Action franchises are always somewhat of a blessing and a curse, as typically when the sequel numbers increase, quality decreases. There’s only so many ways John McClane can defeat terrorists or Rambo can jump into battle before beating a cash cow to death. There are some franchises which become bigger and better though, because they understand that success is achieved through improvement – not repetition.
The Expendables understands this, making every cast this grand spectacle of action stars who we never could fathom being in the same film together, drawing crowds based on names. So how do you create a sequel to RED without becoming stale? By becoming the Senior Citizen Expendables and adding names like Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Byung-hun Lee to an already impressive cast. RED 2 is bigger, badder, funnier, and flashier – who says an old dog can’t learn new tricks?
Picking up where RED left off, Frank Moses (Bruce Willlis) and Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) are now happily living a life which includes Costco and normalcy, but this soon comes to an end when Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) re-enters their lives – again claiming he’s being watched. Sarah sees the warning as an exciting adventure for the converted suburbanite couple, but her other half doesn’t quite agree. Since Frank only wants to keep his beloved Sarah out of harm’s way, he brushes Marvin’s warnings off, saying he’s done with his badass former life – until danger comes to his doorstep in the form of a violent opposing agent (Neal McDonough). With no choice, Frank gets the band back together in an attempt to end all of this violence, traveling the world while getting in gun fights – one major city at a time.
Looking at the ages of most Expendables stars, one can argue they’d also be eligible for the RED task force, but there’s so much more style put into a film like RED 2. I especially like how writers Jon and Erich Hoeber scripted these moments honestly inspired by the comic book vibe (as RED was first released by Wildstorm), but at no point does the world of RED feel hokey and distant. Sure, you could use words like goofy, far-fetched, and exaggerated, but they all work perfectly in this cross between reality and obscurity. If Bruce Willis were suavely defying the laws of physics and jumping into speeding cars in The Expendables, I’d have a real problem. In RED though, he’s just some slick retiree being hunted by the government and looking good doing it. This franchise is unique to me in the way that you can absolutely abandon reality, yet still feel like you’re in a grounded and controlled environment which makes action exciting, pulse pounding, and fun as hell.
Personally, Dean Parisot wouldn’t have been my first choice to take over the RED franchise, but here I am eating my words. Everything the Hoebers brought to RED 2‘s script one-upped previous material, and Parisot gleefully ran with it – not in a copy-cat kind of way either. For example, when Bruce Willis literally stepped out of a moving car during RED, everyone gasped and thought it was killer. RED 2 knew this, and basically said “Oh yeah? We’ll let’s do it again, but have him going into a car, and have the driver move over at the same time.” Up the ante, up the awesome – it’s that simple. Did it work? Judging by the crowd reaction, which was applause and gleeful hooting, these moments of inflated ideals helped make RED 2 even more successful.
The addition of Anthony Hopkins, Byung-hun Lee, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and David Thewlis only made RED 2 that much more distinguishable, but more exciting was the return of characters Victoria (Helen Mirren) and Marvin (Malkovich) – and especially Victoria. What isn’t there to love about a proper British Dame dumping acid on some dead bodies to dispose of them, all the while talking on the phone with the tone of a stern Grandmother. Everyone loves the idea of a little old lady being an M16 hitwoman. Literally every time she appeared on screen, the crowd erupted like they were watching a sports game – it was really a one-of-a-kind mood to be part of. But that’s only a testament to the character Mirren brought to life, staying extremely cool and so damn enjoyable with that storied British wit, earning her place as top dog in RED 2.
Think about it. Crowds aren’t going wild when Jason Statham pops back up in The Expendables. It’s common place to see Statham kicking-ass and taking names. But Helen Mirren and Mary-Louise Parker? RED 2 has furthered the franchise and engraved its characters in stone because of the unique vibe that such a nicely blended atmosphere creates, bringing action through new means while still keeping a very lighthearted side that lets non-action viewers still heavily engaged.
Go ahead RED 2, relish in the fact that you’ve cemented your relevance in Hollywood and shushed all the haters claiming “Did anyone even ask for a sequel to RED?” You’ve turned a mix of stereotypical badasses and iconic actors into a crack team of senior assassins, winning over the hearts of audiences in the process. The RED franchise is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale action genre content with just blowing up as many objects as possible and emptying entire buckets of ammunition. Don’t worry, RED 2 does all that, but it also will have you loving and laughing every minute.