Released: 29 June 2018
Director: Steven C. Miller
Distributor: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Budget: $20 million
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Huang Xiaoming, Dave Bautista, Jesse Metcalfe, Wes Chatham, and Titus Welliver
Ray Breslin (Stallone) has expanded his operation, taking on Shu Ren (Xiaoming) and Lucas “Luke” Graves (Metcalfe) as protégés. However, when Shu is kidnapped and imprisoned in a high-tech prison named “Hades”, Luke, Ray, and Ray’s associate, Trent DeRosa (Bautista), must find a way to infiltrate the most dangerous prison in the world to rescue him.
After the financial success of Escape Plan (Håfström, 2013), which finally brought action legends Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger together in a meaningful way, a sequel was announced in 2016. Perhaps due to the fact that the first film recouped most of its box office success from the Chinese market, Escape Plan 2 (also known as Escape Plan 2: Hades) featured a more international cast and even received a limited theatrical release in China. Rather than bring these two stars back together for a bigger, better sequel, Escape Plan was released straight to DVD outside of China, Schwarzenegger was entirely absent, and even Stallone was reduced to more of a supporting role. Unsurprisingly, Escape Plan 2 was therefore a box office bomb, making a little over $17 million at the box office and receiving scathing reviews and Stallone regarded it as the “most horribly produced film [he had] ever had the misfortune to be in”.
Escape Plan 2 begins in Chechnya where Lucas, Shu Ren, and another of Breslin’s protégés, Jaspar Kimbral (Chatham), are attempting to free hostages; as an opening action sequence to show off our new protagonists, this is a bit of a frantic mess thanks to some shaky editing and low lighting. Regardless, it’s immediately obvious that Lucas is the blunt instrument of the group, Shu is the slick martial artist, and Kimbral is the weak link in the team since, thanks to his blind trust in his “algorithm”, his attempt to go off mission results in the death of a hostage.
Unimpressed, Breslin fires Kimbral since he can’t trust him and believes that his algorithm is flawed and that Kimbral is letting his personal rivalry with Shu cloud his judgement in the field. About a year later, while protecting his cousin, Yusheng Ma (Chen Tang), Shu is suddenly attacked and wakes up imprisoned in a super high-tech supermax prison known as “Hades”, which has (somehow) been built out of the remnants of the Tomb from the first film. Inside Hades, prisoners are regularly pitted against each other in brutal fights that result in rewards for the winners and punishment for the losers, or those who refuse to fight.
Gregor Faust (Welliver), the “Zookeeper” of Hades, reveals that Shu and Yusheng are free to go the moment Yusheng hands over his communications patents. He also bumps into Kimbral and the three form a reluctant team as Shu falls back on Breslin’s training to formulate an escape plan; similar to Breslin in the last film, this involves learning the intricacies of Hades’ layout, staying mentally and physically fit, and manipulating any resource he can to his advantage which, naturally, leads to many a fight with fellow inmates and to him befriending others, such as Akala (Tyron Woodley), from whom he learns about Hades’ routines.
Unlike the Tomb, Hades is a fully automated, high-tech prison; prisoners are kept in futuristic cells and restrained by forcefields and paralysing jolts of electricity. In place of guards, Hades favours robots (even the prisoner doctor is a robot!) but, thanks to Breslin’s training, Shu is able to ascertain a rough idea of the layout of the facility from the few areas he can see and even those he can’t. This allows him to figure out that the prison is constantly rotating, shifting, and moving without the inmates noticing and, thanks to manipulating the fight/reward system, learn the exact layout of the prison from a cult-like group of stoic hackers.
Meanwhile, outside of Hades, Breslin and his team work to track down Shu and the location of Hades; this ends up with Lucas also being captured and sent to Hades and Ray meeting up with an old acquaintance, Trent DeRosa, who, despite his size and intimidating nature, is an eloquent and surprisingly intelligent individual. A man of taste and deliberation, DeRosa brings intellect and aptitude as much as his physical capabilities but, sadly, his role is largely minimal; Bautista can be a magnetic presence when he appears in films and I respect the guy’s range but I can’t imagine that being in this dreg of a film really did much to elevate his profile.
If there’s one thing Escape Plan 2 has going for it, it’s some pretty decent, hard-hitting action; thanks to an influx of Chinese actors, fights are generally fast-paced, impactful, and full of impressive flips, kicks, and wire work. There’s a slickness to the action this time around that makes fights more heavily choreographed and elaborate than before but still brutal and gritty, just in a noticeably different, more frenetic way. Since the story jumps in and out of Hades to tell its two concurrent plots, we also get a bit more gunplay and a few more car chases this time around but the problem is that everything is shot so cheaply and so shakily and Hades is so poorly lit that it’s incredibly difficult to really follow what’s happening as the camera keeps dashing and darting all over the place, zooming in and out of focus and never stopping to really let the action breathe.
Of course, the big twist of the film is that Kimbral is actually the prison warden and that the entire point of Hades was to one-up Shu and stick it to Ray by building a prison completely immune to his teachings and philosophy. Once this twist is revealed, Kimbral immediately throws on his suit and becomes a slick, arrogant, corporate antagonist who revels in lording his superiority of his former teammates and is motivated by nothing more than good, old-fashioned revenge (and money, of course).
Sadly, what brings Escape Plan 2 down (and I mean way down) is the focus not on Breslin or even DeRosa but on his two protégés, who are far less dynamic and charismatic than either actor and no other addition to the cast could ever even hope to match Schwarzenegger’s star power or the appeal of seeing him onscreen with Stallone. Stallone is relegated to a mere supporting role; his teachings live on through Shu but, as capable and smart as Shu is, Xiaoming is no Stallone and it’s very strange to me that the script chooses not to capitalises on Stallone’s presence. The film could easily have been restructured to have Ray be the one locked up in Hades at the mercy of Shu (rather than Kimbral) and teaming up with DeRosa on the inside to battle against a host of young Chinese newcomers.
Instead, Ray enters Hades far too late for me to really care about what’s going on; even when he’s inside the prison, he’s largely absent from the film. You’d think the action and intensity would ramp up almost immediately as the disgruntled student (Kimbral) jumped at the chance to make the master (Breslin) pay but, instead, Ray is able to freely communicate with Hush (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) to shut down Hade’s automated systems and to unite the inmates in a desperate escape attempt with very little in the way of opposition. Kimbral’s whole thing is being an arrogant upstart, a slighted child, rather than an imposing or formidable threat to our heroes; the Zoopkeeper makes a valiant effort to try and make up for this and even though Breslin and Kimbral do inexplicably end up settling their difference in a fist fight, both antagonists are easily dispatched with little effort on Ray or Shu’s part.
I haven’t really looked into it to check for sure but I’m pretty sure that Escape Plan 2 is the first time a Stallone movie has ever gone straight to DVD; considering the first movie had the weight and star power of two of Hollywood’s biggest action stars, it blew my mind to see the sequel have a smaller budget, significantly less star power, and be relegated to a home media release. However, it’s easy to see why the film went straight to DVD as it’s pretty much a mess from start to finish; poor cinematography, messy editing, and an overly elaborate and unrealistic setting means that all the choreography in the world cannot keep Escape Plan 2 from being anything more than a disappointing waste of time and talent. This could have been a nice little sub franchise of fun action films involving Stallone and Schwarzenegger getting into some entertaining hijinks but, instead, we got a mediocre action film that even Jean-Claude Van Damme would have thought twice about signing up to.
So…what did you think to Escape Plan 2? How did to compare to the original for you? Were you a fan of the new blood featured in the film or do you agree that Stallone and Bautista should have had bigger roles? Were you surprised that the film went straight to DVD and can you think of any other big budget films that dropped off a cliff in the same way? What’s your favourite prison break movie? Whatever your thoughts, leave a comment below and check back in next Friday for my review of the third film in the franchise.