This follow-up maintains the spirit and most of the original cast for a sequel that is keen to bring the fun.
Although based on the limited comic series RED, written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Cully Hamner, Robert Schwentke’s 2010 action film greatly expanded the plot and gave the ensemble cast a lot more humour to play with. It was a formula that worked incredibly well for its ageing cast of actors, with a gun in each hand and their tongues planted firmly in cheek. Despite a change of director in Dean Parisot, very little of that original charm has been lost in bringing this follow-up to the screen, expanding the cast and acting as an antidote to heavy-handed blockbusters.
Retired and extremely dangerous Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is trying to lead a normal life with his girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), who is anxious to head off on another adventure. When old friend Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) approaches them in the belief he is being followed, Frank is reluctant to go along until Marvin is seemingly killed. They are all soon off on an adventure to track down a portable weapon of mass destruction, and are chased not only by chief antagonist Jack Horton (Neal McDonough), but by contract killers Han Cho-Bai (Lee Byung-hun) and former companion Victoria (Helen Mirren). To make matters worse, Frank’s former flame Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones) joins them, much to the displeasure of Sarah.
Like it’s predecessor, RED 2 is a throwback to the energetic caper films of a bygone era, except filtered through the high-octane bursts of modern action sensibilities. It treads that fine line between having fun with the subject matter and winking at the audience, pausing just long enough to make sure we are still along for the ride. It might roll from one scene to the next, but it does so with its own batty internal logic that makes perfect sense if you are just willing to roll with it.
The new cast members are terrific, including real-life retiree Anthony Hopkins, who is as mad as a box full of badgers in his role as Dr. Edward Bailey, the creator of the MacGuffin bomb. South Korean superstar Byung-hun Lee comfortably steps into this world as a villain-with-a-heart-of-gold, and even at 43 years of age is still more limber than the rest of the cast, providing most of the physical action. Zeta-Jones is a convincing rival for Parker’s affections. The returning cast are all still a delight to watch interact with each other, and the triptych of Willis, Malkovich and Parker are now an organic action-comedy team. Malkovich and Parker in particular are clearly loving every moment on screen, although we don’t see nearly enough of Helen Mirren or Brian Cox this time out.
RED 2 is the kind of franchise film that unabashedly celebrates high-concept action, and rewards the audience for doing the same. We wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if this series continued to roll on for years to come, as alternative viewing to The Expendables.
RED 2 is released in Australia on 28 August 2013 from Hopscotch.