RED 2 is the sequel to the 2010 adaptation of the comic book series of the same name created by Warren Ellis and artist Cully Hamner. The series up to this point has been a loose adaptation based on the necessity to generate more material than the limited series actually provided. (And to date, has resulted in two films.) The premise of the films have been simple up to this point, as the story revolves around retired government personnel who are living amongst general society trying to adapt to day-to-day life. The characters involved aren’t by any means normal field agents; they’re retired top agents who once dealt with only the highest covert/top secret/black bag operations. And it’s a case of what do these once important agents do once they’ve outlived their usefulness. Forced out of commission (unless working as a contract killer to fill the time) their personal files are simply catalogued and stamped R.E.D. or “Retired, Extremely Dangerous”. Thus is the general premise of what is seemingly becoming a growing franchise.
For the sequel, the characters are the same (with a few welcomed new add-ons). We catch up with Frank Moses (played by Bruce Willis) still seemingly trying to adapt to civilian life with his girlfriend Sarah Ross (played by Mary-Louise Parker). His best friend Marvin Boggs (play by John Malkovich) is still up to old tricks of paranoia and is trying to convince Frank that his attempts to live a normal life are futile, saying as much “you haven’t killed anyone in months” (as a reference to him needing some type of cathartic release). It’s the general rub or joke of the film and it’s the slight expectation for this series, which makes the antics of the Frank and all his associations fun (although in this sequel, marginally at times) to watch. As the enjoyment of the film itself is somewhat of a proxy to the aging well known actors it portrays. It’s an ironic nod at relevance of a potential franchise that has found something that works. Frank Moses aka Bruce Willis still can kick ass (more believable here than as John McClane), but it’s more so about all the other characters involved and less of a focus on him which makes RED 2 as a sequel pretty decent.
And it’s because of the well rounded cast we can sit down, watch, and enjoy. Other favorites include Helen Mirren fresh off her Monsters University (2013) role (Dean Hardscrabble), as she reprises her role as Victoria Winter here in RED 2. Only this time due to the story on-hand and reasons for the second film, she is setup as a potential antagonist. But that’s another reality of the film as Marvin will say “when have you never not tried to kill a friend?” as he’s talking to Frank in the film. It’s a funny notion and one of different expectations you have, as you still find yourself liking all the characters involved but don’t know who will survive at the end of the movie. (I mean Morgan Freeman died in the first movie, but oddly enough I still wouldn’t have been surprised if he somehow faked his death and showed up in the second movie [see: I probably would’ve cheered]. I mean Malkovich’s character does it all the time.) Along with Mirren, Brian Cox returns as well playing retired Russian agent Ivan Simanov, who like the entire cast as a whole clearly enjoy playing these roles they’ve been cast in. Newcomers and replacements include Catherine Zeta-Jones, Anthony Hopkins, David Thewlis, Lee Byung-hun, and Neal McDonough. (I won’t get into their characters for spoiler purposes, what little unknown RED 2 has, should be enjoyed as-is.)
The film is still very much old school agents taking on new/old agents as we’re presented with the never-ending war of espionage. Countries still trying to stay ahead and still very much covering up secrets of the past. And that’s the point of the film and franchise as a whole. Mixed in with the danger is the relationship of Frank and Sarah in how she’s been exposed to his secret life and how he desperately tries to keep her safe from it. It’s a point of hilarity throughout and I almost saw Mary-Louise Parker as a metric to the enjoyment level. I thought she did a great job of displaying moments of sheer apathy to bated excitement to eventual engagement of action. And that’s part of the problem with the film, it lacks the slight mystery the first film had thus its inherent freshness is brought into question. It’s a very by the numbers movie sequel, as the almost ‘senior-esque’ characters globe trot at a slow pace throughout the movie. There is never enough synergy to get things moving quick enough. You know where the characters go simply by almost PowerPoint presentation star wipes, as the locations are changed quickly by sequence changing comic book style transitions and propping the city/country name on screen. I’m definitely not asking for Indiana Jones dotted line travelling airplane moments, it’s just the whole of the film felt episodic in nature as though the 116 minute runtime was divided up into definitive parts.
In the end the first film simply had a better sense of continuity and welcomed uncertainty. And given how much is blacked out in their personnel files, it’s that unknown which should carry through moving forward given if another sequel gets made. As you can’t help but feel (or worry) that the franchise could wear out its welcome, if it hasn’t already for some. I found RED 2 to be a pleasant entry into the series, with moments of actions, fun, and genuine/slight entertainment. But like old age, there are moments which feel dull (or maybe just hints of it). I think RED as a series walks a fine line of what works and right now it is definitely characters involved. Being able to add new names/faces/actors (well known and new) has a definite add-value to the film but more so in context of the storyline and world. It’s very believable and outlandish in a good way. RED 2 is a soft entry but acceptably average. Some will enjoy it more than others, others may enjoy it less, or others never signed up to begin with. I fully expect a sequel down the road due to its mid-level budget of $86 million (see: in May 2013, Lionsgate resigned Jon and Erich Hoeber to write a third installment). So if you do so feel inclined to watch RED 2, its worth a Tuesday hot ticket price or a quiet afternoon matinee.
I give RED 2 a 6 (almost 7, but not quite) out of 10