"I Hate Reboots," reads a funny T-shirt that comic book movie superhero nerd Dave Lizewski wears in "Kick-Ass 2" - an obvious shot at "Spider-Man," "Superman" and other franchises that wind down, then return to life entirely too soon on the big screen.
But how do you feel about superhero sequels that pretty much nobody asks for, Dave?
"Kick-Ass 2" comes three years after the modest ($48 million) success of "Kick-Ass." Covering much of the same ground, with a lot of the cute worn off or aged out of - Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) is no longer a pre-teen, Kick-Ass himself (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) strains to look like a high school senior - the sequel is notable for some amusing bits, a few cool scenes and its wince-worthy violence and staggering body count.
"This is the real world," Dave's long-suffering dad (Garrett M. Brown) lectures. "It has consequences."
So Dave suffers terrible beatings and and Hit Girl delivers worse ones. And the mobster's son once known as Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) rounds up a posse of evil henchmen, becomes a supervillain and kills or maims scores of cops and civilians.
And there are no consequences.
But here's what works. Dave and Hit Girl talk about teaming up. They go to the same high school, after all.
"We should be like Batman and Robin," he begs.
"Nobody wants to be Robin," she snaps back.
Hit Girl is hitting puberty and having second thoughts about this night vigilante thing. She is thrown in with some mean-girl cheerleaders (led by an amusingly nasty Claudia Lee). And they try to teach her the joys of makeup, making out with boys and Union J. (They're the hot boy band of the moment, the One Direction in this comic book universe.)
All the high school stuff plays as wacky with a hint of reality about it.
Dave, meanwhile, finds himself throwing in with others who have taken to wearing costumes and prowling the night streets, looking for injustice. Jim Carrey is a bit out there as Col. Stars & Stripes, a born-again mob enforcer, Donald Faison makes a dopey Dr. Gravity and Lindy Booth is the tart who calls herself Night (rhymes with witch), who becomes Dave's paramour.
What's missing from this comic book adaptation is Big Daddy, the father played by Nicolas Cage who gave the first film that last dollop of heart, who taught Hit Girl her moves and who lifted Matthew Vaughn's "Kick-Ass" right to the edge of zany. There's no villain with the presence of the first film's Mark Strong. Mintz-Plasse, even with henchmen and women he names "Genghis Carnage," "Black Death" and "Mother Russia" (funny), is the lone villain and leaves something to be desired.
And director Vaughn himself, whose way with action ("Layer Cake") and fantasy ("Stardust") added up to the right touch in the first film, is also missed. Writer-director Jeff Wadlow's sequel lumbers from cool action sequences and funny segments into dead ends. And the violence is, if anything, more extreme and more real but lacking the "consequences" that were the point of Mark Millar's comic book.
That makes "Kick-Ass 2" more sour than sweet, a movie that jokes about comic book fanboys but stops short of mocking them the way the first film did. Coming at the end of a comic book-saturated summer, it would be too much of a good thing even if it were a good thing.
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Morris Chestnut, John Leguizamo, Donald Faison
Director: Jeff Wadlow
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Rated: R for strong violence, pervasive language, crude and sexual content and brief nudity