Kick-Ass 2 (15, 103 mins)

Director: Jeff Wadlow

3 stars

Based on the graphic novels of Glasgow writer Mark Millar, Kick-Ass was one of the freshest and most entertaining films of 2010.

It took superheroes out of the realm of fantasy and into the real world, where ordinary New York teenager Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) dressed up as a masked vigilante, Kick-Ass, and took on crime. The problem was that, though Kick-Ass was trying to be a hero, he was never very super, something that made him the least compelling aspect of his own movie.

So it was left to Mindy Macready, aka Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) to provide both the fighting skills and be the star of the movie. The opening scene in this sequel mirrors one of the most iconic from the first film, in which Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) shot a gun at his bulletproof vest-wearing young daughter, Mindy.

Only this time it's Mindy who's holding the gun, and she's shooting Dave as part of his training.

Mindy, now 15, is still taking on criminals and kicking ass, but Kick-Ass himself has hung up his suit, even though he has inspired others to take to the streets in costumes and fight wrongdoers. But Mindy makes a promise to her guardian, Marcus (Morris Chestnut) who was once her father's partner in the police force, that she won't be Hit Girl anymore.

Touching on the insanity of what they're doing, that Mindy should be a girl with a normal childhood, is the first clue that this sequel intends to take a more thoughtful look at these characters' actions, and not simply be a hyper-violent cartoon.

Yet Dave is keen to get back into Kick-Ass ways, and joins up with a team of masked amateur avengers led by Jim Carrey, who goes by the name Colonel Stars and Stripes. This is where Cage is missed, no doubt about it, with Carrey not really offering the same level of crazed wit as his would-be replacement.

Meanwhile Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is hungry for revenge since Kick-Ass killed his crime-boss father. He reinvents himself as a supervillain with a name that unfortunately can't be repeated here (just think of what was written on Samuel L. Jackson's wallet in Pulp Fiction if you're looking for a clue) and gathers together a team of baddies to hunt down Kick-Ass and his pals.

Also new to the scene is director Jeff Wadlow, taking over the reigns from Matthew Vaughn. Wadlow certainly delivers with a smart screenplay, but isn't quite able to bring the same level of panache to the action scenes that the first movie offered.

Being modestly budgeted means it's fairly low key action-wise, in the first two-thirds of the film at any rate, but the scale of the action matters less than the imagination, the originality and the impact that it has. Moreover it allows the focus to fall on the characters, and is what elevates Kick-Ass 2 beyond simple exploitation.

Though it still has its share of outrageous moments, and a truly inspired all-action finale, the element of surprise, particularly in regard to Hit Girl, has been lost. But that's precisely why they spend so much time out of costume this time round, so we can get to the core of the people under the masks.

More of the same just wouldn't cut it, and it's entirely right and necessary to expand the world and move the characters forward. It's a movie that's aware of its comic book origins, but this isn't the world of Spider-Man and his oft-repeated "with real power comes real responsibility" mantra. This is the real world, with real-world consequences and responsibilities.

It's the growth of the characters through this realisation that makes Kick-Ass 2 a successful piece of storytelling, far more than it's a successful bit of comic fun. For that it should be applauded.

See it if you liked: Kick-Ass, Watchmen, Mystery Men

2 Guns (15, 109 mins)

Director: Baltasar Kormákur

3 stars

This solid if utterly preposterous buddy action comedy brings together two top stars in Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, playing undercover cops pretending to be bank robbers in order to get close to a big time gangster.

A hysterically convoluted plot takes in all manner of cross and double cross, and there's an awful lot of dancing around in the first half before they decide they can trust each other, while a second half where everyone tears around looking for $40m in stolen cash strains credibility pretty much to breaking point.

But it's fairly entertaining in a rough and ready sort of way, with banter that's easy and unforced if hardly diamond stuff.

Thankfully these two pros make the best of it, with Washington's charisma bouncing off Wahlberg's machismo, and it would be a lot less watchable in the hands of lesser stars.

See it if you liked: Bad Boys, Contraband, Safe House

Planes (U, 92 mins)

Director: Clay Hall

1 star

Though not an official part of their release schedule, this crummy animated adventure is set in the same world as Pixar's Cars and was initially conceived as a straight-to-DVD release, a fact that its lack of quality glaringly demonstrates.

Crop-dusting plane Dusty (voiced by Dane Cook) dreams of being a racer and somehow ends up taking part in a round the world race, which sets up an assortment of plane puns and training montages, none of which offers the remotest hint of storytelling ambition.

Disney's latest toy sales opportunity is personality-free, zipping along to cover up the fact that there's nothing going on here other than some fast moving colour to keep tiny tots happy for a bit.

And while the Cars movies were bad enough, this isn't even up to that standard, existing on a whole new level of cynical cash-in. It's a babysitter, nothing more and a great deal less.

See it if you liked: Cars, Cars 2, Wreck-It-Ralph