Bruce Willis reprises his role as ex-CIA agent Frank Moses in this star-studded sequel to the action comedy based on D.C. Comics' cult graphic novel. Frank is brought out of retirement once again when he is asked to track down a nuclear device which has fallen into the wrong hands. In order to find out the device's location he must first speak to Edward Bailey (Hopkins), the scientist responsible for its creation, but to make matters worse his old partner Victoria (Helen Mirren) has been contracted to kill him with the help of a much renowned deadly assassin (Byung-hun Lee).
I remember watching the original Red when it first hit home video a few years back. I also remember it not leaving much of an impression on me. I didn't hate the movie, but if you asked me to give you a synopsis of the plot, I doubt I would be able to do it. It was pretty much one of those 'okay' films that one forgets about the day after they've watched it. When I learned that a sequel to the first film was being made, I'm sure I'm not the only one who wondered why anyone would bother. So when I sat down to view 'Red 2', I'd already set my expectations pretty low.
I'm happy to report that 'Red 2' is a much better film than its predecessor. It's by no means an out-and-out hit, but the movie knows what it wants to be and more or less delivers. The returning actors seem more confident in their roles this time around, and the banter and humor between the cast seems more natural and less 'jokey'. There are a number of extravagant action sequences in 'Red 2' as well, but this entry works far better when it's trying to be a comedy than when it's trying to be a spy thriller.
Bruce Willis is back, playing the retired but extremely dangerous (where the 'Red' of the title gets its name) Frank Moses, who has settled down with his girlfriend of the first flick, Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker). Frank seems happy to be out of the 'life', but it's actually Sarah who wants Frank to become a man of action once again. The opening scenes of the movie find the couple shopping at a Costco (the first of some blatantly obvious product placement in 'Red 2'), where they run into Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), who warns Frank that there's someone after them.
It isn't long before both Frank and Sarah are in the thick of things again, being pursued by a CIA agent (played by Neal McDonough) who has categorized Frank and Marvin as terrorists in the eyes of the U.S. government. Frank's adventures will have him teaming up once again with MI6's Victoria (Helen Mirren), being chased by Korean hitman Han Cho Bai (Byung Hun Lee), crossing paths with former flame and current Russian agent Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and searching for a Cold War scientist (Anthony Hopkins) who may hold all the answers. The events of 'Red 2' also take the cast globetrotting around the world to locations in Paris, London, and Moscow – with most of the exterior scenes actually shot on location in each respective city.
Now, we've all heard stories about Bruce Willis' behavior on movie sets (thank you Kevin Smith and Sylvester Stallone), and usually his on-screen performances are a reflection of how interested in the film he really was. I can only guess that Willis was more than happy with the production of 'Red 2', as he's both the charming and bad-ass Bruce we know and love in this movie. It almost makes us forgive him for A Good Day To Die Hard. Hey, I said almost!
The most appealing, and therefore the most watchable actor in 'Red 2', however, isn't Willis – it's John Malkovich, who embeds his character of Marvin Boggs with so much goofiness and wide-eyed wonder that you wish he was the lead of the movie rather than serving as a sidekick. Mary-Louise Parker's character is also a joy to watch – emitting both innocence and sexiness at the same time, as she strives to become a worthy partner to the other spies she's assisting. Not so fun or believable is Anthony Hopkins, who goes over-the-top with his character both early on and later in the movie, where events change the way he's portrayed.
While the banter between the main characters proves to be the best part of 'Red 2', the action sequences – while well-shot – seem to come too frequently and go on a little too long. At 116 minutes, 'Red 2' would have been a much better paced film if edited down a bit. I understand the desire of the filmmakers to get as much of their action budget up on screen as possible, but less would have been much, much more in this case.
Overall, though, there's plenty to like and little to hate about 'Red 2'. It's by no means a great film, but it's an enjoyable one, and where I left the first movie having no desire to see the characters again, I left this sequel hoping for at least one more reunion.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Red 2' blasts its way onto Blu-ray in a combo pack that also includes a bare-bones DVD and a digital copy code that can be used for both an iTunes and UltraViolet copy of the movie. The release comes with a slightly embossed slip cover that matches the slick of the eco-friendly keepcase. The case itself houses the DVD (on the left), the Blu-ray (on the right), and an insert with the digital copy code.
Both the Blu-ray and DVD are front-loaded with trailers for Ender's Game and The Expendables 2. These trailers can also be viewed on both discs in the Special Features section (they're the only features on the DVD version, although the stand-alone DVD/Digital Copy release includes both the Gag Reel and Deleted Scenes that are on this release's Blu-ray). Both the Blu-ray and DVD menus have a comic book feel to them, as artist renderings morph into video shots from the film (the same way they do in many parts of the actual movie).
'Red 2' was shot in 35mm, but comes to Blu-ray with an almost digital-like sharpness, with very little grain and, for the most part, very good detail. Exterior shots in locations like Paris and London really look great here, but some of the indoor sequences – particularly one that takes place in a darkened Kremlin – come off as softer than I would have expected. While black levels are solid, they're not always consistent, leaving shadows sometimes hard to distinguish.
There are also a few shots in the movie that are obviously filmed against green-screen backgrounds, including an odd one early in the movie where Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker are sitting on a real hillside that is followed by a processed green-screen shot of them sitting on the same hillside. I can only assume that the filmmakers wanted some re-shot footage there and didn't have the time or money to return to the actual location. It's not glaringly obvious, but the color timing is off just slightly enough to notice and you can see the outline around the actors indicating a green-screen shot. There are a few other shots like this in the movie as well.
However, for the most part, this is a good looking and sharp transfer, with no issues as far as artifacting or edge enhancement. Fans of the movie should be pleased with what they see on Blu-ray.
Technically, there's nothing wrong with the English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track provided. It's properly balanced, has noticeable directionality throughout, and is free of any dropouts or other audio glitches. However, for an action movie, I just didn't hear the 'oomph' from this track that I've found in similar titles. There's some low-end activity throughout, but it never really rocks or rumbles one's subwolfer the way you'd expect it to. Likewise, rear activity only kicks in with noticeability when expected – during a shootout or car chase. Again, there's nothing technically wrong with the track, but it didn't immerse me in the movie quite the way I hoped it would. It still scores nearly perfect marks in my opinion, because its technically proficient, but it seemed just slightly restrained enough to fall short of a reference-quality score.
In addition to the 7.1 lossless track, the Blu-ray also contains a Dolby 2.0 track that is 'optimized for late night listening', as well as an English Descriptive Audio track and a Spanish Dolby 5.1 track. Subtitles are also available in English SDH, English, and Spanish.
'Red 2' proves to be an improvement over the original film, but it still falls short of being a complete success thanks to overlong action sequences and a plot that is probably a little too complex for what should essentially be a comedy movie. Still, the cast is wonderful to watch play off each other, and fans of the first movie are sure to enjoy what they get in this sequel. Recommended.