I must say that I was a fan of the first film, Red. I thought it was a clever and well done adaption. Also, I feel I must say that the trailers for Dean Parisot’s Red 2 made it look just as good. I never go into a film wanting to dislike it. Sometimes I suspect a film has a high probability of being bad, but I always want to like a film. In this case, I kind of assumed I was going to like. I did not.
The film follows Frank (Bruce Willis), a retired black-ops CIA agent, Marvin (John Malkovich), a friend who has a similar background, Victoria (Helen Mirren), an ex-member of MI6, and Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), Frank’s girlfriend, as they all go out trying to find a missing, untraceable nuclear device. They are doing this because Frank believes no one should have such power, and so he becomes #1 on the CIA watch list. The ‘greatest hit-man in the world,’ Han Cho Bai (Byung-hun Lee, who was the main character in the under-seen I Saw the Devil) is also chasing them.
The film’s main problem is the fact it feels like three different films going on at the same time. Things are happening, so it is never dull, but far too many things, making it near unintelligible at times. There is the action-comedy aspect, the romantic-comedy aspect (Frank and Sarah having some bf-gf probs on their merry battles), and then there is the brutally-violent crime drama aspect, brought in by CIA Agent Jack Horton (Neal McDonough), the villain.
The first two angles work well together. And If that was all the film tried to be, I would have very few problems with Red 2. The violence brought in by McDonough’s character is realistic, which does not fit at all tonally with everything else that is happening. In his first twenty seconds on screen he shoots a female receptionist in the face. She does not make any threats. In fact, they were having a pleasant conversation. There are moments of sudden dark violence like this that do not fit with the rest.
There are a few characters, like Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who play their bit roles deliciously, soaking every moment to their advantage. The main cast are all great, Malkovich and Mirren especially. Lee, in his first few appearances, does not fit as well. In fact, he is pretty bad at first. Maybe it was just the writing and he could not do much with it, but he seems to struggle in his role. It takes awhile for him to find his footing. Once he does, actually, he is damn great. There is a great scene involving the take down of Russian policemen and him being handcuffed, which is very well choreographed. He later rocks a car chase sequence with Helen Mirren (who has the most badass moment in the entire film in this scene).
Eventually the gang finds Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), who is the inventor of the nuclear weapon. He is also the one who hid it from everyone. He has been stuck in a psych ward for 32 years, and thus is crazy. His schtick is pretty funny at first, but soon grows tiresome. There are times his fast-talking gig becomes so unintelligible for so long the audience is lost and confused. It loses its humor. Never thought I would say that Hopkins was bad in a movie, but… alas. The end is nigh, apparently.
Some moments in Red 2 made me upset. Sure, it is great and all that the Russians are not the villains, for once, but now they have been replaced by Iranians. The group raids the Iranian Embassy, chasing someone, and they get in. Helen Mirren shoots a gun up in the lobby, drawing attention away from some people. In a situation where someone inside your embassy is shooting a gun, would you shoot back? Yes. Many of the people trying to protect themselves, probably.
Mirren, for no real reason, guns loads of them down. We as an audience are not supposed to care about these people getting shot and (probably) killed, but I did. I felt bad that the scene existed. It was a pointless encounter.
A moment about three-quarters of the way through really struck me as strange. Everyone is boarding a plane surrounded by soldiers, and all but Frank leave, him staying behind for some reason, and then POW! Frank is attacked by Han. There is a massive fight. No one but Frank and Han are in that fight. This confuses me because about ten seconds earlier there was about fifty people in frame, a relative long shot of the area. Did they all disperse in that time? Confusing.
However, there are some things this film accomplishes that many summer movies this year failed to do. There are actual characters! These feel like strange but real people! Sure, maybe a little overpowered, but hey! They seemed like people! They reacted in (generally) human ways! The action was not over-the-top and CGI-ridden, which is always a plus. It was well choreographed, not throwing the aforementioned dreaded CGI at it as opposed to actually positioning everything themselves. Some of that is really good.
The dynamic within the main group is pretty good as well. These actors clearly know each other, and they have a lot of fun. This is nice to see in a flick like this. It could have been much, much worse than it was. Is it as good as the first one? Debatable. I would say, “No, not quite as good.” I could understand someone saying otherwise, though. I came out of the theater hating, hating, hating this film. The more I reflected on it, though, the better it became. I began to forgive some of the film’s faults. No, no, it is not good. However, I would not mind if there was a sequel which improved upon the problems I mentioned. They are fixable. This film just… didn’t.