Title: RED 2
Director: Dean Parisot
Writers: Jon & Erich Hoeber (based on the comic by Warren Ellis & Cully Hamner)
Distributed By: Summit Entertainment
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mary Louise-Parker, John Malkovich, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Lee Byung-hun, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Neal McDonough, Brian Cox, David Thewlis
Release Date: July 19, 2013
MPAA: Rated PG-13
RED 2 is an action-comedy sequel to RED (obviously), the action-comedy “based on” the three-issue comic book min-series of the same name. Whereas RED was based loosely on the mini-series, featuring a story about a retired CIA agent being hunted down by his own former agency, the similarities really stop there. RED 2 is a continuation of the plot of the first film, so it’s now even further removed from the source material. If you’re a purist that loved the mini-series and doesn’t want to see it tampered with, then this film isn’t for you. If, however, you’re into spy movies, over the top action, hilarious parodies, and wonderful performances from a huge and talented cast…then go see this movie right now (and go check out the first one if you haven’t seen it already)!
Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is retired and trying to live the quiet life with his girlfriend Sarah (Mary Louise-Parker), who unfortunately longs for adventure. Suddenly Frank is forced to come to terms with the fact that he’s just not suited for the quiet life, and Sarah is about to get her fill of adventure, when old friend Marvin (John Malkovich) arrives to tell Frank that they’re in danger yet again. This time around, Frank and Marvin are being hunted by American, British, and Russian governments after being framed as terrorists involved with smuggling a nuclear weapon into Russia; and now our intrepid heroes have to avoid being killed long enough to prove their innocence and save the world. Along the way, old partnerships are called into question, and old rivalries are brought back to the forefront in this all-out comedy filled, action packed, globe-trotting, light-hearted adventure.
Everything in this sequel is bigger, bigger, bigger! Where the first film was a cross-country journey, this film is international. The first film was about a personal threat, and this film features a global threat. The action is bigger, the comedy is bigger, the locales are bigger, the stakes are bigger…you get the idea. If the first film is viewed as a parody of smaller spy-action-thrillers like The Bourne Identity, the sequel should be viewed as a parody of lavish spy-action-adventures like Skyfall.
The acting from everyone involved is exactly what you’d expect. Bruce Willis plays the dour yet loveable character from the first film, coming across as an older, somber cross between Butch from Pulp Fiction and John McClane from Die Hard. John Malkovich is hilarious in his portrayal of Marvin, a paranoid conspiracy theorist who offers up quirky relationship advice whenever possible. Helen Mirren and Brian Cox play star-crossed lovers who worked with MI6 and KGB respectively in their younger days. Mary Louise-Parker plays the quirky, possibly borderline insane love interest with such enthusiasm and earnestness that it’s kind of creepy at times. The rest of the cast does what they do best, all of them bringing their A-game. From the smaller supporting roles like Brian Cox, to the more interesting secondary roles like that of Lee Byung-hun’s villainous Han, everyone plays their character with authenticity. It’s their conviction as these characters, mixed with seemingly self-aware performances with everyone’s tongue firmly planted in cheek, that really helps this movie shine.
The two standout performances come from Hopkins and Malkovich. Anthony Hopkins plays Dr. Bailey, the completely unhinged inventor of the smuggled nuclear bomb, with such a unique combination of silliness and sincerity that you can’t help but love him no matter what he’s doing on screen. John Malkovich’s Marvin acts as sidekick of sorts to Willis’s Frank, and whenever he’s onscreen, whether he has a ridiculous line or he’s just making a bizarrely loveable face, he absolutely steals every scene he’s in and is hands-down the best part of the film.
One of the best aspects of the film, that really sets it apart from others like it, is the inclusion of the romantic element. Much like the first film, an ongoing portion of sub-plot is dedicated to romance and relationships. Frank and Sarah work on making their relationship better, while Helen Mirren and Brian Cox show their mushy and awkward adoration of each other. All the while, hit men and assassins offer up bizarre yet sensible relationship advice to our two main characters. The film plays out like the weird love-child of some action-spy-adventure and some quirky indie romantic comedy, certainly one hell of a unique combination.
While the film as a whole is a rather enjoyable experience, it’s not as good as its predecessor. Gone are little things like nuanced characterization and relatable characters. Little touches like glimpses into character personalities outside of the main story really help films like this. When a film is this outlandish and over the top, filling it with characters that are relatable keeps it from feeling too ridiculous or cartoonish. And little details like that are very important in big movies like this.
This film is directed by Dean Parisot, who brought us comedy gold by way of Galaxy Quest, and his penchant for exploiting all of the ridiculous aspects of a given genre to side-splitting effect shines true in RED 2. What the film lacks in any other area (which isn’t much at all) it more than makes up for in humor. In keeping with the aforementioned notion of “bigger, bigger, bigger,” the oddball snickering humor of the first movie is still there, but now coupled with some truly great laugh-out-loud moments that far exceed any of the humor in the previous outing.
Another point of praise stems from the camera work utilized in the action sequences. This film doesn’t do anything new, but that’s what makes it so good. Sticking with old-school notions like keeping the camera still during a chase scene or a fight scene, the audience is allowed to fully experience the fantastic action in all its ridiculous glory. In the modern shaky-cam era of Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum) and Neveldine/Taylor (Crank) it’s wonderful to be able to SEE an action scene in an action movie.
One portion of this film that garners a very mixed reaction would be the opening credits. With the opening shot of the gun, the credits seemingly start out as a parody of the opening credit sequence to a James Bond film, but things shift quickly into something more. A montage of images done in a unique visual style of angular cel-shaded CGI recreate the artwork from the actual RED comic mini-series, and it’s a really great touch. However, it also serves as a reminder of the source material, which this film resembles in name only. So it’s both a positive and negative at the same time.
Overall, this movie is pretty great, as long as you come at it from the right point of view and for the right reasons. If you watch this film expecting a serious award-worthy spy film, then you’ll be sorely disappointed. If you watch it expecting something even remotely like the comic book it’s based on, you’ll again be disappointed. However, if you watch it expecting a hilarious send-up of the spy-action genre then you’ll be thoroughly pleased. A rare combination of spy adventure, action-comedy, and quirky indie romantic comedy, RED 2 is a real treat. As an adaptation of the comic, this movie gets a 1 out of 10. As film on its own merits, this film easily earns a score of 8 out of 10.