In RED 2, Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is happily retired (again), living an uncomplicated life in the suburbs with girlfriend Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), shopping at big box warehouse stores, and trying his best to avoid killing anyone. However, when his former partner Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) makes a surprise appearance while the couple is out buying groceries, Frank is thrown back into the cutthroat world of espionage and assassins – which is a welcome change of pace for Sarah, who has become bored with their ordinary lives.
Boggs informs the couple that, in the wake of a WikiLeaks-like scandal, a failed government operation has been brought to light and the former U.S. operatives have become wanted terrorists – with a group of the world’s top assassins on their tail. Forced to flee for their lives, Frank and Sarah (along with a number of returning faces) must uncover the truth behind the long-forgotten mission in order to save the world, clear their names – and (maybe) learn a few things about love in the process.
Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) takes over director duty from RED helmer Robert Schwentke – and, like its predecessor, RED 2 makes very liberal use of its DC Comics origins. Instead of using a specific storyline from the graphic novel, RED 2 is an entirely original storyline (once again penned by Jon and Erich Hoeber) that relies on the “Retired, Extremely Dangerous” source material mixed with the first film’s light-hearted and slightly-less-violent tone. Whereas RED offered a fun (as well as surprising) mix of comedy and slick action, the sequel is merely a competent but not exceptional follow-up. Die-hard fans of the original will find enjoyment in RED 2, as the movie successfully continues the setup from the first installment and presents plenty of engaging character moments. That said, less-committed casual filmgoers expecting another surprise hit will likely find the film does little to iterate or evolve on the previously established format (or action genre in general).
The story fuels a globe-trotting adventure that allows for a wide-range of familiar but satisfying action beats. Most scenes play to the fan base – placing the quirky characters in a series of diverse and entertaining set pieces. However, the actual narrative through-line and individual plot arcs are thin, punctuated by several very predictable twists that lack suspense or worthwhile payoff. Even though a lot of interesting story material is thrown into the mix, very little is done to develop any of the threads beyond pushing likable characters onto the next action setup.
Bruce Willis is solid in the sequel, riffing on similar roles from his expansive filmography. The action icon continues to prove that, despite his age, he’s still a likable lead – delivering plenty of tongue-in-cheek one-liners and hard-hitting fight choreography. Still, Willis isn’t doing anything fresh with the role, and the character’s larger storyline isn’t quite as well-defined this round. Moreoever, on more than one occasion RED 2 sacrifices the integrity of the Frank character for cheap laughs or predictable plot beats that force unnecessary twists and turns into the story.
In general, Frank is most entertaining when paired with one of his two supporting players, Sarah and Marvin – who, similar to the original, steal most of the scenes. Malkovich returns for another round of eccentric camp (along with a few downright badass moments) as Marvin – and many of the film’s most quotable lines and memorable scenes belong to his character. Yet, even when Marvin is at his best in RED 2, few of his contributions are anywhere near as enjoyable as his irreverent and playful debut in RED. Conversely, Mary-Louise Parker is actually more entertaining this round, and the actress is given a significantly wider range of material to explore, especially when the plot sees Sarah embrace the Retired, Extremely Dangerous lifestyle.
The rest of the cast are competent additions to the RED 2 story, but most of their characters are short-changed, with only a few key scenes to shine in. As usual, Anthony Hopkins is a stand-out and his scientist character, Edward Bradley, is one of the more intriguing (albeit still thinly-drawn) members of the film. Helen Mirren’s Victoria, Neal McDonough’s Jack Horton, and Byung-hun Lee’s Han Jo-Bae are fun foils for Willis and Malkovich, but none of their respective characters are offered much to do beyond filling out action scenes – which is especially disappointing after the original RED successfully incorporated strong and relevant story arcs for nearly every side character. In spite of a few laughs, the romance triangle between Frank, Sarah, and former love-interest Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is especially weak, often muddling the connection between Frank and Sarah instead of providing meaningful insight or growth.
The strong cast helps RED 2 provide intriguing moments and fun gags, but the movie fails to stitch it all together with solid character drama and a captivating over-arching plot – both of which served to elevate the original film above otherwise standard action genre offerings. Similarly, while this second installment offers a few unique twists on typical spy movie tropes (i.e. infiltration and chase scenes), fast-cuts, choppy choreography, and some noticeable CGI shots prevent the movie from succeeding as a must-see for action lovers.
As a result, RED 2 is an adequate but not stellar follow-up. It checks the necessary boxes to be worthy of recommendation – a solid cast, fun character banter, and decent action. Yet, the sequel does not elevate the series in any meaningful or particularly satisfying way and lacks the same broad appeal as its predecessor. Fans of the last RED adventure will enjoy seeing their favorite characters back on the big screen but less-devoted moviegoers will find that, in spite of some amusing elements, RED 2 is only an average action experience.
If you’re still on the fence about RED 2, check out the trailer below:
RED 2 runs 116 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for pervasive action and violence including frenetic gunplay, and for some language and drug material. Now playing in theaters.
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