Review for The RED Collection
If I consider the films that I buy, most specifically the recently released films, most if not all of them are comic book adaptations. It’s not my fault. From childhood, my favourite genres of choice in cinema were sci-fi and action. Back in the eighties and nineties, there was a lot of originality in those sectors, and comic books were considered passé. But today, if you want action or sci-fi, it will invariably be based on a comic book. To be honest, I’m getting a little weary of seeing DC and Marvel logos ahead of each film that I watch. A few months ago, channel hopping in between review discs, I came across a Bruce Willis action movie that I hadn’t seen before, and was immediately impressed with the dialogue and the characters. It was enough to get me placing an order for the Blu-ray, and when I discovered that there was a RED 2 as well, I changed my order to the double pack. So I put the first disc in last night, and pressed play. And the DC Comics logo flashed up ahead of the opening credits. Dammit!
Frank Moses is settled down in uneventful retirement. He has a set routine of healthy eating and working out, but the one highlight in his day is getting his pension cheques. That’s so he can tear them up, call the pension department and chat to his case-worker Sarah, on the excuse that his cheque was lost in the mail. It even gets to the point where they’re arranging to meet. Then intruders break into Frank’s house intent on killing him. Fortunately Frank was uneventfully retired from being a CIA agent. But one thing is certain, if he was under surveillance, then it means Sarah is in danger too. She’s understandably reluctant to accept his help, thinking that she’s on another date from hell, but when it becomes clear that Frank is actually being targeted by his former employers, he realises that he’ll need help, unconventional help, and like him, they’re all Retired and Extremely Dangerous.
The Disc: RED
RED gets a 2:40:1 widescreen 1080p transfer. The image is clear and sharp, offering excellent detail, and a filmic look throughout. With this being an action movie, the orange and teal filter has been applied. The sole audio track is an impressive DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English track with optional English subtitles. The dialogue is clear, the music appropriately drives the action, which itself gets a suitably immersive and aggressive surround mix. I did feel that the audio sync drifted back and forth a little during the film, but that could be one of those player incompatibility things.
The disc plays trailers for Gnomeo and Juliet and The Runaways before booting to the animated menu.
In terms of extras you’ll find an audio commentary with Retired CIA Field Officer Robert Baer, who was a consultant on the movie. It’s sparse but occasionally interesting.
There are 10 Deleted and Extended Scenes (although only the last scene adds something of value). These run to 8:40 in total and are presented in HD. They also haven’t been processed and colour-timed, and look natural, and I have to say significantly more appealing to watch than the orange and teal filter of the feature film.
Access: Red offers a trivia track to read during the film, and also one of those picture-in-picture pop up interviews and behind the scenes thingies that you have to turn on the secondary audio and switch from Bitstream to PCM for, degrading the main film’s audio. It’s too much of a faff to be honest.
Not too long ago, I watched a Tom Cruise spy action comedy called Knight and Day, a story about a rogue secret agent and the romance that ensues with the woman he randomly encounters. RED is just like that, only twenty times better. We have a retired CIA agent who is suddenly their primary target, having to go on the run with a woman he encounters, while trying to stay alive long enough to figure out who is targeting them and why. Knight and Day took matters in a wacky screwball direction, but RED, while playing it tongue in cheek, keeps its characters relatively straight and believable. It also adds dimension in terms of the size and the quality of its cast, and also by playing the retired agents versus the young Turks angle of the story. It’s just more fun and entertaining.
It’s a nice touch the way Frank Moses is introduced, living a mundane life in dull retirement, before the explosive reveal of just what career it was that he retired from. The film also does a nice job in establishing a prior relationship with Sarah, albeit over the phone, which make the way their relationship develops a little more plausible than that in Knight and Day. RED is a classic spy action thriller in the way the story unfolds, plenty of entertaining action, stunts and fight sequences, all in service of a plot rich with intrigue and conspiracy, a mystery that our protagonists must unearth. But the charm of the film comes in the title, Retired and Extremely Dangerous, a.k.a. R.E.D. It’s fun seeing these geriatric secret agents going about their mission, although with Bruce Willis’ Frank Moses still in shape and able to put down his opponents without breaking a sweat, perhaps geriatric is premature.
Morgan Freeman offers his usual gravitas along with a sly twinkle as Joe, while Helen Mirren’s Victoria, a retired MI5 sharpshooter adds elegance, as well as having a Boris and Natasha thing going with Brian Cox’s Ivan. But then along comes John Malkovich as Marvin Boggs, a paranoid conspiracy theorist with a seriously touchy personality, but who has the annoying tendency of being right when it comes to his theories. It’s a wonderfully eccentric and entertaining character that helps makes this film a delight.
I forget sometimes that not all Western comics revolve around super-powered aliens and mutants in Lycra. In terms of its story and characters, RED is wonderfully down to earth, and the retired secret agent premise is inspired. The Blu-ray is solid enough, as long as that wandering audio sync issue is just a player compatibility thing.
Introduction: RED 2
Frank and Sarah are settling down into a life of domestic bliss, or at least Frank Moses is trying to keep Sarah safe in domesticity. She would much rather have fun with all that spy stuff, which is why she’s alone in being happy to see Marvin again. Marvin’s there with a warning, that a document has been leaked implicating him and Frank in a cold war operation in Russia. He manages to deliver that warning, and then his car blows up. It isn’t long before the intelligence service decides to have a word with Frank, about Operation Nightshade. But you can’t trust anyone these days. There’s another faction in the intelligence service that will kill to possess Nightshade’s secrets. Frank barely escapes with his life, and he’s labelled a nuclear terrorist to boot. Now he has to reunite his team, find out what Operation Nightshade was really about, and save the world, all the while dodging assassins as well. Although none of that is as dangerous as Sarah with a gun.
The Disc: RED 2
This time you have a DTS-HD MA 7.1 Surround track to go with the 2.40:1 widescreen transfer. You also get optional English subtitles. The image is almost as impeccable as before, with just a slight lowering of dark detail to niggle about. Otherwise the image is clear and sharp, the effects are seamless, and the action comes across with visual panache. The surround track is impressive, especially when things are blowing up, and bullets are whizzing about. There is the odd moment of mumbled dialogue, and while there is an occasional drift in sound sync early on, it’s nowhere nearly as obvious as on the first disc.
Extras: RED 2
The disc autoplays trailers for The Family, Ender’s Game, Prisoners, and The Fifth Estate.
Thankfully this disc ditches that Java nonsense, and instead simply offers its extras from the animated menu.
There are four featurettes in The RED 2 Experience, looking at the cast, weapons, tactics and stunts, running to a total runtime of 34:41,
You get 4:25 of goofing around in the Gag Reel.
There are also five deleted scenes running to 4:27.
Conclusion: RED 2
It’s a fine line that a sequel to a successful film has to walk. It has to recognisably offer more of the same, while at the same time delivering something new and original as well. It also needs to be bigger without diluting or indeed burying what made the first film so good to begin with. It’s an often contradictory wish-list that many sequels fall flat at trying to fulfil. RED 2 on the other hand manages to make it all work, a sequel that is just as good as the original, just as much fun, but sufficiently different to make it worth your while to watch.
If the first film was about putting the characters in jeopardy, and having them figure out just why, and finding a way to save their lives by uncovering the plot against them, the second film does so as well, but ups the ante by making it a mission too, that there are far reaching global consequences beyond their own lives that need to be addressed. Speaking of global, this is a film whose reach spans the globe, from the US to Paris, to Moscow to London, whereas the first film was a wholly domestic affair.
The characters that were so much fun in the original, the retired (and extremely dangerous) agents return with just as much vim and comic vigour as before. And while John Malkovich’s Marvin may have stolen the first film, this time they wisely wrap it up in a bow and gift it to him, as his eccentric paranoid spy is still the best thing in the franchise. But you also get some delightful new additions to the cast, Catherine Zeta Jones as Katja, a Russian agent who is also Frank’s ex creates a triangle of awkwardness between her, Sarah and Frank, as well as some comic rivalry between her and Sarah. Anthony Hopkins also has an effervescent role as a physicist who’s lost his marbles, but who harbours the secrets of Project Nightshade in his addled brain. The action quotient is upped by the assassin Han, part Terminator and part kung-fu killer, whose desire to kill Frank goes beyond the financial and into the personal. It’s like the Clouseau Kato relationship but on steroids and with a minigun.
RED 2 has an entertaining story, but by far what really sells it are the characters, and the snappy dialogue. It’s a movie that doesn’t take itself seriously, and has as much fun with its premise as it can without slipping beyond the bounds of credulity.
Do actors get better with age? You can keep your Chrises, Evans, Pine and Pratt; there’s a bland uniformity about the current crop of action movie stars, or it’s just that their personalities and talent fade beneath multi-million dollar visual effects budgets, but watching action films with the actors that I grew up with, who may now be approaching the free bus pass of old age, but who can still throw a punch with the best of them, is all so much more satisfying to me. The effects budgets may still be sky high, but their personalities and performances shine through. The RED movies are great fun and the best DC Comics adaptations out there right now.