'Kick-Ass' sequel raises questions about over-the-top violence
‘Kick-Ass’ sequel raises questions about over-the-top violence

Jim Carrey has a supporting role in “Kick-Ass 2” where he plays a gap-toothed, costumed vigilante who goes by the moniker Colonel Stars and Stripes.

He’s pretty good in it and is nearly unrecognizable with some light prosthetic makeup and a thick Brooklyn accent.

What is most interesting about Carrey’s appearance in this movie isn’t his acting but his refusal to promote the film due to its extreme violence, citing the Sandy Hook shooting as part of the reason for his change of heart.

This is compelling for a couple of reasons, the first being that Carrey’s character proclaims in the movie that he is anti-gun violence (Colonel Stars and Stripes is a born-again Christian who lets an ax handle and his pet German Shepherd named Eisenhower do his dirty work). You’d think he would be cool with that.

The second reason is that Carrey certainly knew what he was signing up for. The first “Kick-Ass” was about an unremarkable teenager named Dave Lizewski (the talented Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who decides to go and dress up as a superhero named Kick-Ass and see what happens.

The movie got a lot of mileage playing up the absurdity of superheroes existing in the real world by mixing laughs with stylized violence and then throwing in the breakout performance of Chloe Grace Moretz as the foul-mouthed and highly lethal preteen named Hit-Girl.

“Kick-Ass 2” is unsurprisingly more of the same and I enjoyed it nearly as much as I did the first film, although it does trend a little darker this time around at the hands of writer and director Jeff Wadlow. Just by seeing the first movie and reading the script for the second, Carrey had to know what he was getting himself into.

Even still, it got me wondering if maybe Carrey had a point when it comes to violence as entertainment in film and why audiences (myself included) get such a giddy thrill out of seeing acts perpetrated on the big screen that would horrify and disgust us if we saw it happen in real life.

I’m setting aside violence in comedies, which is more about pathos than anything else, and violence in drama, which is typically used to raise the emotional stakes. I’m also leaving out violence in horror movies, which is kind of self-explanatory.

What I’m talking about are action flicks with high body counts filled with cheer-inducing spectacle and marvels of carnage. Any time our hero is splattering bad guys with efficiency and ingenuity that can only be described as “cool” is it only just contributing to the degradation of our society?

Granted, it’s not the healthiest thing in the world and surely harkens back to the less-civilized swath of our historical genetic makeup that got excited from gladiatorial battles and public executions.

Yet, I think we’re OK allowing ourselves to go there as long as the death and mayhem are viewed as mere fanciful escapism and it is all in the name of good conquering evil. Of course, the violence can go too far and become off-putting, and that’s where things get tricky because everyone’s personal offensive-tipping-point is different.

The “Kick-Ass” movies tread in the International Waters of this argument because it is mostly a comedy and plays the intense violence for both laughs and sheer awesomeness. I read both sets of “Kick-Ass” graphic novels (written by Mark Millar) that the movies are based on and while I liked the first one a great deal, the second one was a lot less enjoyable mostly because of the level of violence.

The dirty deeds done in the comics by Red Mist (played in the movies by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who adopts a much more colorful and unprintable name when he becomes a supervillain) are so deplorable it took me right out of the fun-filled vibe of the rest of the book.

Wadlow must have agreed with me as the truly awful stuff was either removed or glossed over in “Kick-Ass 2,” even though he followed the rest of the comic plot-point by plot-point. He also focused more on Hit-Girl and her attempt to adjust to life in high school, smartly mirroring the cliques and bullying of teen life with the equally ridiculous world of costumed crime fighters.

These changes illustrate that violence as entertainment can go too far once it starts to feel a little too real or violates any of our collectively unspoken taboos (Millar freely dispatches dogs and children in his comics, something that would send average moviegoers streaming for the exits if left in the film versions).

“Kick-Ass 2” is still a whole lot of fun, mostly because the violence stays cartoonish and it is more interested in making you laugh than blowing you away. It fails to land any of the more meaningful punches it tries to throw, but at least it doesn’t dwell on it.

As for Jim Carrey, I respect his stance and agree with him that it is something we should be thinking about. I just think that his targeting is a little off as he is taking this movie way, way, way more seriously than it takes itself.

“Kick-Ass 2” is rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, crude and sexual content, and brief nudity.

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