There is a famous discussion in Wes Craven’s Scream 2 that cleverly mocks the idea of sequels whilst taking place in one. Asked to name a sequel that is better than the original the class comes up with The Godfather II, Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The punch line comes when someone suggests House II: The Second Story. But there is accuracy in this statement. The only time sequels don’t raise the ire of a prospective audience is when the original film is not particularly well regarded. It seems that things can only get better. So we come to RED 2. The original RED came out in 2010 to not much in the way of fanfare but a surprising $200m at the worldwide box office ensured that a sequel would arrive. So what to make of the follow up to a not very good first film?”
The first thing to say is that RED 2 is a better film. I would also add that this is as close to a textbook definition of damning something with faint praise as I have ever gotten in a review. It is like saying that David Gray is a better singer than Jack Johnson You can marginally prefer one but deep down you know both are pretty terrible. RED 2 or Retired, Extremely Dangerous 2 (to give it its full title) gets the old gang from RED back together for yet another “one last mission”. There is Frank (Bruce Willis seemingly not even bothering to try and act), his best friend Marvin (a mugging John Malkovich), his girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) not to mention the obligatory British and Russian agents (Helen Mirren and Brain Cox respectively). No Morgan Freeman this time but that old touch of class comes in the form of Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Edward Bailey – complete with elbow patches and pipe. Catherine Zeta Jones even shows up as a Russian for no real reason. As with all cash cows with an eye on the international market there is the obligatory Asian action man in the form of Byung-hun Lee who equips himself quite well. They had all better be getting paid a boatload of money for this as they really don’t come out with any dignity. This time around they have to find a missing bomb which has the capabilities to blow up…etc. Not to worry, we have seen the plot a million times before.
The main problem here is the same as in the first film: it has a terrible script. It doesn’t allow for any characters to breathe so you cannot invest in any of them. It also thinks it is much funnier than it actually is. One or two of the jokes work slightly better than the first film but otherwise it is not funny. RED 2 also benefits from not having the queasy Bruce Willis ‘breaks into a woman’s house and kidnaps her’ stalker element that defined the first act in RED. That particular section of the first film was difficult to get past. Dean Parisot is also a better fit in the director’s chair, bringing a slight restraint and a more even tone which helps the film’s running time feel a little shorter than the first film (it is in fact five minutes longer).
All of this would be just about enough to ignore if you are happy to leave your brain outside of the cinema with the exception of one thing: the gun porn on display. As in the first film there are fetishistic slow motion shots of bullets piling on the ground, of buildings being blown apart, of automatic weapons being lusted after. In a world post Sandy Hook this comes off as quite disgusting to watch. What makes it worse is that in order to gain a 12A rating, the film is violent but with barely a drop of blood in sight. It looks like the type of film that the Christian right would fund to bring around to schools to show how great guns are.
I will climb off my soapbox to say that this is the kind of lazy undemanding fare that usually screams straight to VOD. But the famous cast and heavy marketing means that it will most likely find an audience and make piles of money. It will almost certainly mean that RED 3 can only be just around the corner. With a heavy heart I will finish on this: save your money and time and go see something better.