Cast: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Byung-hun Lee, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Neal McDonough, Brian Cox
In 2010 RED was a nice little surprise that seemingly came out of nowhere. The movie had an exciting cast, some really innovative bits of fun action, and some really hammy and enjoyable writing. The movie was so successful that despite there not being additional source material to adapt, Summit and DC entertainment decided to pursue a sequel that brings nearly everyone back into the fold. Can RED 2 deliver on the fun and promise of the first film, or is this franchise better as a one and done?
RED 2 throws us right into the now milky-toast life of Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) who has settled down with his girlfriend Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker). The two are enjoying an afternoon grocery shopping trip when Frank’s paranoid friend Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) shows up to warn him that they are being followed. Frank shrugs it off and before he has time to consider the warning, Marvin’s care explodes which seemingly killing him. Frank is then taken in by the FBI who is then attacked by another group of mercenary agents led by Jack Horton (Neal McDonough). Moses manages to escape, but thanks to his bounty hunting contact Victoria (Helen Mirren), he quickly learns that (the not quite dead) Marvin and he have bounties on their heads. This puts Frank, Marvin, and Sarah on the run from world, and the only way to get out of it is to track down the secret weapon code named “nightshade” they were accused of stealing. On their mission to prove innocence and save the world, they run into the world’s deadliest assassin Han Cho Bai(Byung-hun Lee) and a truly mad scientist named Dr. Edward Bailey(Anthony Hopkins).
If this plot sounds a little more convoluted and overloaded than it should be, it’s because it is. The plotting is constantly hopping around from story line to story line without any of them really feeling fully developed or remotely satisfying. The story is over-packed with supporting characters that while interesting, don’t really service the overall narrative. The movie suffers from too many “main” antagonists. With an assassin, a US mercenary, MI6, and the person actually holding the bomb all playing drummed up roles, the movie quickly loses focus as these various characters are introduced. The overstuffed cast and their various subplots lead to the movie feeling very long despite its relatively brief run time of 116 minutes. The core story of Frank and the gang finding nightshade works well enough on a basic level, but hardly provides enough mystery or intrigue to draw you in.
The movie’s greatest weakness is without a doubt the script which is filled with lazy dialog, massive plot holes, and a simple lack of any true inspiration. The first film had some really great source material to draw from, but this movie feels less like a sequel to the unique and energetic RED and more like a poor man’s British Avengers adaption. This movie does not feature any of the fresh creativity of the first film and is instead reduced to a generic (albeit quirky) spy thriller movie.
If there’s a saving grace to this movie, it’s most definitely the stellar cast. John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, and Byung-hun Lee really do chew the scenes they are in by playing up the truly horrendous dialog they are having to recite. It takes great actors to make the weak writing work, and this cast sells it with their high energy and quirky personalities. Despite the fact that Bruce Willis is the lead of the film, he is far from the most interesting person to watch as he is wearing his less personable “cashing a paycheck” face for most of the movie. With that being said, it is very clear that all of the actors in this movie, including Willis, are having a good time making this movie which really does give it an exciting vibe for the viewers. If there’s one thing that works in RED 2, it’s the great cast and their playful chemistry that carries over from the first film.
Despite all of its narrative flaws, you’d hope that RED 2 could deliver on more of the zany action we became accustomed in the first film, but sadly there are no real standout set pieces in the film. The first movie delivered some really creative bits of action that I hadn’t seen before, but this film falls into all the traps of a plug and chug action movie. There are plenty of times the movie was engaging, but when it was all said and done there weren’t any moments that really stuck out after the film was finished. The movie has a really exciting first act and there are some enjoyable fight scenes(particularly between Willis and Lee), but overall there just wasn’t much in this movie that we haven’t already seen done better in just about every other movie that’s been on the big screen this summer.
RED 2 fails to deliver anything compelling enough to draw in even the most loyal fans of the first film. Despite Willis’s one note performance, the cast remains enthusiastic and believable with their “made in heaven” chemistry. Aside from the interaction among the cast, the movie really doesn’t live up to any of the fresh and promising ideas laid down in the first film. The story lacks focus and direction, the lazily written script is paper thin, and the action is just a series of generic spy clichés thrown together for the sake of explosions. There really isn’t much to see in RED 2 that hasn’t already been done better this year. If you are a really die-hard fan of the cast this may be one to watch at a matinee, but for everyone else, you’re better off sticking to an extra viewing of the original.