I’m not going to beat around the bush; I never saw the first Red. I worried for a few minutes prior to the start of Red 2 that I might have a bit of trouble being brought up to speed on who everybody was and where the events of the first film had brought them. I needn’t have worried. Red 2 does a good job of not hampering itself with the events of the first film. In fact, it doesn’t really hamper itself with anything save the exact thing we’re watching at that exact moment. It’s a movie that feels like edited highlights of some other movie, and at nearly 2 hours long, that larger movie would probably have to be Lawrence of Arabian.
Red 2 begins with Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), a retired and extremely dangerous CIA operative, who is attempting to live in peace and obscurity in suburban America with his girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker). So committed is he to this new Costco (product placement) lifestyle that Sarah is getting incredibly bored. Luckily, she doesn’t have to worry too long, as Frank’s former partner and best friend Marvin (John Malkovich) shows up to warn Frank that they’re being targeted by someone. Of course, Marvin gets incapacitated, Frank gets apprehended, and the whole thing gets up and running. Eventually, he and Marvin are believed to have knowledge of an experimental and monumentally deadly explosive device that uses red mercury. They, and Sarah, who wants to join in the fun, begin a globetrotting adventure to find the location of the device, release the man who invented it (Anthony Hopkins) from the loony bin, and not be killed by Han (Byung-hun Lee) or their former associate Victoria (Helen Mirren).
This movie is all plot, action, and funny dialogue. There’s a thread about Willis and Parker’s relationship being put to the test, but it’s the thinnest of strands. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays a Russian agent and is described as “Frank Moses Kryptonite,” and one might assume that there will be a tug of war for his affections between his former flame and his new love, but there isn’t, really. Zeta-Jones is quite superfluous. We get exactly who the characters are at the very beginning, and they’re more or less the same at the end; really, no internal struggle to speak of. It’s a lot of fighting, shooting, exploding, infiltrating, visiting glamorous locations (Paris! Moscow! London!), and getting in and out of scrapes. It’s a mission movie, and in that it’s a lot fun, but there’s really no meat. I will say that it was refreshing to have an action movie with older characters where they aren’t forever griping about how old they are. Clearly, everyone is still at the top of their game, especially Mirren’s character, who is easily the most badass of the bunch.
But this is also the problem. This doesn’t seem particularly momentous to any of the characters. They are attempting to save the world, but there’s really no show of the stakes. There’s a mention of how many people will die should the bomb go off, but that might as well be someone saying “The world will crack in two and be engulfed in aphids” and then we never see it. It’s a vague threat, and like any good (or not so good) MacGuffin, it’s simply there to start the action.
Red 2 is a moderately enjoyable 116 minutes, but it’s really no more than that. If you like funny dialogue, quirky John Malkovich line readings, adorable Mary-Louise Parker, and lots and lots of bullets being fired, then Red 2 will be a welcome brain-relaxing escape.