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(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)
Greg, we just took in Red 2. Don’t know about you, but I plan on being extremely dangerous when I retire.
Me too, so long as I can hang out with the likes of Catherine Zeta Jones and Mary-Louise Parker. Let’s recap.
Red 2 begins with Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and his girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) shopping at Costco, where Frank’s old buddy Marvin (John Malkovich) shows up to warn them of danger. Frank and Sarah then witness Marvin’s car explode. Frank is skeptical that Marvin is dead but delivers a eulogy at his funeral anyway. Afterward, Frank is taken into custody for questioning but Jack Horton (Neal McDonough) shoots and kills his way into the facility to question Jack himself. Horton threatens to kill Sarah to get Frank to talk, but Frank escapes and discovers that he is wanted for his earlier involvement in a project called Nightshade. He also learns that two formidable people have been contracted to kill him: His old friend Victoria (Helen Mirren) and the top hit-man in the world, Han Cho Bai (Byung-hun Lee).
It turns out the key to project Nightshade is a nutty professor who’s been locked up in MI-6 for the last 32 years. Dr. Bailey (Anthony Hopkins) has the secret to project Nightshade locked up in his crazy mind. Our crew springs Bailey and they are on a journey to find Nightshade before the Russians do. Just as in the prequel, Red 2 is a globe-trotting romp from city to city looking for clues and getting into trouble. They are always just one step ahead of formidable Han Cho Bai, who appears to be a modern-day Cato (a la The Pink Panther Returns). He’s constantly attacking Frank and his merry band, but never quite gets the job done.
Greg, I really enjoyed this film’s predecessor, Red, which came out in 2010. That movie was slick and stylish with a charming edginess to it. This sequel tries very hard to recapture that magic but only partially succeeds. In Red 2, we are treated to the same appealing cast of characters, and once again they extricate themselves from treacherous situations with great panache. So what is missing?
For starters, the inescapable problem with all sequels, including this one, is that we’ve seen all this before and so the freshness is gone. But more importantly, the relationship between Frank and Sarah no longer has that spark. In Red, there was an endearing chemistry between them as they fell in love amidst the chaos. In Red 2, there is chaos but not so much endearing chemistry. In fact, much of the film consists of the other characters commenting on Frank and Sarah’s relationship difficulties.
Sarah suffers from what I call “Dr. Watson’s Syndrome.” She’s there to be the uninitiated. She wants to join in the adventure, but she’s naive. They give her a gun and she accidentally discharges it. In nearly every scene she asks questions like “Nightshade? What’s a Nightshade?” To which Frank or Marvin have to explain not only for her sake, but for the sake of the audience. This was pretty much Dr. Watson’s role in almost every Sherlock Holmes story.
Sarah complains that she wants to go with Frank on the adventure because she doesn’t want him kissing “dusky” spy women. No sooner are we on our way when Frank encounters old nemesis/girlfriend/Russian spy Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones). She doesn’t even bother to say hello before she locks jaws with Frank.
I do like the hero story in this movie. You could argue that it’s an ensemble cast of heroes, but to me, Bruce Willis is the centerpiece of both Red 1 and Red 2. Willis is the King of Cool. The action centers around him, and for good reason. Willis exudes charisma, and the trait of charisma is one of the Great Eight traits of a hero (the other traits being strength, intelligence, inspiration, kindness, selflessness, resilience, and reliability).
There are other Hollywood stars and celebrities who make their millions with their charisma. Vin Diesel comes to mind. So do Oprah Winfrey and Sandra Bullock. These stars can practically turn a mediocre film into something well worth watching simply with their magnetic presence. We saw that earlier this year with Vin Diesel in Fast & Furious 6. Willis has always had this gift and in Red 2 he is once again the smartest and most powerful person in the room. He need not utter a word for everyone around him, in every scene he’s in, to know that he’s in control of the situation.
I enjoyed both Red and Red 2. In both films the director and writers are trying to show aging actors as aging spies and that they still have value, even when compared to their younger counterparts. A similar message was attempted in 2010’s The Debt (which also starred Helen Mirren). The Debt suffered tragically by trying to be too serious with its content. It concluded with a “thrilling” fight scene between 70-year-old Mirren and her villain 70-year old Jesper Christensen. It was the most ridiculous fight scene ever with two geriatrics in a (not intentionally) slow motion duel.
Red 2 makes no such mistake. All the fight scenes are fast and action-packed. Mirren’s character is portrayed as a crack shot, so there is no need for her to come to fisticuffs with other agents. All the players are superior to their younger peers thanks to their experience and smarts, not necessarily their brawn. Which is a message that the target baby-boomer audience can enjoy.
That’s a good point, Greg. Hollywood is targeting aging boomers with movies that feature geezer stars from yesteryear. I understand that Stallone and Schwarzenegger have left their nursing homes to film Escape Plan, coming out this Fall. In Red 2, we have to suspend our disbelief that a young Jack Horton can “get his ass handed to him” by Frank Norton, who may be twice Horton’s age. But as you note, the wisdom and experience of our elder-heroes more than compensate for their antiquity.
Red 2 is a stylishly made comedic action film that doesn’t quite strike the same magical chord that its predecessor does but is nevertheless an entertaining tale that is worth the price of admission, assuming you are fans of Bruce Willis and the other supporting stars. The formula is becoming a bit strained and I’m hoping that Red 3, which is currently in production, can inject some new life and direction into the franchise. I believe Red 2 earns 3 Reels out of 5. The hero story is a bit flimsy but Willis’s charisma carries the day and enables the film to achieve 3 Heroes out of 5 as well.
I appreciated how the women characters were treated in Red 2. There were no damsels in distress here. Even Parker’s character, naive as she was, stepped up and played her part. The aging stars and their spy counterparts were also treated with respect. There wasn’t a lot of complaining about aches and pains. And there also wasn’t a lot of falling from absurd heights, through panes of glass, only to walk away without a scratch. Such as it was, the action was believable and fairly “age appropriate.”
I agree with you, Scott; the prequel was better. Still I would only give Red three Reels if we were reviewing it today. Red 2 kept a good pace and mixed humor with a somewhat believable spy-plot. I give it 3 Reels out of 5. The team-hero story was well-played, especially with so many luminaries on-screen at one time. All the players shared the screen equally and created an enjoyable ensemble. I give 3 out of 5 Heroes to the cast of Red 2.