Stallone is back in Escape Plan II… for maybe a quarter or third of the running time, at least.
Five years on from the original Escape Plan – co-starring Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger – only Stallone and 50 Cent reprise their respective roles; and to an almost minimalist level in this catastrophic prison breakout sequel, directed by Marauders’ Steven C. Miller
Stallone’s Ray Breslin is an expert in seeking out how “escape proof” prisons are. He gets incarcerated and then within a set time period, he is expected to find a way to escape. In the first film, Breslin is betrayed by his employer and is tasked with escaping from the world’s most secure and secretive prison, which happened to have Vinnie Jones as a guard. In Escape Plan II, Breslin is more or less the director and trainer/mentor of his own security force. Early on in this sequel, his team is involved in an undercover hostage rescue situation, rather than escaping from a prison.
After the hostage situation falls through, there is a sense that Breslin’s task force has dissolved to an extent. One member, Jaspar (The Hunger Games’ Wes Chatham), is expelled from the force, whilst Shu (Ip Man 2’s Xiaoming Huang) transforms into the central character of Escape Plan II once the fashionable “One Year Later…” annotation appears on screen.
So one year later, Shu is in Shanghai, summoned to protect his somewhat clumsy cousin and satellite businessman, Yusheng (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Chen Tang). After a party, Shu and Yusheng are ambushed and a well-choreographed fight breaks out. Unfortunately for the cousins, this results in their capture and arrival within secretive prison, HADES. Within HADES, they are subject to organised fights between inmates leading to the victor receiving two hours pleasure within the Sanctuary, whilst the loser loses a meal. As well as that, The Zookeeper (Bosch‘s Titus Welliver) – a violent, but high-ranking staff member of HADES – targets both Shu and Yusheng for the information behind Yusheng’s desired satellite system. But Shu, with the help of Breslin and 50 Cent’s Hush on the outside – both of whom conveniently become knowledgeable of Shu’s placement within HADES – as well as the odd, but helpful individual within the inside, must work by the training of his mentor, Breslin, and escape to save the lives of he and his cousin, but to find out the truth behind his captor also.
Despite the star names of Sylvester Stallone, Dave Bautista and 50 Cent, the three supporting actors are terribly underused in Escape Plan II to the extent that they are hardly on screen. The under usage is borderline criminal and fraudulent considering both Stallone and Bautista are the two faces on the promotional packaging everywhere. Between Escape Plan and Escape Plan II, Breslin’s character transformation from lead action hero to supporting mentor is surprising, even minimally refreshing; but then extraordinarily disappointing because within the last three years, audiences have already witnessed Stallone in a superlative mentor role, of which he was nominated for the Oscar (Creed) – the only way is down and this is a vertical drop.
As one would naturally expect, Bautista, as Trent DeRosa, is the muscle in Escape Plan II. After reuniting with Breslin in a bar, a fight and shoot-out quickly takes place, displaying Trent’s relevancy in this sequel. Other than then, Trent is hardly to be seen until the final shoot-outs around Escape Plan II’s conclusion.
One of the worst aspects, character-wise, is there is little-to-no reason to care for any of Breslin’s new security task force. Audiences are presented with honest, good, innocent human beings secretly locked down and punished against their will, yet there is nothing to elicit an emotional response or hint of empathy from audiences. When Shu and co. are electrocuted with Laser Quest-esque futuristic guns, it looks pathetic and overwhelmingly direct-to-video. In Escape Plan, Breslin and Schwarzenegger’s Swan Rottmayer are punished with devastating heat and brightness. Audiences feel their pain.
Admirably, however, Escape Plan II’s choreography is both entertaining and well shot, despite the sometimes obvious stunt-doubles. Occasionally theatrical, but sometimes gritty, there is a feeling that a major significance was placed upon the fighting – more so than the story, perhaps. Although the story is hideous at times, the element of mystery and slight dosage of cyber-punk make for a satisfying watch; but said mystery sometimes feels like a setup for the upcoming third film, whilst the cyber-punk is ultimately an opportunity missed. There could be the intention to expose it more within Escape Plan 3?
Ultimately, Escape Plan II views more like a pointless two-part TV-Movie of sorts, rather than an action sequel starring Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 co-stars, Sylvester Stallone and Dave Bautista. Unforgivably, Escape Plan II is a cheap rip-off of its predecessor. Sadly it now resides alongside the likes of Lost Boys: The Tribe within the prison of catastrophically shit sequels.