“It’s quite a surreal feeling, stepping back into it,” says Aaron Taylor-Johnson. “It doesn’t feel like it’s been four years.” The wiry British-born actor is talking about playing Kick-Ass, the teenage vigilante hero who shot him to fame in Matthew Vaughn’s 2010 hit film of the same name. Now he, along with his co-stars Chloë Grace Moretz (as his ally Hit Girl) and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (as his nemesis Red Mist) are back for the highly anticipated sequel Kick-Ass 2.
Once again based on the comics by the Scottish creator Mark Millar, the 23-year-old Taylor-Johnson is all too aware of the expectations second time around. “The first one was definitely out there and original – it turned heads,” he says. “People are expecting to see that level of shock factor.”
Given the first film’s jaw-dropping marriage of hard-core violence and X-rated dialogue (with the innocent-looking moppet Moretz using some choice obscenities, to the horror of some), it looks like the incoming writer-director Jeff Wadlow has his work cut out.
With just two low-budget films, Cry_Wolf and Never Back Down to his name, Wadlow, 37, has promised to raise the bar sky-high. “The first film was incredibly visceral and had great action and we all loved the fights,” he says. “But we want to see more people fighting in this movie, right? So it’s about seeing a larger group of superheroes and super-villains engaging.”
The story sees Kick-Ass – also known as the mild-mannered Dave Lizewski – join up with Justice Forever, a team of homespun heroes inspired by his vigilante antics and run by Jim Carrey’s reformed mobster, Colonel Stars and Stripes.
With Red Mist out for revenge after Kick-Ass killed his gangster father last time around, it’s here where Millar and Wadlow have cranked up the “shock factor” Taylor-Johnson refers to. Mintz-Plasse’s character Red Mist renames himself something unprintable and takes to wearing his mother’s provocative fetish outfits.
Meanwhile, Hit Girl’s language has definitely not improved. “She gets a few new words,” promises the 16-year-old Moretz, who admits that fans are obsessed by her character whenever she meets them face-to-face. “They’re like: ‘Oh my God, can you hit me? Can you punch me in the face?’”
No wonder Kick-Ass kicked up such a storm when it was released. This time around, the mutiny came from within, after Carrey took to his Twitter account some months after completing the shoot to distance himself from Wadlow’s movie. Referring to the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut in December last year, in which 20 children and six adults died, he said of the film “in all good conscience I cannot support that level of violence”.
While Wadlow and his cast have largely supported Carrey’s opinions, they’re keen to show that Kick-Ass is not irresponsible in its depiction of violence. “We always keep coming back to it being the real world, so if you go out there, it’s pretty dangerous,” says Taylor-Johnson.
“We’re not telling people to go out and dress up as superheroes and fight crime … you can see the consequences, that people get stabbed and some die.”
While Kick-Ass 2 doesn’t hold back on the violence, Wadlow is careful not to replicate the excess of Millar’s comic-book vision. “You can have the most gory splash-page in a comic book – but when you see that level of explicit violence on camera, it can take you out of the movie,” he says.
“It can be so over the top. Some of the most powerful violence happens off-camera. Look at Reservoir Dogs, with the cutting off of the cop’s ear. It happens out of the frame and it’s much more chilling than if you sat there and meditated on it. But you can’t do that in a comic book.”
Hopefully that might set concerned parents’ minds at rest; that and the fact that at the heart of Kick-Ass 2 is the archetypal adolescent coming-of-age story.
“If the first film was about creating an alter-ego, this movie is about figuring out who you really are,” says Wadlow.
Consider Hit Girl – or Mindy Macready, as her character is also called – who spends her days trying to navigate the mean girls of high school while Kick-Ass is off fighting crime with his new friends. “In this movie, you see way more of Mindy than you do of Hit Girl,” says Moretz. “You see this young girl struggling with who she is.”
Likewise, Taylor-Johnson has seen his character change across the first two films. “I think in this one, he’s just trying to come to terms with becoming a man,” he says. “There is quite an emotional element to it.”
He seems pleased that Kick-Ass 2 doesn’t just spend two hours blitzing audiences with a flurry of fists. “There’s a real journey and a story,” he says. “It’s not just one fight after the next.” Adolescence, it seems, has never been so fun.