RED 2 (2013) – Directed by Dean Parisot – Starring Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lee Byung-hun, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox, David Thewlis, Neal McDonough, and Titus Welliver.
Welcome to the Odd Case of RED 2, a movie that manages to be both disappointing and entertaining all at the same time.
What’s disappointing about RED 2 is that it’s a clear step down from the original, which was an enjoyable if easily forgettable movie. Much like RED, RED 2 is just here to have a bit of fun, but unlike its predecessor, RED 2 does feel a bit stale and repetitive. Unlike RED, which was an energetic movie about old people, RED 2 is a lethargic movie about old people. Helen Mirren is still amazing, and John Malkovich is still highly amusing, but Bruce Willis …
I don’t know. I hate to say this because I love Bruce Willis, but he seems increasingly bored with most of his work. It’s like he’s done a complete 180 from his Moonlighting and early Die Hard days when his performances demanded that you watch him. Now … now it’s like he just wants to blend into the film, hoping you don’t notice him. Nearing 60, it’s almost like Willis is resigned to taking jobs that he gets because he’s BRUCE WILLIS and not because he can bring something powerful to a role. The moments in RED 2, Fire with Fire, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and even A Good Day to Die Hard where Willis turns on the old charm are virtually non-existent. It’s like Willis is now a willing participation in his own commodification; lots of actors willingly turn into parodies of themselves, but Willis is doing an anti-parody schtick these days where he’s going so far in the opposite direction of what made him a star that I wonder if he’d rather buy an island and learn how to paint.
Frank Moses (Willis) and Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) are now dating and Frank wants as boring a life as possible while Sarah wants a bit of the old spygame excitement. When Marvin (John Malkovitch) shows up spouting his conspiracy theories, Frank just wants him to go away while Sarah wants an invite into whatever is going on. Frank “dies,” and we get to see his funeral, where we have to watch Frank struggle to be emotional before the feds show up to bring him in for questioning. I don’t get how this sequence unfolds, in that we don’t need the funeral at all, since Marvin shows up again several minutes later to save Frank as he escapes from federal holding. Coming so early in the film, it sets the wrong tone.
After Jack Horton (Neal McDonough) and a hit squad fails to kill Frank, Marvin returns and they’re on the run. There’s a running gag between Frank wanting to be boring and keeping Sarah safe, and Sarah wanting to be a part of Frank’s old life, but it always comes off as Willis/Frank hating that he’s involved and Parker/Sarah wanting to be in the movie.
When I say that RED 2 is both disappointing and entertaining, what I’m really saying is Willis is disappointing and the rest of the cast is entertaining.
Malkovich, Parker, Mirren, and Lee Byung-hun are all highly enjoyable, and whenever Mirren or Lee are on screen, RED 2 is at its best. I’d much rather have seen this movie center on them. I understand that movie sequels don’t work that way – Willis is the biggest star and Frank was at the center of RED, so obviously he’s the center of attention here.
Shifting the center of a story in the sequel is something I wish we’d see more often. Star Wars did it in Empire Strikes Back, as the Han Solo story took on a more prominent role. James Cameron elevated Ripley from being one of the crew in Alien to the most prominent character in Aliens. If RED 2 had focused on Helen Mirren’s Victoria, and perhaps created a romantic triangle between her, Brian Cox’s Ivan Simanov, and Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Bailey, maybe the sequel would have had a bit more bite to it.
As for Lee Byung-hun … I am the official chairman of the Lee Byung-hun For James Bond Campaign. The scenes between him and Mirren are magic, and he blazes Willis right off the screen in their time together.
RED 2 is fluff, but it’s not awful. RED was consistently enjoyable, but there are some dips in quality here. Some day, this movie will run 400 times a year on Turner Classic Movie or American Movie Classics because of the big stars and the passable enjoyment it offers, but it’s not smart enough, clever enough, or funny enough for a night out at the theater.
Please check out Mark Bousquet’s published works:
The Haunting of Kraken Moor (horror)
Gunfighter Gothic (weird western)
Stuffed Animals for Hire (children lit)
Dreamer’s Syndrome (urban fantasy)
Harpsichord and the Wormhole Witches (cosmic pulp)
Adventures of the Five (children lit)
Marvel Comics on Film