Released back in 2010, Matthew Vaughn's teen superhero caper Kick-Ass - based on the graphic novel by fellow Brit Mark Millar - went on to become a surprise hit at the box office, making a household name out of Aaron Taylor-Johnson and introducing the world to Chloë Grace Moretz's effing and jeffing 11-year-old Hit-Girl. With greenhorn Jeff Wadlow now replacing Vaughn in the director's chair for summer sequel Kick-Ass 2 (2013), hopes were high that the two young(ish) leads could rekindle their past chemistry. Unfortunately, whatever smarts the franchise once had appear to have been knocked out of it in the first round.
Wadlow's film picks up the story four years down the line. Taylor-Johnson's Dave Lizewski (aka Kick-Ass) and Moretz's Mindy Macready (Hit-Girl) have settled into the normality of high school life following the blood-letting and bazooka wielding of Vaughn's inaugural offering. Now in the care of guardian Marcus (Morris Chestnut), Mindy slinks off campus during the day for crime-fighting training, whilst Dave daydreams about the good ol' day. However, when arch-nemesis and former buddy Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) begins wreaking havoc on the streets of New York under a new moniker - 'The Motherfucker' - Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl must join forces with a disparate band of wannabe heroes to stop the world's first super-villain.
Kick-Ass played hard and fast with comic book conventions (it's hard to imagine either DC or Marvel choosing a foul-mouthed 6th grader as they're next great superheroine), Wadlow's Kick-Ass 2 falls straight for them hook, line and sinker. That is, of course, when it's not generally rehashing Vaughn's superior contribution to within an inch of its life. Costumes are rediscovered, alliances reformed and old vendettas resumed with precious little of the original film's sass and spark, replaced by toilet humour, empty token gestures and even a vile (presumably comic?) failed rape attempt by D'Amico.
Whilst neither Moretz nor Taylor-Johnson can be criticised for succumbing to the natural ageing process, only the former seems to have grown into their role rather than outgrown it. Now 23 and newly-married, the Nowhere Boy star may be younger than both Mintz-Plasse and Clark Duke (returning as Dave's best friend, Marty) but looks like a man in teen's clothing. Furthermore, Kick-Ass's moral introspection can't help but play second fiddle to Hit-Girl's journey into womanhood - a timely reminder that Moretz will take the role of the demonic Carrie White in Kimberly Peirce's horror remake. Either way, Kick-Ass 2 feels at best off-balance, at worst poorly conceived. Even Jim Carrey's former mob enforcer turned marching saint Colonel Stars and Stripes can't steady this particular ship.
A dumbed-down rehash of its own precursor, Kick-Ass 2 is the lewd, unwittingly obnoxious follow-up that should never really have been on the cards. Tragically, the franchise's swift decline is neatly optimised by the inclusion of openly gay superhero Insect Man (War Horse's Robert Emms) - fighting the good fight against homophobia, whilst in a consequent scene, Dave and Marty tease a friend with such adolescent derogatives as "knob-gobbler". Far from offering a darker, grown-up sequel to Vaughn's vibrant first chapter, Wadlow's usurper feels like one of Hit-Girl's acrobatic somersaults, taking us backwards rather than forwards.