The tragedy of sequels

Tonight I saw “Kick-Ass 2”. I had thoroughly enjoyed the original, and was very much looking forward to seeing what Matthew Vaughn would bring us in the sequel.

I’m not saying I didn’t have a good time, because I did. But the unique blend of transgression and sweetness that was the original was simply missing. Where the first film was, at heart, a lovely character piece about misfits trying to find themselves (and each other), the sequel wasn’t so much a movie, as it was a series of loosely connected sketches, each trying to outdo the other in some category of outrageousness.

I can understand how this sort of thing happens. A movie does well, perhaps unexpectedly, and suddenly there is a franchise. This franchise is a sort of hungry beast, which must be fed. Many millions of dollars are on the line, so the stakes are very high.

Alas, those high stakes do not mean that there is actually anything new to say. While an original film generally comes out of some unique passion, a coherent vision of characters going on a journey, its sequel is usually a product of money and its demands.

Even worse, at the end of the first movie (assuming it was a good movie), the characters have completed their story arcs, so they really don’t have anywhere they need to go. Which means that the sequel begins with a serious structural disadvantage: From the perspective of story, it has no inherent reason to exist at all.

So sequels often do what “Kick-Ass 2” did — they jump the shark. The film piles excess upon excess. To paraphrase the incomparable Nigel Tufnel, “This movie goes to eleven.”

If it weren’t for the brilliant Chloe Grace Moretz finding amazing depth of character not in the screenplay, but rather through her reaction shots and quiet moments between all the scripted nonsense, the film would have been unwatchable. I recommend seeing this movie not because I think it is good, but because it is a great lesson in how a brilliant performance can nearly salvage a bad movie.

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