Synopsis – Sequel to the 2013 film that featured a security expert named Ray Breslin, who used his skills to test out the reliability of maximum security prisons.
My Take – For years fans of 80s action filled era had wanted to see Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger come together in a film (outside The Expendables franchise), in a film which would work on the strengths of the lifelong bicep buddies. Prayers were answered when Swedish director Mikael Håfström paired the two in the 2013 thriller, Escape Plan, which was saw Stallone‘s skilled structure engineer working with Schwarzenegger‘s convict to break out a hi tech prison known as The Tomb. While the film was quite fun and worked mainly due to the nostalgia of the aging action stars, it ended up earning a meager $25 million in the U.S. upon release.
However, as the film was a surprising hit overseas with $112 million internationally with most coming in from China, a sequel with a shift in location, more international casting and a story which draws only loose connections to the original was imminent. However, the sequel also comes without Schwarzenegger, or anyone else from the original besides Stallone and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. Most importantly, while the marketing seems to be promoting this as an action film led by Stallone and Dave Bautista, the two are actually playing supporting roles, instead, this China backed Steven C. Miller director film, is primarily a vehicle for Chinese star Xiaoming Huang (Ip Man 2), who plays a protégé of Stallone’s Breslin who finds himself trapped in the titular prison and must fight and think his way out.
Unsurprisingly, the film is not just bad, it’s confusing, it’s dreadful and just plain terrible. Anything you remember from the original you might as well toss out the window, as this film is as B-level as you get, possibly C. The script is disastrously bad, the plot and pace are all over the place, making an 96 minute film feel long, the cinematography is horrendous, the film is filled with neon lights that are almost headache inducing, the fight scenes are banal and are there just for the sake of it and there are weird science fiction elements that serve little purpose and don’t really fit. While, one might argue that this film is straight-to-DVD material, considering it has a received a theatrical release here in the U.A.E, I might as well rate it like an actual film in an actual theater. Personally, for me this is among the worst films of 2018, as bad special effects, inept direction, poor performances and abysmal editing make this film, nearly impossible to endure.
Taking place a few years after the events of the first film, the story follows Shu (Xiaoming Huang), an employee of a security business run by Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone), and which consists of Hush (Curtis Jackson), Luke (Jesse Metcalfe), Jasper (Wes Chatham), Abigail (Jamie King) and Jules (Lydia Hull). However, when a mission goes wrong Ray is forced to fire Jasper and let’s Shu take a leave of absence to go back to his home in Thailand and reunites with his cousin, Yusheng Ma (Chen Tang), a tech millionaire, who has created a technology that absolutely can’t fall into the wrong hands.
With a target marked on their backs, the two are placed in a futuristic state of the art prison known as Hades, which is run by Gregor Faust (Titus Welliver) also known as the Zookeeper. In order to force their compliance, he puts the cousins in fighting competitions until they give up the details he needs. Meanwhile, Ray and his crew realize that Shu has been missing and frantically begin a hunt find their teammate by enlisting the help of Trent (Dave Bautista), an old friend of Ray, while avoiding capture themselves, as Shu and Jasper figure out a way to escape from the prison.
On paper, that’s not a terrible premise. Miles Chapman, who co-wrote the first film with Jason Keller, has some good ideas that get squandered by abysmal execution. It’s just upsetting to see how lazily the film has been produced. While, I never said or felt that the 2013 film was great in terms of craft as it primarily focused on the commercial viability of the Stallone – Schwarzenegger combo on screen, it never stepped away from being enjoyable, unlike this film which is nothing short of being extremely scattered and dull. While the set-up is entirely predicative, the narrative just feels disjointed and confused. The film gets far too caught up in melodrama to ever really embrace the prison break aspect of its premise, with the break out itself being lazily conceived. The flow is also disrupted by its frequent and tacky CGI flashes that makes the whole film feel more contrived.
The characters also don’t have much to do other than mouth a few words about the impregnability of Hades. Speaking of which, the prison itself doesn’t make a lot of sense. Director Steven C. Miller, who has directed many bland straight-to-VOD action films with titles like Extraction, First Kill, and Arsenal, here creates a Pandora’s Box of sci-fi weirdness ill-fitting to this franchise. Artificial intelligence, drones, and a VR room known as the Sanctuary, for which inmates must fight and kill one another in order to earn time in. There’s even a trio of bald, albino hackers known as Legion, who look like druids sent back from the 22nd century. What in the world is going on? It would have been easier to look past all this if the characters had any personality, but the script from Miles Chapman offers little.
While director Håfström at least brought a cool style to the first film, here director Miller packages this film with little thrills and lots of pointless action. The sophisticated gadget filled automated prison and the whole concept gets explored in a really shallow way and it feels like they were only keen on showing the hero’s martial arts skills, especially against Akala (UFC Welterweight champion Tyron Woodley). Plus, he clearly isn’t the type of director to have much visual flair, either; as the film looks like it was shot in a warehouse or a parking garage and the action sequences aren’t choreographed to impress as much as to get them done.
Cheesy cliché banters between hero and villain and the typical feel makes it a really boring experience and on top of all that, there is an absurd climax that ends as if they ran out of the budget. Each set piece is either generic or incoherent, making even promising ideas just fall flat. I get this film has a significantly lower budget than its predecessor, but so many low-budget action films have shown that creative camera work and inventive ideas can mask any budget. Many of these flaws could have be forgiven if the film had at least been fun to watch; which it is not. While Stallone and Bautista offer up some B-film banter, the film feels bogged down due to how seriously the film takes the family drama with Shu and Yusheng. It doesn’t help that Chapman’s script feels rushed with multiple pointless characters. Case in point – returning character Hush, who doesn’t contribute anything to the main story line. There is also a late film plot twist that seems drawn out due to how predictable it is, and a cliffhanger that is clearly meant to serve the next installment, Escape Plan 3: Devil’s Station, which has already begun production.
Here, Sylvester Stallone doesn’t appear to care much about what he’s saying and comes off as content to deliver the minimum effort needed for his cheque. He seems to be sauntering in an out of the skimpy script perhaps waiting for the release of Creed II (the first one landed him an Oscar nomination) or for the next Rambo film to happen. It seems like Dave Bautista was just looking to share screen space with Stallone (well who doesn’t?), as even though he has been promoted as the second lead, he merely appears in the third act of the film, and matches Stallone’s lack of energy with his own barely there performance. While Xiaoming Huang clearly has the charisma to look like a hit man, his dialogue delivery and emoting feels really flat. Probably the reason behind his performance is rooted in the script, as his character has only two traits, being unlikable and being a bad ass. While he certainly has the physique and fighting prowess to potentially impress during the action moments, it’s all hindered by poor direction and editing. Wes Chatham and Jesse Metcalfe are poor substitutes for Schwarzenegger, as they’re more of the generic action hero blend and combined lack any of his charisma. I think the filmmakers tried to insert Jamie King into the role played by Amy Ryan in the first film without anyone noticing, she is clearly wasted. While Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson is literally playing himself, Titus Welliver and Chen Ta are effectively terrible. On the whole, ‘Escape Plan 2: Hades‘ is a shameful, confused, stale and lifeless sequel to a perfectly fine action-thriller.
Directed – Steven C. Miller
Rated – R
Run Time – 96 minutes