Mayhem porn. It’s a term that Steven Soderbergh used when describing a man watching a movie on his iPad while on a Jet Blue flight. Soderbergh would quickly realize that the man was not watching a film per se, but rather action sequences. The man essentially removed exposition and dialogue for an explosions extravaganza that would fill up his five-hour flight. The concept, I suppose, can have a sense of logic attached to it: when the minutia of exposition and dialogue are so inconsequential to a film’s plot, wouldn’t skipping over to experience the fracas of an action scene seem like the next logical move? Red 2 tests the theory, stripping away a narrative for prolonged stretches of bullets galore. The results are about as interesting as sitting through a Jet Blue flight watching a man watch nothing but action sequences: initial bewilderment quickly followed by boredom.
To pinpoint where it all goes wrong suggests that there was something right to begin with. With a clear point of emulation being Brad Bird’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Red 2 emerges as a globe-trotting espionage thriller with a particular reliance on grandiose set pieces: make the big, pretty thing go boom. The difference here is that Bird’s formal capabilities vastly surpass that of director-for-hire Dean Parisot. Approaching the size of his material with a blasé shrug, Red 2 lacks any sense of identity. It moves and plays all the same, with Parisot assaulting the sense with the same repetitive noise. As much as the stupid screenplay can be faulted for Red 2’s many shortcomings, Parisot’s contributions (or lack thereof) are truly the biggest slights against the film. With a braindead narrative design, monochrome visual palette, and absent directorial presence, Red 2 is firmly an actor’s showcase. But even the comedic stylings of John Malkovich fail to enrich the material, with each actor becoming an accessory to Parisot’s mayhem porn.
The aforementioned Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Sam Mendes' Skyfall presented themselves as coherent and stimulating exercises in action filmmaking. While far from perfect, both films possessed a focused plot trajectory and immaculate technical prowess. Red 2 shares none of these features instead operating as something of a lumbering dinosaur, obtusely moving along without much regard for fundamental framing or scene design. With the original Red grossing over 200 million across the globe, it’s a disappointing likelihood that Red 2 will hit a similar benchmark. How can something so vacuous generate such appeal? Soderbergh’s bafflement with society’s intake of media and his subsequent retirement just makes sense.