There is something profoundly unhip about the Red movies. I'm not really sure why that is. Both are laugh out loud funny, clear and exciting when it comes to action, and unwilling to pull punches when it comes to flippant violence. And yet enthusiasm for the series feels oddly thin. I consider myself a fan but probably won't ever re-watch either entry, despite the fact that both entertained me a great deal.
This is a fun, fast film. Before Red 2's opening credits are even done rolling (of course, they don't actually roll), we've already established the narrative through-line for Bruce Willis and Mary-Louis' Parker's characters and witnessed John Malkovich's character fake his own death. Things slow down a bit near the middle, as the introduction of more old people break up the core dynamic offered by Willis, Parker, and Malkovich's mighty comedy triumvirate, but even then it's still pretty entertaining.
There are two plots. One involves a big bomb invented by a wacko Anthony Hopkins, which our crew must find and and turn off while also running for their lives. Then there's the more engaging sub story involving Red's resident lovebirds, Frank and Sarah. Basically, the conservative, overprotective Frank wants to live the quiet life, while Sarah wants to go be an assassin. His unwillingness to give her the excitement she fell in love with in the first place is ruining their relationship.
This is all pretty stock stuff, but Red 2's strange alchemy elevates it. Once again, Bruce Willis is alive and engaged in a way we almost never see from him anymore. Mary-Louis Parker manages to seem both refreshingly older than a normal love interest yet childish at the same time. They have good chemistry together and feel lived-in as a couple.
But Red 2's real star is Malkovich's Marvin, an LSD-damaged, trigger-happy madman. As Frank attempts to keep Sarah at arms length from the action, he only pushes her toward Marvin. So rather than slow down the film's positive energy with a souring romance, we get to enjoy a quirky, blossoming bromance instead.
Of course, there are a lot of other moving parts, many of which do not work as well. The overly-complicated plot moves quickly, but still throws in too many twists and turns to call the film economical. While it's nice to see Catherine Zeta-Jones and David Thewlis have fun in roles like this, their contributions do not justify the extra 20 minutes their characters add to the film. Byung-hun Lee's inclusion is a bit much as well. As an assassin hired to kill Bruce Willis, he basically shows up for fights whenever things get too quiet. He's supposed to be the greatest killer in the world, a statement the film backs up when we witness him silently kill a man (Steven Berkoff!!!) with a piece of origami, but then throws away when he shoots approximately 1,000,000 chaingun rounds at Bruce Willis in a Paris street and manages to miss with every one.
Helen Mirren is back and just as casually fun as she was in the first film, particularly when it comes to her romance with Brian Cox (there's a bit where he lovingly smells the inside of her shoe that I will always think of when people inevitably slag this film). Neal McDonough does his bad guy thing, and Anthony Hopkins appears to be having a blast playing a goofy nutcase. All these extra players are steps down from Karl Urban, Ernest Borgnine, and Richard Dreyfuss.
While comedy is Red 2's strong suit, most of the action is quite good. The first film had that cool office fight between Bruce Willis and Karl Urban. This one has a clever and well-staged scene early on in which Willis uses a cramped store room to take out a whole military unit one by one. The film even manages to have a visually coherent car chase, though it relies a bit too heavily on slow-motion money shots. The violence in Red 2 is bloodless but surprisingly extensive. This is one of the more violent PG-13 actions films I've seen in a while, way more so than The Lone Ranger.
I like these films. There's a bit in this one where Bruce Willis and John Malkovich are under fire and fall to the ground in kind of a hugging, two-men-having-sex way. Willis looks a little uncomfortable and asks Malkovich if he has a stick of dynamite in his pocket. We are trained to anticipate the oncoming gay panic joke, but instead the punchline is that yes, random as it seems, he does in fact have a spare stick of dynamite in his pocket, which they immediately use to get out of their hairy situation. I guess that right there sums up my mild fondness for this goofy series.