A sequel even more insanely fun than the first
Everyone remembers just how much of a surprise The Hitman’s Bodyguard was back in 2017. For a summer which had offered everything including a new Spider-Man, the return of Goldie Hawn and…whatever Baywatch was meant to be, the action/comedy was a refreshing way to end the season. Not only did it allow its two lead actors the chance to come across as both grounded and hilarious, but it helped to rewrite the buddy comedy by offering up a pair of characters whose roles were essentially reversed. The result was a parade of hearty laughs, genuinely well-done action sequences and moments in which both aspects were expertly woven together. All of it made for one of the few original properties to come out of the summer movie season that managed to stand on its own and find an audience. So naturally, a sequel had to follow.
In The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) has forced himself to take a hiatus from bodyguarding following the trauma-inducing experience he had protecting notorious hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson). However, his attempt to live a life of peace and tranquility is soon interrupted by the lovely and lethal Sonia Kincaid (Salma Hayek), Darius’s wife. Entering his life amidst a sea of gunfire, Sonia convinces Michael to help rescue her kidnapped husband, which he reluctantly agrees to. Shortly after Darius’s safe return, the trio finds themselves plunged into a doomsday plot with the whole of Europe on the brink of destruction thanks to the nefarious mastermind named Aristotle Papdopolous(Antonio Banderas).
The worst step The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard could have made was to be a blatant retread of the original. There’s nothing worse in the world of laughter than that guy at a party who tells a legitimately funny joke and then proceeds to tell that same joke again as the night goes on. This movie wisely avoids that trap however by changing up the on-screen dynamics between the characters. What was once a solid buddy duo is now a priceless comedy trio thanks to the expansion of Sonia’s character. As funny as The Hitman’s Bodyguard was, there was very little denying that Hayek was that film’s biggest surprise. While that character only had a supporting role in the film, her scenes were priceless thanks to the unexpected energy she was written with, which took an already outrageous comedy even higher. Whether it was the positive response to the character or the desire to create a franchise, the move to have Sonia be at the center of the madness this time around was definitely the kind of jolt that was needed. Even thought The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard stays true to what made the characters hilarious to begin with (Michael is still a bodyguard at an emotional crossroads and Darius is still slightly amused/nonplussed by everything), it’s Sonia with her machine gun-happy trigger finger and a refusal to not be disrespected by anyone that makes the film feel almost as fresh as the first.
A character like Sonia must be fun to write; she’s bawdy, fearless and in many ways, exists in her own action/comedy realm. It’s a similar energy that makes up the bulk of The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard. While the original called to mind 80s cop comedies which teamed two A-list stars together for jokes and gunfire, the sequel now draws on the kind of larger-than-life action farces that the likes of Leslie Nielsen or Bill Murray might’ve starred in back in the 90s. The lunacy starts almost as soon as the film does and never quits. So much about this movie is so insanely crazy, it’s almost hard to buy, even by the kind of comedy blockbuster mentality the whole shebang is operating on. The most lunatic element of the whole affair has to be blonde Antonio Banderas as a madman who has decreed Greece to be the center of Europe and has planted a doomsday device in the bottom of the mediterranean unless…somebody does something to meet whatever his demands are. A comment about Sonia’s age erupts into a bullet frenzy and Morgan Freeman (turning up as a surprise character), who hosts the trio for dinner at his Italian villa, earns an unexpected laugh simply by saying “ah, the gelato” as dessert is being served. It all borders on parody, but in doing so makes sure that although things get loud and silly, they never once get boring.
The unexpected chemistry between Jackson and Reynolds from the first film seamlessly carries over here. Although four years have gone by, the two have such a well-developed shorthand that they just can’t help but shine around each other with the former doing skilled deadpan and the latter nailing awkward comedy. If Hayek was the first movie’s secret weapon, she’s definitely the sequel’s MVP. Never before has the actress been tasked with being so outrageous and outlandish on film, delivering pure hilarity in every scene and easily managing to outshine both of her male counterparts. Frank Grillo is killing time as a homesick American Interpol agent and Richard E. Grant bewilderingly shows up for a cameo which inexplicably earned him a “with” credit in the opening titles. But it’s other two big name cast additions, Banderas and Freeman, who instantly learn the steps of the kind of absurdist film they’re in and throw themselves in wholeheartedly to good effect.
Besides being a genuinely funny, action-filled romp, one of the reasons The Hitman’s Bodyguard scored as much as it did was because it managed to come out in August when the competition was low, students were getting ready to go back to school and no one had any huge expectations in any of the titles still to be released. In the end, the film turned out to be the perfect late-summer outing that a solid August release can end up being, giving one last burst of moviegoing excitement before the fall releases start rolling out. It feels like a bit of overconfidence that The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is being released in the prime summer month of June. The film’s presence does make a splash by being one of the few mid-budget summer releases in the midst of Pixar, Marvel and musicals. But as far as being a destination film when such aforementioned fare is readily available, it might’ve been better if saved for the likes of March.