[Review] - RED 2

Courtesy of di Bonaventura Pictures
It was quite some time after the release of RED before I sat down and watched it. I hadn't read the book by Warren Ellis that it was based on, so I had no emotional connection to the source material, and despite the calibre of the cast, Bruce Willis is enough of a deterrent to keep me away from movies anymore that I didn't chance seeing it in theatres. When I did see it, it was odd enough to be endearing, and featured strong enough supporting turns by Helen Mirren, John Malkovich and Brian Cox to counteract any of Willis' cinematic sleepwalking. I enjoyed it enough to be interested in the sequel when it was announced.

And that's how they get you. Because RED 2 turned out to be the standard issue sequel, attempting to replicate the formula of the original without doing anything particularly original with it. It isn't exceptional in the same manner that it isn't overly terrible, ultimately making it pretty forgettable.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that didn't see that coming.


Straight off, director Dean Parisot attached a lot of anticipation to the picture, because of his 1999 film, Galaxy Quest. This isn't that. This is more in line with 2005's Fun With Dick And Jane. The movie isn't as funny as it could be, isn't as satirical as it should be and doesn't take a single risk. Every twist and turn can be seen well down the line, to the point where someone with enough cinematic knowledge in their back pocket could probably abstract the entire film without seeing it. Even the hook of the original - old men who kick ass - isn't on show here, as we already know they do, so it isn't that surprising, and the hand to hand is kept to a minimum. The original had Karl Urban to juxtapose against Frank and the other REDs. In this film, the team are as proficient or better then everyone else, nothing seems to prove a challenge, and you have to wonder why they aren't all still on the payroll.

The film's biggest problem is bloat. There is a lot going on here, and it is a perfect example of a film where the action drives the plot rather then the actors. There is no set up, no slow introduction to the problems of the day, and very few reprieves for any characterisation. A scant few lines are thrown in here and there to make it seems like personal growth is happening, but then an explosion happens and they move on. Point in fact, Mary Lousie Parker kills a man, her first time doing so, and the scene seems to suggest that despite her immersion into the level of violence being with Frank entails, that this weights heavily on her. Cut the scene, and it's not brought up again. The emotionality of that moment is something worth exploring, but there is a car chase that must be got to, so cut the talkie feelie stuff.

The film bounces from one foreign location to another, which is standard operating procedure for sequels nowadays: if the original was localised, then the sequel goes far afield. That the film never lights anywhere gets distracting and epileptic, and a jaunt from Paris, to London, to Moscow, then back to London gets tiresome. Add to that a wasted cast that bulges with talent, but never seem to get used. Save for Willis and Parker, everyone else seems to be in extended cameo mode, especially Mirren. The characters appear to remind us they exist, do one or two things to be helpful, then the film forgets that they are around. When the film begins with three separate assassins on their trail, but we don't see any of them for twenty minutes after their introduction, you know you've got a problem with plotting.

Malkovich gets the worst of it, because he's there from frame one and is ostensibly the third main lead. But he's more of a deus ex Yoda, dispensing advice and get out of jail free cards when convenient (in fact, this film has a big problem with last minute saves). Catherine Zeta Jones has no purpose other then to suggest a direness to the situation, a direness that might have been more effective if we cared about her character and her ridiculous hat in the least. And Brian Cox, while a welcome sight, has no reason for being in the film.

The best character in the film is Han, played by Lee Byung-hun. He has a more complete arc then anyone else in the film, gets the best action scenes, and generates the most genuine laughs. The best scene in the film, or at least the one that best fulfils the mandate of being a satirical examination of the tropes of the genre, is Neal McDonough's hunting of Willis in a file room near the start, sending in wave after wave of mooks to take Frank out. Had the rest of the film matched this scene's level of awareness and humour, it would have been more enjoyable.Anthony Hopkins in fun to watch, but only as the mad man locked away for years. After the twist, his character becomes far less interesting.

There is a better film in here, and it's the one suggested by the trailers: Helen Mirren hunting the core trio on the orders of MI6. Had the film stuck to that much simpler and interesting narrative, there would have been time to investigate things like character motivation, loyalty, the evolution of relationships, past regret, and friendship. These are all themes the film tries to bring up as is, but fails miserable at because it doesn't allow itself any time to do so. It thinks that, by mentioning them, that's all it needs to do. That would be like starting an argument, then walking out mid yell before any resolution can be gotten to.

As predictable as RED 2 was, it is equally predictable where the third of this apparent franchise will go, and I doubt it will go there with less awareness and humour then this. The franchise is subject to the law of diminishing returns, and I wouldn't be surprised if by the end the series is stripped of all pretence, and is just another empty action film.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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