Fails to recapture what made the previous film a decent watch.
When it comes to action movies, I’m the genre’s number one fan. Like seriously. I aspire to own everything involving Jackie Chan, I think The Running Man is underrated and believe that Inception doesn’t get enough praise. I even enjoyed the terrible Transformers films, sans The Last Knight because I have standards. The point is, I’m the target audience for anything with random explosions, long drawn out fight scenes, and actors who were popular in the ’80s. And yet, I still can’t find a reason to recommend Escape Plan 2: Hades.
Directed by Steven C. Miller, Escape Plan 2 reconnects with Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) and his security firm years after his exploits in the first film. No longer looking to escape-proof maximum-security prisons, his company now specializes in private military ops around the globe. At least, that’s what I think they’re doing; the film doesn’t really clarify this point, but it does open with Ray’s team trying to rescue female hostages from a terrorist group. Despite a botched mission early on, the company seems to be in good spirits. That is until one of Ray’s newer recruits, Shu Ren (Huang Xiaoming), is kidnapped while trying to protect his tech giant of a cousin, Yusheng.
Both men are taken to a futuristic, black-site prison called Hades. Neither of them remembers being brought there or how long they’ve been locked up. All they know is that they have to escape. That is easier said than done of course. With its rotating floors, force fields, and automated defenses, Hades isn’t the typical prison. Then there’s the warden (Titus Welliver) who delights in making Shu fight in his arena. His aim seems to be to keep the prisoners from befriending one another; the winner of each match is given a few hours of “freedom” while everyone else is stuck in their dungeon-like environment. And the fact that Shu is a skilled fighter means most of the other prisoners resent him – he’s not getting any help from the inside. Yusheng, on the other hand, is being tortured for information. Apparently, he patented a powerful piece of tech that’s worth millions to the wrong kinds of people. Yusheng’s reluctant to spill the beans and Shu’s efforts to escape keeps them both in the warden’s crosshairs. Their only solace is that Ray Breslin is known for breaking out of prisons. With him on the outside, it’s only a matter of time before he finds a way to free them.
Escape Plan 2: Hades is a predictable, low budget followup to an OK movie. That’s less of a criticism and more of balancing of expectations. I didn’t think this sequel would be some grand showing from Sylvester Stallone nor do I think it was meant to be such a thing; it skipped theaters for a reason. What I did expect, though, was a fun movie with some over-the-top action and a nonsensical plot. Some campy lines. A humorous moment or two. Basically, a decent popcorn experience that’s worthy of occupying a chunk of my Friday night. Instead, what I got was an action film devoid of any life. Where stilted characters spout their lines without any enthusiasm or conviction and boring fight scenes are made worse by the long, dry moments leading up to them.
Some of this comes by way of direction. For instance, I believe that Xiaomin Huang’s portrayal of Shu would have been better if he was allowed to showcase his fighting prowess. He isn’t a renowned martial artist or anything, but he has played similar roles before; he did a great job as Huang Liang in Ip Man 2. I know for a fact that Huang can throw a convincing punch, yet he isn’t given the chance here. Every time he squares up with an opponent, the camera would quickly cut back and forth between the two. It was as if the director was trying to hide a lack of skill and/or embellish what’s being shown by constantly shaking the camera, then zeroing in on a limb or two before someone is knocked to the floor. Either way, his overzealous camera work resulted in lackluster bouts that bordered on confusing. While I was aware of who was getting attacked and how, I wasn’t excited to see them trade blows.
There was one segment that showed some promise. After a failed interrogation at a bar, Ray and Trent DeRosa (Dave Bautista) get into a shootout with some masked individuals. It was entertaining and shot coherently, unlike the fight scenes. The short-lived firefight even produced a corny one-liner. Unfortunately, Bautista’s character is underutilized. His presence is mostly saved for a few explosive scenes towards the end of the film. The same goes for most of the supporting cast. Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson returns as Hush. I couldn’t tell you if he acted well or not due to him hardly having any screen-time. Jaime King’s Abigail Ross was seen even less, only popping up to give a few lines before retreating into the shadows. Jesse Metcalfe fared better than most as Luke Walken, but his role was somewhat forgettable when compared to Stallone and Huang.
You would think at the very least the environment that the main characters spend most of their time, namely Hades, would be interesting. Part of the first film’s appeal was how difficult it was for Rey to break out of the Tomb. Hades is nothing like the Tomb though. For all of it’s futuristic tech, it feels rather mundane. It certainly should invoke a sense of dread; with no windows, single person cells and one open area used for fights, I can imagine the suicide rate being really high. But as far as delivering a complex structure that requires Oceans 11-style plans to escape, Hades falters. It isn’t as intricate as the film wants us to believe, leading to an underwhelming escape plan and anticlimactic final scenes.
I’ve enjoyed watching plenty of “bad” action films. What made them entertaining was the proper balancing of the good and bad. The Expendables’ poor plot and paper-thin characters were balanced by its crazy action scenes and nostalgic casting. Jackie Chan’s campy Rumble in the Bronx was awesome due to his athleticism, well choreographed fights, death-defying stunts, and humor. Desperado was great for all sorts of reasons. Escape Plan 2: Hades doesn’t offer any of those things. There aren’t any good action scenes, charming characters, humor or worthwhile exchanges of bad dialogue. It isn’t even cheesy enough to be considered corny, which is a shame because I actually liked the first Escape Plan.