Red 2: An Action Comedy as Good as the First
They’ve expanded the cast. It seemed like every time the scene changed, there was another old buddy or villain introduced, but the film doesn’t feel overstuffed. Bruce Willis is back as Frank, former CIA agent who’s Retired and Extremely Dangerous. Also returning is his girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) and buddy Marvin (John Malkovich). Of course, the scene-stealer is Helen Mirren’s extremely talented sniper Victoria.
New this go-round are Catherine Zeta-Jones as Katja, Russian agent with history with Frank; David Thewlis as the Frog, another spy in France; the well-built Byung Hun Lee as Han, a talented Korean mercenary (who handles a number of the most challenging fight scenes); and Anthony Hopkins as the daffy Dr. Bailey. As you might guess from that description, where the previous film traveled around the US, this one globe-trots internationally, with stops in Paris, London, and Moscow.
The threat is bigger than before. Just like last time, someone’s trying to kill Frank because of a mission he was part of back in the day — but this time, driving the assassination attempts is a rogue nuclear weapon, code-named Nightshade, not a checkered political history. Also, as a subtle backstory, Frank’s being overprotective of Sarah. He loves her so much he won’t let anything happen to her, but she misses the excitement that brought them together.
Given his history as an LSD experiment, Marvin’s not quite as wacky in this one; in fact, he says a number of sensible things about making a relationship work, and his scenes with Sarah play well (almost better than Sarah and Frank). I liked his crazy Franken-phone, too, a cell that looks like a number of mobile phones taped together. The film is filled with good lines, from the summation “pretty good for a retired guy” to “this is America … everyone else has a gun”. My favorite, since it works in almost any situation, is “It’s important to enjoy life while you still can.”
The credits state “based on characters created by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner”. The writers, Jon and Erich Hoeber, returned from the first movie, which is probably why the tone and characters still sound right. The director, Doug Parisot, is new, but he made Galaxy Quest, which had a similarly effective blend of action and comedy. Another great exchange occurs in this ad:
Note that there are huge numbers of bullets flying, and a large number of no-name deaths (guards, agents, soldiers, etc.). Now that this is a franchise, no one we care about gets hurt, though, even when surviving thousands of bullets aimed their way. (Unless there’s a joke that can be made of it.) However, I did find myself wondering why no one with a big gun ever thinks to shoot at floor level. There are several scenes where people survive machine-gunnings and the like simply by duck-and-covering. Wouldn’t you think to aim lower than three feet above the ground in such cases?
The scene changes nod at the comic-book roots of the project, as characters are turned into art before the new location appears. (The graphic artist credited for the film is Jean-Francois Poupart, but I don’t know if he’s the one who did the artwork.) Similar to a dynamic sequence in the first movie, there’s a car entrance here while the car is spinning that’s visually stunning. (Although the Paris car chase sequence did remind me a lot of the Walt Disney World “Lights! Motors! Action!” auto stunt show.) You can see part of the spin in the trailer:
As I said above, we enjoyed seeing it, so much that we came home and popped the first movie in the player. This sequel stands up well compared to the original, and I plan on buying it on home video when I can. Also, Victoria has the best-ever fur coat.