DC Comics may be owned by Warner Brothers, but a few properties sometime slip through their fingers. Red was a 3-issue mini-series by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner and published by DC imprint Wildstorm. The source material was about a retired CIA agent seeking revenge after his former employers order his death. Summit Entertainment bought the rights, perhaps to diversify their portfolio from the sparkly vampires and YA novel adaptations. Screenwriters Erich and Jon Hoeber turned the original comics into a zippy team-up of A-list actors and they do so again with the sequel, Red 2.
Bruce Willis returns as Frank Moses, a retired operative looking forward to living some semblance of a normal life with his girlfriend, Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker). He’s content to shop for frozen shrimp and power washers at Costco, but Sarah yearns for the globe-trotting action she witnessed when they first met. She gets her wish when a document posted on Wikileaks purports the involvement of Frank and Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) in a Cold War operation code-named Nightshade, wherein an experiment nuclear weapon was smuggled into Moscow. Once again, a seedy faction within the CIA wants Frank dead and they’ve sent their best man, Jack Horton (Neal McDonough), along with Korean assassin Han Cho Bai (Byung-hun Lee) to do the deed. Not to mention the British and the Russians want to get their hands on the device by any means necessary.
Part of the appeal of the Red films is the chance to see A-list actors known for serious fare participating in a lighthearted action movie. Red 2 knows which side its bread is buttered and relies solely on its ensemble. There aren’t many joys in life to match the sight of Helen Mirren wielding a sniper rifle or pouring acid into a bathtub to dispose of a corpse while in ritzy eveningwear. John Malkovich also has fun as the unhinged Marvin Boggs. The ranks are bolstered by veterans Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Edward Bailey, the device’s inventor, who has spent decades locked away in an insane asylum and Catherine Zeta-Jones as a sultry femme fatale. Byung-hun Lee, one of the newer faces to American audiences, gets some great action sequences, including one where he beats up several cops while handcuffed to a glass door. He’s a welcome addition since his co-stars aren’t nearly as nimble.
The script by the Hoebers can hardly muster any sort of surprising twists or substance whatsoever. On the other hand, the picture moves at such a rapid clip that you hardly have the time to lament such things. Title cards utilizing comic book art in Hamner’s style help to remind us that we are watching a cartoon come to life.
Red 2 is absurd and thinly plotted, but it helps that the cast is comprised of actors who can lend weight to such weightless material.