Kick-Ass 2


Kick-Ass and Hit Girl are nonplussed to discover that they're not getting action figures made after all.

Kick-Ass and Hit Girl are nonplussed to discover that they’re not getting action figures made after all.

(2013) Superhero (Universal) Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jim Carrey, Clark Gregg, Morris Chestnut, John Leguizamo, Donald Faison, Claudia Lee, Amy Anzel, Augustus Prew, Olga Kurkulina, Steven Mackintosh, Monica Dolan, Garrett M. Brown, Lindy Booth, Robert Emms, Chuck Liddell, Yancy Butler, Lyndsy Fonseca, Sophie Wu. Directed by Jeff Wadlow

Although I have it labeled as a superhero movie (and indeed that is how this movie is essentially classified nearly everywhere), it’s not quite accurate. You won’t find a single superhero in this movie. What you will find is a movie about people who love and regard superheroes as idols to emulate.

Taking place a couple of years after the original Kick-Ass, the sequel finds Mindy Macready a.k.a. Hit Girl (Moretz) is cutting classes to go work out with Dave Lizewski a.k.a. Kick-Ass (Taylor-Johnson) who after an entire movie of getting beaten to a bloody pulp by bad guys wants to better be able not only to defend himself but to inflict some damage as well.

Seething in the background is Chris D’Amico, formerly the Red Mist (Mintz-Plasse) whose father was blowed up real good by Kick-Ass at the end of the first movie. He wants his revenge although his mother (Butler) doesn’t take him all that seriously. His bodyguard Javier (Leguizamo) does and when Chris – after an untimely accident – decides to become the first supervillain, Javier is not thrilled with the idea but supports him nonetheless.

When Mindy’s guardian Marcus (Chestnut), a cop, discovers what she’s been up to, he makes her promise to stop being Hit Girl. She starts hanging out with Brooke (Lee) and the other popular girls, trying on a normal life on for size. She finds out quickly that it doesn’t quite fit.

In the meantime Dave has found a new superhero team led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Carrey), a born again ex mobster. The roster includes Insect Man (Emms), Dr. Gravity (Faison), Night Bitch (Booth) with whom Kick-Ass strikes up a – ahem – physical relationship, and Battle Guy (Gregg) who turns out to be Dave’s friend Marty. Eventually they bring in the other member of Dave’s high school circle, (Prew) so that he doesn’t feel left out but he seems unable to be anything but derivative of Kick-Ass’ name and costume.

For his part D’Amico, going by the name of the Motherf*cker, has assembled a team of villains of his own including Mother Russia (Kurkulina), an ex-KGB agent who is a walking, talking advertisement for steroid abuse. He means to take things up a notch and bodies are going to hit the floor. With Hit Girl on the sidelines and only amateur heroes to stand at his side, can Kick-Ass survive the assault?

First off, the level of violence in this movie is fairly extreme and occasionally graphic, particularly in the third reel. People get hurt, people get maimed and people get killed. The kind of game that Kick-Ass was playing in the first movie is over; the stakes are way higher. There are consequences to putting on the costumes and they are illustrated here.

The movie has gotten a bad rap for that violence and I can only say this; if you’re squeamish about such things, this really isn’t a movie you should be seeing. However, I do believe the violence in the film isn’t as gratuitous as critics – including star Jim Carrey who has famously disowned the film – would lead you to believe. The violence here has a purpose and while you may agree or disagree with that purpose, it nonetheless does have a reason for being.

While Taylor-Johnson has yet to impress me in either Kick-Ass movie, Moretz is amazing here. She is a terrific young actress who captures all of Mindy’s adolescent self-doubts and yearning for acceptance and love. She is a lonely little girl who misses her daddy and that aspect is played up well by Moretz.

Leguizamo does a good job too as the bodyguard/mobster with a heart of gold. I also quite liked Mintz-Plasse who really captures the evil of  Chris D’Amico, driven to the dark side with mad thoughts of revenge. Chris might be a bit of a joke but that doesn’t make him any less evil.

I will say that I found this entertaining enough, but not enough to stand out which isn’t a good thing in one of the most mediocre summer blockbuster seasons in recent memory. Like most of the other movies I’ve seen this summer, Kick-Ass 2 isn’t bad – it just isn’t any more than that.

REASONS TO GO: Entertaining and funny. Moretz is fabulous and so is Leguizamo.

REASONS TO STAY: Unrelentingly brutal, particularly in the final reel.

FAMILY VALUES:  A buttload of violence and a shitload of profanity. There’s also some sexual content and a bit of nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Carrey bought his own props and costume in an effort to look more like the comic book version of his character – which, in the comic book, was actually two characters: brothers Colonel Stars and Lieutenant Stripes.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/4/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 28% positive reviews. Metacritic: 41/100

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Super

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The World’s End

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Despicable Me 2


Gru's angels.

Gru’s angels.

(2013) Animated Feature (Universal) Starring the voices of Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand, Ken Jeong, Steve Coogan, Elsie Fisher, Dana Gaier, Moises Arias, Nasim Pedrad, Kristen Schaal, Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud, Nickolai Stoilov, Vanessa Bayer, Ava Acres, Lori Alan, Laraine Newman. Directed by Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin

It takes a thief to catch a thief, which sounds pretty logical on the surface although practically, it’s not absolutely true. However when chasing a thief, having a thief helps a whole lot.

Gru (Carell), master criminal, has given up thievery for a more suburban lifestyle raising up the three little girls who stole his heart in the first movie – Maggie (Cosgrove), Edith (Gaier) and Agnes (Fisher). He has gone from planning epic heists to planning birthday parties for Agnes. Dr. Nefario (Brand), Gru’s right hand man, has gone from designing super-weapons to designing a new kind of jam (unsuccessfully). Gru is less despicable as he was in the first film and more domesticated.

However, Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain League’s Nigel Ramsbottom (Coogan) to investigate the theft of an arctic research base. They’ve narrowed down the list of suspects to a group of business owners in a mall and send in Gru and his new partner Lucy Wilde (Wiig) as owners of a cupcake shop to investigate the mall and find out who the culprit is. Meanwhile, Gru’s minions are disappearing and Margo has found a boyfriend (Arias) who happens to be the son of Eduardo (Bratt), owner of a Mexican restaurant in the mall and one of the suspects.

Gru however lets his emotions overcome his better judgment and soon he finds himself discredited. But nothing is always as it seems and it will be up to Gru to save the day. The world is in deep, deep doo-doo (or Gru-Gru, if you prefer).

I liked the first movie a little better. The despicable Gru which captured my imagination is completely gone; the soft fuzzy Gru is all you’ll find here. The more fiendish Gru was in the first movie, the more fun the movie was. Now basically it must rely on the minions to generate any interest in anyone above the age of four.

Thankfully, the minions are up to the task and the little yellow gibberish talking creatures steal the movie the way Gru once stole the moon. They’re getting their first movie of their own next year (referenced during the end credits) and I have higher hopes for that one, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

Like most modern animated features, there are plenty of colors to keep the really little ones occupied, and plenty of slapstick humor to keep their older siblings in stitches. There isn’t as much really oriented towards their parents although they may find the scenes at the mall and in Eduardo’s rancho to be at least of mild interest. However, as much as they try to make Gru a kind of animated Maxwell Smart, the attempt fails – although it should be noted that Carell played the stumbling superspy in the recent Get Smart reboot and has at least some experience at it.

All the Bond-age in the world won’t save a movie with a lame plot and underdeveloped characters however and this one suffers from both of those ills. Some of the more elaborate gags elicited chuckles and some fell flat. Carell does his best with his odd Eastern European accent and Bratt, Coogan, Brand and Wiig do their best to support but most of the human characters are far too bland for us to care too much about. It’s the minions who capture our imagination and it appears that Universal is wisely going to place their focus there and quite frankly, that’s where it belongs.

REASONS TO GO: Minions, minions, minions! Gadgets and tomfoolery!

REASONS TO STAY: Lame plot and weak character development. Needs more despicableness.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a bit of rude humor and some violence of a cartoon nature.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The phone number that Lucy gives Gru is 626-584-5723. If called, you’ll get to hear Lucy’s outgoing voicemail message.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/14/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 75% positive reviews. Metacritic: 62/100; the reviews were pretty solid.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Incredibles

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Death Note

MegaMind


MegaMind

If nothing else, MegaMind sure knows how to make an entrance.

(2010) Animated Superhero Feature (DreamWorks) Starring the voices of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, Brad Pitt, David Cross, J.K. Simmons, Ben Stiller, Stephen Kearin, Justin Theroux, Jessica Schulte, Tom McGrath. Directed by Tom McGrath

It is a bit of an existential quandary that without evil, good cannot exist. In order to be good, there has to be a comparison point; if we don’t know what evil is, how do we know we’re good?

Evil itself can be environmental. MegaMind (Ferrell) comes to Earth as a baby escaping the destruction of his home planet. His escape pod lands in a prison for the criminally gifted where he is raised to believe that the right thing to do is steal and avoid being caught. His nemesis, Metro Man (Pitt) is also from a doomed planet in the same quadrant as MegaMind’s former home; however, whereas MegaMind lands among the scum of the earth, baby Metro Man lands in the lap of luxury.

Curiously, both of them wind up at the same school (which MegaMind pronounces as “shool”; it is a running gag throughout the movie that Mega has difficulty pronouncing certain words correctly) where Metro Man is well on the road to being a hero, admired by all his classmates who are amazed at the superpowers of flight, super strength and heat vision that Metro Man possesses. Mega unfortunately has none of these, only a genuine desire to be liked which is virtually impossible given the shadow he must labor in. He resolves that if he can’t do the right thing properly, he is at least good at doing the wrong thing and maybe that’s his destiny.

He becomes a super villain, an inventor of extraordinary weapons and machines. His modus operandi is very similar; he kidnaps Metro Man’s girlfriend newscaster Roxanne Richi (Fey), Metro Man comes to rescue her, MegaMind springs a trap but his plans ultimately fail and Metro Man sends him back to prison.

However, this one time, Mega and his faithful Minion (Cross), a kind of goldfish in a gorilla robot suit (don’t ask), actually do defeat the good guy – they disintegrate him with their death ray, as a matter of fact. Much to Mega’s surprise, they rule Metro City – which Mega, true to form, pronounces as Metrosity, which rhymes with atrocity.

He has it all now; power, wealth, the ability to do whatever he wants whenever he wants but it is curiously empty. He has discovered that without good to oppose him, evil is meaningless. With Metro Man gone, he needs another nemesis, so he sets out to create one. Using the DNA of Metro Man (taken from the dandruff on his cape), he uses Roxanne’s cameraman Hal (Hill) as the subject (quite accidentally) and, in the guise of space father (a very funny homage to Marlon Brando as Jor-El in Superman: The Movie) trains the former cameraman (who had a huge but unrequited crush on Roxanne) as a hero (look for a very amusing Donkey Kong reference here). However, Titan (or, Tighten as Hal spells it) has other plans, plans that will require Mega to find his inner hero and save Metro City. Holy Role Reversal, Batman!

The movie is very amusing and has some unexpected touches in various locations, some obvious and some not – for example, Roxanne is very plainly based on Lois Lane, whereas the Metro Man museum where much of the action takes place has the Image Comics logo just as plainly a part of the building’s overall design, which should make many a geeky fanboy happy as a clam. Just as an aside, where the heck did that old saw come from? Are clams really happy? Is their life’s ambition to make it into a really nice chowder? Inquiring minds want to know.

Be that as it may, everyone (fanboy or not) will get a kick out of Ferrell’s performance. It is truly unique and quirky and Ferrell at his best. Perhaps I’m a little bit out of line, but I think it’s some of his best work since Anchorman. Yeah, I know it’s a cartoon.

The movie’s plot is a bit simplistic, but the underlying message is quite surprisingly sophisticated, taking a fresh view of the nature of evil and its need for a counterbalance. That one may go over the heads of younger kids who are more interested in the toys and Mega’s pet robots (think mechanical Minions from Despicable Me only without the charm), which are the latest in a long line of obvious merchandising ploys from recent animated features. They are more annoying than cute, however.

While this year’s animated feature derby hasn’t turned up anything on the level of Up or Ponyo, there have still been some solid quality movies out there like the aforementioned Despicable Me, Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon. MegaMind is at least as good as any of those, which is good news for parents weary of recent kidflicks that haven’t measured up.

REASONS TO GO: Plays plenty of homage to the comic book superheroes. Plenty of humor for big kids as well as small fries. Ferrell is fabulous as the malapropism-prone MegaMind.

REASONS TO STAY: The plot is a bit on the simplistic side and the robot pets are annoying after awhile.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few mildly naughty words but probably not words you haven’t said in front of the kids before, accidentally or otherwise. Yeah, let the whole fam damily go out and see this one.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In order to promote the movie, Will Ferrell gathered 1580 of his friends and their acquaintances in superhero costumes to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for most superheroes gathered in one place.

HOME OR THEATER: Oh c’mon; you know the kids won’t give you a moment’s peace until you take them to see this in the theater three or four times.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: I Remember