Generally, I’m not drawn to FBI/CIA/police action films. So many of them come out each year, yet so few of them have truly memorable plots or characters. I usually forget the details of these cookie cutter films within a few days of seeing them. But Red sticks out to me as a cut above the rest. When it came out a few years ago, I not only remembered it, but I really enjoyed it. It’s a film with a unique concept—a ragtag group of former agents labeled RED (Retired Extremely Dangerous) are forced out of retirement when they become government targets. They’re old, they’re cranky, and they’re tough as nails. They’re also pretty hilarious.
In Red 2, most of the old gang (Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Mary-Louise Parker, etc.) return for another round, plus some interesting new additions. So can lightning strike twice? It’s been a summer of sequels, and a few of them have actually done a good job of matching or maybe even surpassing the originals in awesomeness (i.e. Star Trek: Into Darkness), but, in my humble opinion, Red 2 isn’t quite one of those films.
Synopsis: “Retired C.I.A. agent Frank Moses reunites his unlikely team of elite operatives for a global quest to track down a missing portable nuclear device.” –Borrowed from my favorite movie site, IMDb.
The Good: The gang’s back. Victoria (Mirren) is still the coolest, most lethal English lady on the block. Marvin (Malkovich) is still a lovable weirdo. Frank (Willis) is still the tough guy with a heart of gold. Sarah (Parker) is still his danger-loving main squeeze. And, of course, the retirees are all still showing the young, hotshot agents what’s what. It’s a fun bunch, and they have great chemistry. Plenty of shoot-em-ups and explosions and car chases for action fans. The sequel has a similar, pleasant blend of action and comedy that made the first film such a success. There are also a few nice additions to the cast, including deadly assassin Han (Byung-hun Lee), a character from Frank’s past who is constantly on the gang’s trail, Russian agent Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Frank’s former flame, and brilliant scientist Dr. Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), who has become a little scatter-brained after 32 years of confinement. Favorite scene: Han vs. the Moscow police. I’ll give you one guess who wins.
The Bad: Unfortunately, it’s like a watered down version of the original. Red 2 tries to retain the charm and humor of the first film, but it just feels a little stale and forced. And it almost seems like the director knew this and tried to make up for it by including more action and more stars. Granted, I appreciate some good action, and Hopkins, Zeta-Jones, and Lee are, of course, welcome additions, but when the element that made the first film so great is lacking, it drags everything else down. Maybe I just miss some of the noticeably absent actors, like Morgan Freeman and Karl Urban. Maybe the script isn’t as good. Or maybe Red is, sadly, a one-trick pony that can’t quite recreate the original magic. Least favorite scene: I usually don’t mind loud noises and music, but I guess Red 2 brings out the cranky old lady in me. One scene in particular—a car chase toward the end of the film—sticks out as unpleasant simply because the heavy rock/metal music accompanying the action made me cringe. A car chase should make you say, “Yeah! Go, go, go!” not “Ugh. Stop.”
To Sum It Up: Red 2 is not a bad film. As far as sequels go, it could be a lot worse. In fact, I’d be interested to hear what someone who hasn’t the first film thinks of the sequel. But for someone who has seen the original, Red 2 is likely to disappoint. While Red was a breath of fresh air, Red 2 teeters toward the cookie cutter action film that I so feared it would be. If you enjoyed the first film, you will probably think the second is pleasant enough—just don’t go in expecting much more.
My Grade: B-