Sylvester Stallone Makes An Appearance
I’m going to be straight with you: I enjoyed Escape Plan 2: Hades. I’m exactly the demographic being catered to, and enough breadcrumbs were sprinkled out for me to not so much give the film a pass as to just force me to throw up my hands and admit that sometimes what I’m looking for out of a film is exactly what Escape Plan 2 affords me, even if the final product isn’t good by any respectable measure.
I don’t think I’m being cynical when I say that this movie appears to exist because enough number crunchers (primarily Chinese number crunchers) came to believe that a DTV sequel to Escape Plan could eke out a profit, and a movie was set into production based upon that inspired notion. It really doesn’t bother me that Chinese money is a major part of international action cinema these days. It’s just humorous to watch the naked requirements that that money brings with it. In huge budget films like, say, whatever the last Transformers movie it was that I saw, you generally see the film take place at least partially in China so that production money gets funneled that way, and also China gets to be showcased on the big screen to international audiences. You also often see a Chinese star in a supporting role of some kind, likely to help further promote a Chinese presence on the big screen to international audiences.
This formula was tweaked slightly for Escape Plan 2 to fit more into the DTV action mold. By that I mean Escape Plan 2 actually stars Chinese actor Xiaoming Huang as Shu, a protege of Stallone’s Ray Breslin. Shu is our primary protagonist here, despite all the marketing of the film hyping a team up of Sylvester Stallone and Dave Bautista as the film’s leads. This is a tactic often seen in DTV action cinema, where… say… Danny Trejo is billed as the star of a film, but it turns out he plays only a minor role he probably filmed in 2 days’ time. Here Stallone and Bautista do play lead characters, but not THE lead characters. And they’re rarely actually on screen, much less on screen together. All of this is a drastic step down from the lead hook of the first film, in which Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger (nowhere to be found here) legitimately team up as leads on the big screen for the first time ever.
This enormous misdirect would be extremely disheartening to the average viewer who was expecting a Stallone-led DTV sequel. I must admit I was one of those viewers. But a couple of things kept this from being disastrous for me. One: I’m used to this kind of thing from watching so much DTV action cinema. But more importantly, it turns out that Xiaoming Huang is actually a pretty strong lead. I’ve never seen him before despite having close to 45 acting credits to his name on IMDb. Shu isn’t exactly an incredibly written character, and nothing about Miles Chapman’s script feels organic or particularly well done. But Huang makes the most of a fairly thankless project and holds down the screen with some pretty skilled screen fighting and convincing character beats.
I suspect Chapman, who wrote the first film as well, was pretty hamstrung by the mandates of the funders of this project. It has to have been tough to write parts that provided halfway decent paychecks to Stallone and Bautista (not to mention Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson returning from the first film and Jaime King [who had worked with gun-for-hire director Steven C. Miller previously on his Silent Night]), but not TOO much screen time for any of them as that would be expensive. The younger, less known cast members really do most of the heavy lifting here and none of that must have been easy for the screenplay’s sense of logic and flow. There’s more ADR’d dialog in this film than I’ve seen in a long time, and it sometimes feel like the whole thing is about to burst at the seams. I’m not sure if Steven C. Miller and his editor deserve credit for keeping the entire crazy project from collapsing, or if a bunch of the blame rather falls on them for the film’s shortcomings?
Regardless of all the zany elements that pushed this film into existence, a minor and forgettable good time at the movies is had here in Hades. This time around Breslin has become the head of a crack team of security experts rather than necessarily being the one man who can break out of any prison as he was in the first film. Shu is one of several younger team members who are a part of Breslin’s company and who are the main characters of all the shenanigans that happen here. This time it’s Shu that ends up captured in a high tech, futuristic prison. With Breslin as his mentor, he hars pre-recorded pearls of wisdom drip from Stallone’s lips as his inner inspiration and teams up with some other tough guys on the inside to plan his escape. I’m honestly fairly unclear on Bautista’s character motivations or connections to the narrative. He’s some kind of former competitor of Breslin’s whom Stallone recruits as extra muscle while his young bucks are imprisoned. Bautista gets to fire the giant automatic weapons in slow motion this time instead of Schwarzenegger, and that’s just as glorious as it sounds, honestly. It’s just that Bautista feels tacked on and in-essential to the main narrative, even if he is one of the best check marks in the plus column of Escape Plan 2.
There’s no doubt that Escape Plan 2 banks on a bit of a head fake in order to meet its clearly restricted budget. It’s also a marked step down from its big screen predecessor. The knowing camaraderie between Stallone and Arnold was much appreciated in that first film and there’s nothing really close to that here, even if Bautista is an exciting stand-in for Arnold. I’d gladly revisit this ridiculous franchise (which is a guarantee since two DTV sequels were filmed back to back with part 3 coming soon… further evidence for my profit algorithm theory) even though literally everything this had to offer was a huge regression from the first installment. What can I say? This kind of trash is my kind of trash. If you already know you have no interest or will never see it, then you really didn’t need to hear my thoughts to know this isn’t for you. If you’re a Stallone fan or DTV action enthusiast or even a Bautista acolyte, then hopefully I’ve offered some food for thought on what this movie will and won’t deliver for you. Bring on Escape Plan 3: The Escapiest, but my expectation levels are significantly diminished, and you’d do well to do the same regarding this one.
There are some bonus features, including one about a robot… a robot I had already forgotten existed in the movie before seeing it’s special feature. Look, this is a cheap movie with some cheap bonus features. It occasionally looks really nice because it’s 2018 and a competent team can bring about some good visuals. But it also occasionally looks its budget, especially when explosions or chases are attempted. This is an easy rental recommend for die hard action fans (no need to purchase the Blu-ray), and a pass for anyone else.
And I’m Out.
Escape Plan 2: Hades is now available on Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Summit Entertainment.