A few facts — Red (2010) was based on a limited comic series by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner. The title was an acronym that stood for Retired, Extremely Dangerous, and both the movie and the comic book it was based on followed one Frank Moses, a retired CIA agent who finds himself in the line of fire. The movie was a success — a sort of Expendables movie for the older generation with an ensemble cast known more for their acting chops than their biceps. Not that you had to be this old to buy a ticket — Red was tons of fun, well-shot, and a refreshing take that showed old dogs could teach the rest of Hollywood a thing or two.
Red 2 — not based on any written comic story — catches up with Moses (Bruce Willis) and Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) a few months after their whirlwind romance took them around the world and into danger. Moses plays homemaker with aplomb as he shops at a neighborhood Costco. Protective, Moses longs for a quiet life while Ross becomes anxious over settling down. Best friend Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) appears, warning them of danger, thus beginning a plot filled with trips to various cities around the world in a cat and mouse chase that pits the team against assassins, CIA agents, and government officials hoping to find the Nightshade device.
It’s hard comparing Red 2 with its predecessor because both movies are quite different in tone, pacing, and function. Fans of the first movie might be disappointed with Red 2 for being a tad bit too long, not frenetic enough, and a bit more straight-faced than its prequel. The deliberate pacing and organization of the film compartmentalizes sequences according to the city they’re shot in, and the movie spends a lot of time bringing the old team back together while giving all of its new characters some ground to stand upon. It doesn’t mean the movie’s a terrible one — it’s actually good entertainment with some sharp action sequences, a few plot twists that aren’t totally predictable, and Malkovich’s Boggs — lovably goofy in the first movie — who’s been given more depth and dimension this time around. The acting is also superb, and the comic delivery is executed precisely. Red 2 is bigger, but it isn’t better, and that’s okay because the two movies, though related, seem like apples and oranges. And while the first movie was a sleeper hit in theaters, this sequel eschews the novelty and silliness for something that feels a little more methodical and realistic which — while betraying some of its fans — could endear it to a whole new audience. Could there be a sequel that brings everyone to the table? Maybe a spinoff? Catherine Zeta-Jones as the sexy Katya and Byung-hun Lee as the brutally efficient Jo-Bae Han round out Red 2’s cast with extra oomph, and if the Expendables can keep it together, it would be grand to see how Red competes. Either way, bring back Helen Mirren as the icy and awesome Victoria Winters.