Movies, comics and the real world crash together in surprising and uncanny ways in "Kick-Ass 2," the further adventures of the self-made superhero Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). It's a smart, edgy, unpredictable action-comedy, the tonal opposite of overwrought sculptures like "Man of Steel." In the world of the "Kick-Ass" movies, there's still something funny about a guy in tights.
There's a lot going on this overstuffed but entertaining episode. Dave is training with little Mindy "Hit-Girl" Macready (Chloë Grace Moretz), whose Kewpie-doll face, combat skills and salty language made her a fan favorite in the 2010 original. Now a teenager, Mindy is battling a whole new force of evil -- namely, popular girls. Meanwhile, as the comics-style headings tell us, wealthy Chris D'Amico (an entertaining Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the son of a crime-lord whom Dave killed, vows revenge from his Long Island headquarters. Swiping his mother's bondage costume, including a feather boa, he becomes a supervillain called The MF (that's the family version, at least).
Energetically directed and sharply written by franchise newcomer Jeff Wadlow, "Kick-Ass 2" spoofs the superhero genre while respecting its deeper truths. There's absurdity in the notion of the Justice Forever League, a caped-crusader support-group, but the various origin stories (a missing child, a bullied gay man) tend to hit home. Mindy's temptation to join the cool crowd and lose her Hit-Girl identity is an insightful feminist parable that could have been its own movie. And The MF is a spot-on rich-kid caricature who names his cronies after racist stereotypes ("archetypes," he insists) and models his evil lair after a VIP strip club.
But what about the R-rated violence, which caused Jim Carrey -- rather good in a broad but almost straight-faced turn as the Christian superhero Colonel Stars and Stripes -- to publicly disavow "Kick-Ass 2" in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings? The violence is mostly cartoonish, like the terrific showdown between tiny Hit-Girl and a bikini-clad behemoth called Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina), and the realistic moments are what keep this movie from lapsing into predictability.
Well, maybe not entirely. Even "Kick-Ass 2" ends with a post-credits teaser, of course.
PLOT Self-made superhero Dave Lizewski discovers a league of local crime fighters.
RATING R (language, violence)
CAST Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz, Jim Carrey
BOTTOM LINE A smart, edgy sequel that takes its oddball premise to extremes both realistic and ridiculous