Friday, August 2, 2013

Red 2

Get out your guns and bombs, we're reviewing Red 2!

Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) are trying to make their relationship work in their new life, when a hit is put out on Frank for something he never did. Now he must travel the world with Mavin (John Malkovich) and Victoria (Helen Mirren) to clear their names and find the real culprit!

I rather enjoyed the first Red and felt it greatly improved the comic. This one, I feel, doesn't have as much fun or heart. There's some action and funny moments here and there, but is it cliché to say it's not as good as the first one?

So, the first Red comes out, and the whole gimmick is that it's older people being badass, acting like the young action heroes who normally play these movies. But since then, so many movies have come out with older people as the protagonists, even in action movies. The Expendables featured every has-been plus Jason Statham. All the old classics are coming out of retirement, like Schwarzenegger and Stalone. Even Morgan Freeman has a new Hangover-styled Vegas comedy with four other aging actors. Now that this is becoming the norm rather than the exception, does age really matter, so long as there are people being awesome? We're in a recession, and everyone and their mother's mother is doing what they can to bring the old back. 

That spin was the special plot twist for the first movie; we'd constantly be shown how these folks are too old to be badass, only to have them throw those expectations back in our face. So now that we KNOW exactly how badass they are, it's just business as usual in this film. The surprise now comes from how nonchalant everyone is about doing the whole spy and killing thing, and there's not really much tension when you know your action heroes are too badass too fail. I mean, isn't Bruce WIllis virtually immortal by now? And who's ever going to think Helen Mirren with a sniper rifle is going to go down? Morgan Freeman only died in the last one because he's black. (And that's not even a spoiler: OF COURSE the old black guy is the only one to die)

There's still a lot of action to be had. Bruce Willis will never not be awesome, and there are plenty of shootouts and explosions scattered throughout. It has a serious lack of Karl Urbane this time around, (zero Karl Urbane to be exact!) but they make up for that by introducing Byung-Hun Lee. And he’s pretty great in all his action scenes. Man, this guy needs to be in more movies! There's an especially fun action scene with… well, let’s just say: don't try to cuff him to things and expect it to end well. There are shootouts and hand-to-hand fights and even a few car chases!

A lot of what made Red fun was John Malkovich being crazy John Malkovich, and I feel like he wasn't as Malkovich here as he was in the original. He still has some nice moments, but not nearly as anything like asking for waffles after killing a bunch of dudes. Malkovich!

The subplot to the save-the-world storyline is that Frank and Sarah are having trouble in their normal paradise because Frank wants to keep Sarah safe and Sarah wants to get in on the action with Frank. I think Mary-Louise Parker is silly and does what she can in her role, but her character and how she’s handled is annoying. She tells them she's not a "china doll" which sums it up pretty nicely. I get the whole “wanting to keep her safe” qualm, and her not knowing the ropes is an obvious and good reason for concern, but those are such tired old reasons. In line with reusing old ideas, Sarah gets rolled up in the damsel-in-distress trope, just as cliché demands. But then again, they do have two badass females in Catherine Zeta Jones and Hellen Mirren, and I'm pretty sure they pass the Bechdel test. So, can I even complain? Sarah isn't totally useless; she does have the super power of… making out with other guys? Urgh.

The open credits are gorgeously rendered, lightly animated pages from the original graphic novel, done in a cool combination of 2D and 3D effects. If you read the graphic novel, you'd find out the original Red film shares very little of the story from the graphic novel (and is better for it) – so it’s interesting and weird to see those pages, given how little they relate to the films’ story. But still, really awesome and pretty. They also have comic-style transitions, throughout the movie and into the credits, of overlaid comic panels of certain scenes of the movie. These aren’t as impressive as the opening pages, but they’re still very entertaining.

One odd thing is that it was really hard to hear characters say their lines. Everyone speaks too quietly! I don't think this was just my theater since I could hear the explosions and shootouts just fine, but at each hushed interaction, I kept having to strain my neck. It's kind of annoying.

Even though there are some great action scenes, there's a lot of smaller stuff – like espionage, sneaking around, gathering information, and bickering about relationship issues. It can slow down quite a bit at times. The whole film is hit-or-miss. It's great when they're planning and going through a break-in, like Ocean's Eleven. But it gets sluggish whenever the crew sits down to chat. There's a sub-subplot of Sarah getting jealous of Frank's old flame, Katja (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones), and vice versa. I really wish they had made them adult enough that they didn't get catty about it, fighting over a man. 

There's a huge cast of people you know along with Willis, Mirren and Hung. You’ve got Anthony Hopkins as a crazy scientist, Neal McDonough as a generic evil Government guy, and David Thewlis (Prof. Lupin from Harry Potter) as the Frog! They're cool. I don’t think I’d say that they are great in their parts, as these aren't Oscar winning performances, but they are really fun. It's a fun cast overall, and they’re good at having fun. 

I did enjoy my time with Red 2, but it's not nearly as fun or exciting as the first film and I don't know if I would say you need to run out and see it. 

THE GOOD: Some good action scenes, Bruce Willis and Byung-Hun Lee being badass, great cast, lots of badass women, cool intro.

THE BAD: romance subplot is cliché and annoying, damsel in distress, can be slow at times, too quiet, not as funny or surprising as the first. 

THE VERDICT: $$$ I would say it's just barely over a maybe, because there is quite a bit of fun, but it's not nearly good enough to recommend that you absolutely need to go out and see it. Maybe see it if you need an action movie and there's nothing else new playing. Maybe wait until it's out on Netflix and what not.

MOVIES LIKE IT: Red, A Good Day To Die Hard, Expendables, Live Free or Die Hard, Ocean's Eleven

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: There's a car chase through France in which Sarah (with Marvin) and Frank (with Katja) are competing with each other to catch the Frog. It's a pretty exciting and amusing car chase, but it's only there because Sarah feels inadequate and is competing with Katja, and… Why? Why do we need that? I don't know, you guys. 

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