Cast: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Byung-hun Lee, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Neal McDonough, David Thewlis, Brian Cox.
Running Time: 116 minutes.
Synopsis: Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is once again dragged out of retirement after being implicated in a decades old government cover-up. Joining forces with old friends, he finds himself in a world of assassinations, double crosses and international espionage, all while trying to maintain his relationship with Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker).
RED was a surprise action hit in 2010, mostly noted for showing that maturity doesn’t rule out wild action and comedy. Thanks to its box office take, it proves little surprise that a sequel has found its way to the big screen. RED 2 achieves that ever difficult task of surpassing its predecessor by giving the audience more of what made the original so popular, as well as adding new dimensions that enhance the formula.
The plot is fairly simple and, like the original, sees our characters jumping from locale to locale in search of answers as to how they fit into this mystery. Whereas the first film was centralised in the U.S., RED 2 takes an international approach. This lends itself to the action sequences, as the environments add varied aesthetics and different personalities to the onslaught of fistfights, gun battles and car chases. However, the constant globe-hopping can also be rather tiring in terms of editing as the generic sound of planes taking off and landing is used as an announcement that we are someplace new, with film-to-comic transition cards also inserted. It’s a minor quibble, though, in what is a perfect example of the action genre done right.
When not engaging in action sequences (which always tread the fine line between ridiculous and believable), RED 2 is most comfortable when dealing with comedy. Malkovich spits out hilarious one-liners and Willis is the wise-cracking maverick that John McClane should have been in the last two DIE HARD films. It’s not just in the dialogue where laughs can be found, but also in the natural chemistry that permeates the cast. Malkovich, Willis and Mirren are back on top form and have a friendship that is instantly recognisable and often leads to comical banter and gentle hazing. Even newcomers such as Byung-hun Lee fit seamlessly into the story. When it’s mentioned that there is a history between Moses and Bai (Byung-hun Lee), you believe it instantly. Their dialogue and general manner towards each other suggests past connections, as does the way in which they fight each other and come into conflict.
The real star, though, is Mary-Louise Parker as Sarah Ross and her connection with Moses. Writers Jon and Erich Hoeber haven’t written a romance, but an honest to God relationship. No one could doubt the absolute love and adoration that Ross and Moses share, but we’re never left with dramatic, “I love you” speeches or cliff-hanger fake outs where they believe the other is dead. The couple play off each other so well it’s impossible not to imagine them together. The writers also deserve credit for making Ross so well-rounded and complex, while always developing her. Parker plays the character as fragile at times, but also able to kick-ass with the rest of the cast. In these moments she isn’t reduced to a blubbering wreck, nor is her transition to action hero sudden or misplaced. She’s also able to represent an excited childish side without falling into an annoying bubbly cliché as well as using her femininity without exploiting her sexuality. Never played as a bumbling inconvenience who eventually saves the day, her cute, fun, understanding – but also competent – Sarah is a rare example of a perfect action heroine.
Made up of a series of increasingly enjoyable set pieces, fun character interaction and supporting characters that often steal their scenes, RED 2 believes that the devil is in the detail. A simple sniper scene could have been just that, but instead it adds some back and forth between Ivan (Brian Cox) and Victoria (Helen Mirren), as Ivan worships her feet. It isn’t breaking new ground in terms of plot, but it is offering everything we’ve come to expect with the highest level of quality. In a time when comedies are too broad and action is too serious, RED 2 reminds us that delicate balancing acts are possible to pull off and should be embraced – although they could have done more when having both Hannibal Lecters onscreen together.