SAN DIEGO Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Christopher Mintz-Plasse square off in fisticuffs and a climactic stare-down through their masks when the subversive superhero sequel Kick-Ass 2 hits theaters on Friday.
But during a recent promo appearance at the annual Comic-Con pop-culture fest, Taylor-Johnson, 23, and Mintz-Plasse, 24, are more into comparing weird marks on their forearms caused by spirited fans and playfully squabbling over a glass of ice provided by a publicist.
"She got that for me,'' Mintz-Plasse says matter-of-factly to his English co-star, who has grabbed some cubes for his soda.
Were Mintz-Plasse in character as the "Supervillain Whose Name Cannot Be Printed in a Family Publication,'' he might pull out a gun to protect his street cred. Instead, the actor just smiles.
Snarling is more in store in Kick-Ass 2, the follow-up to the 2010 original, based on the hyperviolent Mark Millar comic book. That film introduced Taylor-Johnson as Dave Lizewski, a teenager who moonlighted in green-and-yellow tights as the do-it-yourself vigilante Kick-Ass, and Mintz-Plasse as the wannabe do-gooder Chris D'Amico, aka Red Mist.
Kick-Ass fired a rocket launcher at D'Amico's Mob father, though, and you can guess how that ended. So in the sequel, while Kick-Ass finds fellow heroes in the group Justice Forever, D'Amico becomes the villain with the new nasty name and is out for vengeance. He puts a $10 million bounty on Kick-Ass' head and forms his own secret society of baddies.
"It's got the same vision and imagery as the first one, but it plays more commercial. It doesn't mean it's lost its class in any way. It has a different shine to it," says Taylor-Johnson, the star of next year's Godzilla, who also is in talks to play the super-speedy Quicksilver in Joss Whedon's The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Kick-Ass 2 is still just as gritty as ever, in content and in fashion: The hero's costume looks like it hasn't been washed in about a month, and Taylor-Johnson took special care to keep it that way.
If his togs looked too clean on a day of filming, "I'd go grab someone's tea bag or ketchup and just rub it all over. They'd go, 'What are you doing?' and I'm like, 'Dude, it's fine. Give me some stains.' "
Mintz-Plasse agrees: "No one wears clean shirts, man."
The two actors are much more like their cinematic archenemies than one might think, says Kick-Ass 2 director Jeff Wadlow.
Taylor-Johnson was still a teenager when filming the first movie; now he's married and has four daughters: Wylda, 3, and Romy 1, with his wife, director Sam Taylor-Johnson; and two older stepchildren.
"He stepped into this role of being a parent so naturally, and it's not dissimilar to what Dave has to do in this film," Wadlow says. "He has to go from being a boy playing a superhero to a man who accepts responsibility of making the world a better place."
And the baddie's struggle to be the best (or worst) ever mirrors Mintz-Plasse's working to become the best actor he can be, even under a heavy black leather costume.
His character is trying so hard, it's sort of endearing, Wadlow says. "And then you're shocked when he does something really terrible and you feel weird for liking him."
The actors' 16-year-old co-star Chloë Grace Moretz, who returns as Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl, sees both of them as brothers, and never was subjected to Taylor-Johnson's emerging paternal instincts.
"That would be silly," she says. "I would be like, 'Aaron, what are you doing right now?' I would just mess with him so much if he tried to do that. He knows better."
Also in that three years between films, Moretz adds, "Chris went from being a little McLovin to becoming a man. He's filled out a bit, he has a beard he's still my little Christy, but he's much more of an adult."
The villain role is a far cry from Mintz-Plasse's breakthrough turn as a partying youngster in 2007's Superbad. Instead of people yelling "McLovin!" at him now, they might try his unquestionably vulgar Kick-Ass 2 name.
"Yeah, it's going to scare me," he says. "I'm going to think people are gonna want to fight me always."