Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is retired…again, and is finally enjoying the quiet life with Sarah Ross (Mary Louise-Parker). She’s having a tougher time getting over the excitement of international espionage, however, and is relieved when Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) shows up with the news that their lives are once again in danger. The CIA have put a hit out on their heads due to the pair’s alleged involvement in operation Nightshade, calling upon contract killers Han Cho-Bai (Lee Byung-hun) and Victoria Winslow (Helen Mirren) to take them out. Following leads attained with the help of Katya (Catherine Zeta-Jones), they head to London to find Dr. Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins) and hopefully clear their names.
A modest hit back in 2010, RED adapted Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner’s comic book of the same name for the big screen. Galaxy Quest director Dean Parisot took over from Robert Schwentke for the sequel, with writers Jon and Erich Hoeber returning to pen the script. In addition to reuniting the surviving cast-members from the first film, the sequel adds a number of new actors to the revolving roster of retirees — essentially anyone that hadn’t already been scooped up for The Expendables 3.
Although profitable, the first film wasn’t particularly well-received by critics. It was strange enough to set it apart from most mainstream action fare, but for the most part the lacklustre script prevented it from making much of a lasting impression. The Hoebers’ screenplay for the sequel is only slightly more satisfying, unfortunately, though the change in direction and increasingly formidable cast are able to elevate the film into something substantially more entertaining.
Unlike The Expendables, RED has (with the exception of Willis) filled its ranks with aging actors rather than over the hill action stars, and the results are characters that you can’t help but care about. Louise-Parker is as likeable as ever as Sarah Ross, whether she’s filling the hole in her life with crisps or seething with envy at Zeta-Jones’ femme fatale. Malkovich and Mirren, meanwhile, are clearly relishing the chance to play completely OTT, the former once again chewing the scenery as a (justifiably) paranoid schizophrenic while the latter defrosts a couple of corpses for a improvised cover-up.
If there’s a problem onscreen its that RED 2 is simply too fond of its characters to cast any of them as a straight villain. Byung Hun Lee is impossibly cool as the industry’s number one assassin, and Jones is suitably sultry as a tricksy double-agent, but for the most part the film forfeits antagonist duties to some guy from Desperate Housewives and a conveyor-belt of walking cadavers. Every moment in the heroes’ camp is an utter delight, but until well into the third act the film lacks an antagonist capable of standing in their way.
Once again, then, the script might struggle to give any identifiable shape to the shenanigans, but in the hands of Malkovich or Louise-Parker it’s never anything less than amusing. There’s a party atmosphere to RED 2 that’s incredibly infectious, and if you have even half as much fun as everyone onscreen seems to be then you’re in for a very good time indeed.