It’s been three years since Chloë Moretz’s Hit-Girl first kapowed onto the screen, calling a room full of drug dealers the c-word before taking them out with a shiny new butterfly knife. Now 15 and starting high school, she’s promised to hang up the nunchucks for good. Her friend Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), the high-school nerd whose only superpower is not dying of shame while wearing a green wet suit, still continues to “fight” street crime as Kick-Ass and inspire folks like Justice Forever, a group of amateur do-gooders led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). But the pint-size, foul-mouthed heroine is coaxed out of retirement by the reappearance of Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse)—now named the Motherfucker, wearing his dead mom’s rubber fetish outfits and not getting the irony of his name one bit.
As with the 2010 original, Moretz is the best thing about this giddy take on caped-crusader films, getting all the choice lines (“I’d rather be waterboarded than listen to Justin Bieber”) and pulling the reality of teenage life into the comic-book fantasy. And while Kick-Ass 2’s critics will inevitably take issue with the cartoon splatter violence (as did star Carrey), it’s the presence of a particularly offensive, pointless rape joke that makes the movie go from reveling in bad taste to leaving a bad taste. Even without that low point, however, this slightly disappointing sequel is less anarchic and tries harder overall than its predecessor. Kick-Ass giggled at action-movie clichés; Kick-Ass 2 simply slips into them.