Review: ‘Red 2’ Offers More of the Same, But No Diminishing Returns

By July 16, 2013

Red 2 won’t offer you any awe-inspiring insights on life or make you leave the theater beguiled by the power of cinema. It exists purely for good old fashioned escapism. Much of it is completely implausible and, at times, ridiculous, but the film is worth viewing for its impeccable cast alone, making the plentiful laughs in the film merely a bonus.

For anyone having a senior moment and forgetting the events of the first film, Red follows a group of retired spies who are forced back into CIA life. Much of the humor was predicated on the fact that the operatives are past their prime but can still be deadly when the need arises.

The film picks up not long after Red left off with Frank (Bruce Willis) and his girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) settling comfortably into a quiet life – they even shop at Costco and everything. The former CIA agent is once again happily retired until his former partner Marvin (John Malkovich) shows up to warn him that there’s a hit out on him. Moments later, Marvin’s car blows up, resulting in his “death” yet again. This and the fact that he’s called in for questioning about a secret Cold War operation known as “Nightshade” assure us that Frank is still extremely dangerous.

Following the interrogation, he is pursued by a ruthless agent (Neal McDonough) who unfortunately comes off as a villain who belongs in a Muppet movie. Just in time, he’s saved by Marvin, who (as expected) faked his death. Together they flee for their lives, but not before taking Sarah along for the ride.

Eventually, Frank and Marvin discover that “Nightshade” is a nuke that they unknowingly smuggled to Moscow sometime in the ’70s. Determined to locate the powerful weapon, they consult friend and MI6 agent Victoria (Helen Mirren).

Mirren’s interpretation of her wacky character doesn’t disappoint. When we first see her she’s dousing a couple of corpses in bleach while adorned in evening attire. It only gets better from there. With Victoria’s help, they locate mad scientist/weapons specialist Edward (a manic Anthony Hopkins). They also seek aid from Russian agent Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who also happens to be Frank’s ex.

This results in an especially funny scene in which the group breaks into a mental asylum by having Victoria pretend to be a patient who’s obsessed with Queen Elizabeth. It’s a meta moment, and a joke fitting for an actress who has portrayed a Queen multiple times.

If the group didn’t have enough problems, the DOD sends a crazed assassin named Han (G.I. Joe star Byung Hun Lee) after them. A star in South Korea, Lee’s stellar martial arts skills are put to good use here. In one scene, he fights his way out of a convenience store while his hands are behind his back – no doubt an homage to the films of his native country.

Red 2 is filled with enough humorous moments to make up for its convoluted plot. Frank and Sarah’s attempts to be just like any old couple prompt roughly half of the laughs while Mirren and Malkovich generate the rest. The jokes about Frank’s status as a domesticated boyfriend are particularly entertaining. Everyone, including the “world’s deadliest assassin,” doles out relationship advice for him.

Of course, watching Frank and Marvin being shot at hundreds of times without getting hit prompts more than a few eye rolls. Even if you suspend your disbelief – a helpful tactic if you want to enjoy this film – a lot of it doesn’t make much sense. Especially when Han (who mercilessly kills anything in his path) is easily talked into doing what is “right.”

If you’re looking for something more than a fluff film, Red 2 isn’t for you. It knows exactly what type of a film it is and is completely fine with that identity. If you’re seeking a fun guilty pleasure flick however, queue it up!

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Justine Browning
Justine is a film and culture reporter whose work has appeared in USA Today, Indie Wire and The Huffington Post. She currently serves as an on-camera correspondent for MovieWeb and Cine Movie TV.