Red 2 (2013)
[Note from the editor: This review is by prospective staff writer Chelsey McQuitty. Enjoy!]
Anyone that loved the movie Red (2010), the action-packed story of a group of CIA retirees getting the band back together, will probably enjoy catching up with the same characters in Red 2 (2013). Too often, Hollywood throws out sequels that makes everyone wonder why they bothered, but this movie isn’t one of them.
Red 2 picks up not too long after the first movie leaves off. Former black ops agent Frank (Bruce Willis) and his girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) are doing some shopping at [insert product-placed warehouse club here]. Frank seems to be enjoying settling into a life of domestic bliss, whereas Sarah finds this a bit of comedown after their previous adventure (c.f. Red).
But before the opening credits are even over, Frank spies his old secret agent pal Marvin (John Malkovich) over in the next aisle.
Marvin tries to convince Frank that there are still people after them, but Frank just thinks he’s being his usual paranoid self. That is, until a few minutes later out in the parking lot, where Marvin’s car gets blown up with Marvin inside. Frank is at first convinced that Marvin just faked his death again, but changes his tune when he sees him laid out in a coffin. After Frank delivers a eulogy, he’s suddenly brought in for questioning by government agents.
While he’s being interrogated about a document that was just leaked onto the internet, a team of armed men show up led by our villain Horton (a very tanned Neal McDonough), and they kill nearly everybody inside. Horton plans to torture Frank for information, but before he gets a chance, Frank escapes.
Frank is soon found by Marvin, who apparently did fake his own death, after all (though, there’s no explanation for how he made for such a convincing corpse). He brought Sarah with him, much to Frank’s chagrin, and all three hop in a car and are soon on the road and on the run yet again.
Just like in the first movie, they try to put together the pieces and figure out why the bad guys are after them. Eventually, they learn about a top secret Cold War-era plan called Project Nightshade, which involved sneaking the individual pieces of a nuclear bomb into Russia, one by one, and then assembling the bomb and hiding it somewhere in the country. Somehow, Frank and Marvin’s names have become connected to Nightshade, which is why Horton is after them.
Horton even hires world-class assassin Han Jo-Bae (Korean action star Lee Byung-hun) to go after Frank, and we see he’s such a badass that he can kill a man with nothing but an 8×10 glossy and serious origami skills.
Frank then gets a call from old spy friend Victoria (Helen Mirren) who tells him that MI:6 has also hired her to kill Frank and Marvin. She can’t turn down the job, and her phone call is their only warning.
With a couple of killers after them, our three main characters follow the clues to Paris in search of an international arms dealer and wine connoisseur known as “The Frog”. That’s where Frank meets up with old fling Katya (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a Russian operative who’s also looking for the Nightshade device.
Together with Katya, they finally find the Frog (David Thewlis) in a café, but he flees and a huge car chase ensues. They catch him and he soon gives up a key to a safety deposit box with information about Nightshade. Katya drugs Frank and steals the key, but it turns out Marvin saw this coming and swapped it with a totally different key that belongs to a safety deposit box used by terrorists, and Katya walks right into their trap and ends up getting arrested.
They eventually get to the real safety deposit box, which contains documents that lead them to an insane asylum in London. On the way there, they run into Victoria, who apparently decided not to go through with her assignment to kill them, and instead helps them fake their deaths.
She even joins up with them, and they’re able to sneak into the asylum by Victoria pretending to be a crazy woman who thinks she’s Queen Elizabeth, in a not-so-inside joke on one of Mirren’s other roles.
Once inside the asylum, they find the scientist who created Nightshade, Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins). Bailey was declared dead a long time ago, but has actually been held in this asylum for thirty years, and given drugs to suppress his memory. It seems he was also the one who assembled the nuclear bomb, and he slowly begins to remember where in Russia he hid it.
They break Bailey out of the asylum and head to Moscow, where they’re reunited with another old friend from the first film, Ivan (Brian Cox). And eventually, Dr. Bailey recalls the precise location where he hid the nuclear bomb… which just happens to be underneath the Kremlin.
Of course, there’s a lot more to the movie than that, including our main trio being nearly executed by a Russian firing squad (and saved by Victoria’s sniper rifle at the last minute), Han trying to kill Frank with a machine gun and destroying an entire Moscow city block, and a lengthy sequence where Sarah has to seduce the Iranian ambassador and take him hostage. And not to spoil the ending, but if you like your action movies to end with huge explosions, you won’t be disappointed.
Red 2 had some pretty good moments that actually improved upon the first movie. Frank and Sarah’s relationship, which was kind of put on the backburner in the first film, is a lot more interesting this time around, as Sarah begins to get herself more entrenched in the secret agent lifestyle. One of the better bits in the movie has to be the rivalry between Sarah and Katya, which was funny and relatable.
The new assassin Han is a great addition to the cast. The way the actor fights is amazingly graceful and precise. Nothing against Karl Urban, but it’s definitely a step up from the last guy that was hired to kill Frank.
This movie definitely doesn’t skimp on the action. The first car chase in Paris was pretty fun, with some laughs as Marvin and Sarah pushed a junker car to its limits until Sarah managed to get them wedged in an alleyway. The second car chase, on the other hand, was a bit much. Sure, there were some cool aspects about it, but all the slow-mo driving tricks were cheesy and over the top.
Red 2 has a lot of the same problems as the original Red, however. One big issue is again having way too many characters. If you didn’t catch the first movie, you’ll probably be lost for a large part of this movie, with all the random cameos from returning characters. The sequel also adds three new villains, and it takes awhile to sort out who the main bad guy is. Honestly, it’s pretty hard to keep up with the comings and goings of everybody in this cast.
Also, the film runs almost two hours long, which is a pretty standard length these days, but there’s so much crammed into the storyline that the movie feels a lot longer than that. The script keeps adding twists and turns to the story, giving us several moments where you think the movie’s just about over, only to end up having to sit through another chase sequence.
And the ending doesn’t really make much sense. I won’t ruin it, but it involves Frank making a switcheroo in plain sight that somehow goes completely unnoticed by the villain, even though it happens just a few feet in front of him.
Still, Red 2 is a fun watch. They even leave the movie open-ended for a Red 3, and there’s certainly enough potential here to make this series a solid trilogy. And it goes without saying that out of the two action sequels Bruce Willis starred in last year, Red 2 is the far superior film.
[—This review contains additional material by Dr. Winston O’Boogie.]