Reviewed by Ian Forbes
Normally, sequels are not as good as the original film. They abandon the charm and excitement that allowed the first in the franchise to entice enough people into a theater that the studio green lights further installments. There are, of course, exceptions: The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather Part II, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day spring to mind. RED 2, however, is not one of those exceptions. It’s merely another sequel.
What made RED work was the remarkable ensemble of actors. Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Mary-Louise Parker, Bryan Cox, Karl Urban, Richard Dreyfuss and Ernest Borgnine make for a formidable combination. The interplay between all of them was fun and while it was fairly formulaic, the entertainment factor was high.
Where the sequel goes wrong is in tepid pacing and attempting to evolve the characters that remained available (either through circumstances of the original or real life – RIP Mr. Borgnine). Willis’ character is lessened by spending most of his time trying to curb Parker’s enthusiasm for high stakes covert action. In turn, Parker’s role as the naïve and untrained addition to the mix is made rather one dimensional here as she spends her time trying to convince Willis it’ll be good for the both of them to get back in the game. Malkovich is particularly handcuffed here, as rather than come off as slightly insane and extremely paranoid, he’s rather normal with tinges of paranoia. As the three main characters of the film, finding a way to make each one of them less fun is not a good idea, to say the least.
Some of the side characters are still fun. Helen Mirren is as delightfully capable of killing in a variety of ways as she ever was. Bryan Cox adds some much needed life on the rare occasion he’s on-screen but that’s far too little and far too late when it does happen. And the newest addition to the mix, Byung-Hun Lee, starts off a bit one note but develops into one of the more engaging characters by the end.
Unfortunately, bringing Neal McDonough, Anthony Hopkins, and Catherine Zeta-Jones doesn’t help matters. McDonough plays it fine but is hampered by the script. Hopkins has shades of excellence but is also limited by what is given to him. Zeta-Jones, however, has to not only fight the script but her take on a Russian spy isn’t even Boris & Natasha bad; at least if she did try to be over the top it would add to the eccentricity of the whole. Here, she’s merely a boring femme fatale.
What does all of this add up to? If there is another chapter in this series, hopefully the team behind it will identify what elements make this a fun idea and stick with that, rather than try to tinker with a proven formula as was done this time around. I think you’ve realized that RED 2 isn’t going to be something I recommend people see in theaters. I can understand deciding to watch this when it hits the free cable channels, if only because of how much fun the first film had been, but audiences are far better off just re-watching the original that bothering with this needless sequel.
Red 2 opens in theaters on July 19, 2013 and is rated PG-13 for pervasive action and violence including frenetic gunplay, and for some language and drug material.
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