It’s become a trend over these last few years for Hollywood action movies to shed their light back onto the stars of the past who are still around but can’t quite shoot guns or chase bad guys the way they used to. But movies like The Expendables and its sequel, The Last Stand and Bullet to the Head (to name but a few) are determined to show that these guys have still got it, while at the same time constantly reminding the audience that the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis are “too old for this shit.” Needless to say the constant reminders have gotten old, pardon the pun.
One such geriatric action movie, for lack of a better phrase, was Red. Based on a celebrated comic book series, it brought together Willis, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren as ex-CIA agents (the titular acronym stands for Retired Extremely Dangerous) brought back into the action. It was entertaining, for its novelty factor if nothing else. Now off the back of the first film’s success we have the aptly (lazily?) titled Red 2, which brings Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones and South Korean superstar Byung-hun Lee into the fold.
The plot this time around suffers from the same thing a lot sequels do – trying to go bigger just for the sake of it. Frank (Willis) is now back to being happily retired with his wife Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) but upon the warning of the off-kilter Marvin (Malkovich), he is brought back out of his quiet suburban life to help track down a missing nuclear device that was smuggled into Russia decades prior. Hot on their heels is Han (Lee), described as the best assassin in the world, and Jack Horton (Neal McDonough) who has been hired by the CIA to clean up the increasing mess.
Much of the fun of the first film was just seeing these old timers brought together to shoot big guns and punch bad guys that in reality wouldn’t be taken down so easily – the sight of Helen Mirren at the barrel of a giant machine gun, for instance, was worth the price of admission alone. That novelty has worn off this time around but the film survives on the one-liners thrown around as if they’re going out of fashion and the general light-heartedness often missing from this new spate of olden day action hero movies.
The comedic tone and fun casting make up for the action which often veers from silly to pedestrian. It frequently mistakes being bombastic for being exciting and engaging and only makes you yearn for the explosions to stop and for it get back to the enjoyable character interplay. Speaking of which, new additions Hopkins and Zeta-Jones inject fresh comedy into the proceedings – Hopkins as a sort of mad scientist who has been locked away for 30-odd years and Zeta-Jones as former love interest of Frank’s now turning his wife’s face green with envy – while Lee provides some of the few nifty fight scenes in an otherwise generic series of set-pieces. The weak link in the chain is McDonough; the actor is perfectly good in the role but his ruthless character feels like a substitute for Karl Urban from the first film.
Red 2 exemplifies what makes this now established franchise the diverting entertainment that it is; the fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Sure, that means the overblown nuclear-themed plot is nothing more than throwaway and you never really feel like the stakes are high enough to truly care about whether or not any of the characters die along the way. But it’s light, undemanding fun and that’s absolutely fine.
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