The worst James Bond movies feel like the sequence of the scenes could be jumbled around and, as long as the beginning and ending remained unaltered, the movie would function the same. RED 2 suffers a similar fate, with interchangeable action sequences and characters that seem to just be going through the motions required of them by the script. It’s the Quantum of Solace of Bruce Willis movies.
RED (short for Retired and Extremely Dangerous, a label given to former super-spies like those played by Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, and John Malkovich in the original) wasn’t the best movie of 2010 by any means, but it had a lot of fun with itself and offered the unique experience of seeing Oscar-winner Helen Mirren firing an assault rifle.
The first movie’s plot involved a conspiracy being pinned on retired CIA agents and a naïve, young hotshot (played by Karl Urban) hunting them down. It was just original enough to be entertaining and moved at a brisk enough pace that audiences didn’t have enough time to nitpick all the gaping plot holes and preposterous contrivances.
RED 2, on the other hand, just seems to be on autopilot, a remix of sorts of the original RED. Once again, all the RED agents are being hunted down by a ruthless, young agent who hasn’t been told the whole story. (This time, he’s played by Minority Report’s Neal McDonough.) And once again, Willis and his crew repeatedly evade the younger, spryer agents, while determining who set them up and trying to prove their innocence. This time, though, the whole thing just feels stale and reheated.
In addition to the returning Willis, Mirren, Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, and Brian Cox, RED 2 also adds Catherina Zeta-Jones, Anthony Hopkins, Byung-hun Lee, and David Thewlis, all immensely enjoying themselves. Truth be told, the credit for the movie being is as much fun as it is belongs entirely to the cast, who clearly had as big a blast filming this one as they did the original. (For film buffs, there’s also a certain glee is getting to see the original two Hannibal Lecters, Brian Cox and Anthony Hopkins, on-screen together.) Unfortunately, once that fun-by-proxy wears off, so does any life the movie has.
The other big problem is how lazily RED 2‘s script is populated by unnecessary plot twists. With so many different parties involved and so many varied motives behind them, the screenplay can’t help but juggle them, ignoring all but two at a time. After the sixth or seventh double-cross, it’s hard to bother caring about who’s on which side or why.
The first RED was an enjoyable action-comedy that had charm and good humour to spare. It had just enough fun with itself and was just skilled enough at distraction that audiences could suspend their disbelief and enjoy the ride. RED 2, on the other hand, comes off as lazy, overly complicated, and less interested in entertaining audiences than in serving as a fun reunion party for the cast.