As a sequel, it kills
The first installment of the graphic novel adaptation of “Red” was one of the surprise hits of 2010, and one of the few films whose sequel could legitimately be eagerly anticipated. Like its predecessor, “Red 2” (a sort of film version of the Traveling Wilburys) gets a lot of mileage out of its aging, well-known actors combining over-the-top action with sardonic humor – the kind of levity that is sorely missing from the Bond franchise these days.
Most of the main characters return from the first film. Secret agents Frank (Bruce Willis), Marvin (John Malkovich) and Victoria (Helen Mirren) combine forces to stop a nuclear bomb designed by a brilliant physicist (Anthony Hopkins) which is set to go off in the Kremlin. Mary Louise-Parker also returns as Frank’s delightfully goofy girlfriend Sarah, and the script makes the most out of the couple’s relationship issues while they attempt to avoid a highly skilled contract killer (Lee Byung-hun) and a nefarious government agent (Neal McDonough). Adding to the gleeful espionage is Frank’s former flame Katya (Catherine Zeta-Jones, a hoot), who is now a Russian agent herself.
The elaborate, trans-continental action sequences (London, Paris, and Moscow) are inventive and well-constructed, even if the body count is outrageously high. (Think Tarantino sans the splatter.) But “Red 2” does an impressive job of balancing suspense with its obvious camp while relying on Willis’s typical likeability, Malkovich’s re-emerging gift for lunacy, Mirren’s all-business larkiness, and Louise-Parker’s adorable naivete. Hopkins and Zeta-Jones are delightful additions, and director Dean Parisot (“Galaxy Quest”) hones his TV sitcom expertise by keeping things moving briskly and allowing the actors’ superb comic timing to come to the surface.
Who knows if teenagers will appreciate this type of actioner? No matter. They get plenty of films designed for them.
You go, gramps!
Rated PG-13 for pervasive action and violence, frenetic gunplay, and some language and drug material.