paedophiles and other scumbags, and the script actually explores the moral implications of violence. Controversy is nothing new for the Kick-Ass franchise, which received its fair share of flack in 2010 for depicting a 12-year-old Moretz killing bad guys and dropping c-bombs. But if you cannot to watch the film in the proper mindset, don’t watch it at all.

Kick-Ass 2 is, on the whole, a dark, viciously violent and gleefully irreverent affair, but it’s a lot of fun to watch and it has a sincerity beneath its lewd exterior to give it a degree of depth. There was no way it was going to top its magnificent predecessor, but Jeff Wadlow has devised a sequel that’s worthy of Kick-Ass, making it a glorious companion piece that in no way tarnishes the picture that spawned it. It’s hard to imagine the wildly uneven 2013 summer season getting a better send-off.

7.9/10