Review—RED 2 provides all the action, performances, and fun you want from a summer movie

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s interesting that the publicity folks for RED 2 have stressed in their latest movie trailer no Robots, Monsters, or Superheroes.  Although we’re not so sure RED 2 isn’t chock full of its own breed of superhero, it’s true you’ll find no monsters or robots here.  RED 2, previewed at here, is definitely not like any other film creating waves this summer.  But it is the most fun you’ll have at any movie this year.

You don’t need to ask, for example: Were too many people killed in the movie’s finale (as with Man of Steel)?  Or lower your normal standards a bit to allow yourself to just plain have fun watching a giant robot take on a giant monster from the ocean’s depths (as with Pacific Rim).  Or struggle with friends over whether or not Benedict Cumberbatch was cast appropriately as a sci-fi villain (as with Star Trek Into Darkness).  With RED 2, you don’t have to think about all those things that distract you from just having a good time.  Do the heroes kill a lot of people in RED 2?  You bet, and we like it that way.

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What RED 2 will make you do is think about where it stands in the line-up of the best of Bruce Willis’s movies.  When was the last time you saw such a good Bruce Willis film that made you work through that analysis?  The reality is that Bruce Willis’s performance as retired spy Frank Moses in RED 2 is up there with his first run as John McClane in the original Die Hard, and we haven’t seen him play a character this cool since Pulp Fiction.  Pull up your Netflix queue and take a second look at him in Striking Distance, Twelve Monkeys, and The Fifth Element and you might just add RED 2 to your list of Best of Bruce keepers.

As compared to other sequels, count RED 2 among the rare follow-ups that outperforms the original.  Make no mistake, the original RED was great fun, too, establishing the band of retired secret agents played by Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren.  And Karl Urban showed us his range as an actor as villain Agent Cooper.  (Check out our earlier review of RED here).  But the villains—or at least the antagonists to our RED (that’s Retired Extremely Dangerous) band of spies—are no slouches in RED 2.  Forget about Silence of the Lambs, Anthony Hopkins hasn’t been so awesomely strange since Audrey Rose.  If Byung-hun Lee isn’t tomorrow’s Bruce Lee then he should be tomorrow’s James Bond.  David Thewlis (who Harry Potter fans will know instantly as Professor Lupin) is again great as the nefarious character “The Frog.”  And we’re always happy to see another major role for Catherine Zeta-Jones, this time as Russian spy Katja.  Brian Cox returns as Ivan, and you might notice the original Biggs Darklighter, Garrick Hagon, from the original Star Wars in a small role, too.  You’ll also recognize the steely-eyed actor Neal McDonough (Walking Tall, Star Trek: First Contact, Captain America: The First Avenger, Timeline), as yet another great villain, and not just any villain but a layered villain whose actions tie into the main storyline.

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The action sequences are so well-choreographed that you’ll love them whether or not you’re a fan of the action movie genre.  Bruce Willis’s visit to Costco might as well be a scene from the Die Hard franchise.  G.I. Joe’s Storm Shadow actor Bying-hun Lee will have you nominating him to star in the next Star Wars trilogy as a worthy successor to Darth Maul—his moves are simply impressive.

As to the leads—and beyond raving about Bruce Willis—Helen Mirren (who you may not know was originally named Ilyena Lydia Vasilievna Mironoff) wielding her arsenal of weaponry will have you thinking more actresses in their late 60s need to be auditioning for action roles (and that Mirren was born to play a Russian spy).  And her newest take on the Queen (after her Oscar-winning performance in The Queen) in RED 2 is a riot.  John Malkovich’s quirky, anti-social paranoid Marvin displays so many facial reactions that you’ll think this is his best performance to date, too.  Jim Carrey wishes he could play a part so crazy as Malkovich does here.

Zeta-Jones Parker and Willis in Red 2

Finally, Mary-Louise Parker will have you tracking down all her old roles you missed her in.  So, sooo funny as Sarah, the put-upon admirer from afar of Frank Moses in the original RED, Parker wears the role of Sarah in RED 2 so comfortably that you’ll instantly warm up to her desire to do something, anything exciting, in a world where she has been sheltered from more exciting goings-on around her than most could handle.

All-in the acting and clever script makes RED 2 a superb ensemble piece, a great action movie, and the fun experience you want to have with a summer movie.  And you don’t have to think about whether it’s better than all the competing CGI-packed blockbusters this year.  RED 2 stands in a class by itself.

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