Escape Plan 2: Hades (2018)
Direct-to-streaming is in some respects the direct-to-video market of the current decade. However, that comes with a few caveats, as sometimes if a studio gets cold feet about a movie they’ll ditch it to streaming, even if it’s a quality product. Alex Garland’s Annihilation being an example of this. However, that isn’t the case of Escape Plan 2: Hades which clearly falls into the category of a cheaper and inferior sequel. Both Sylvester Stallone and Curtis Jackson return respectively to their previous roles, but Arnold Schwarzenegger is conspicuously absent this time round. In other cast changes, Jamie King replaces Amy Ryan as Abigail Ross. Sadly, the marketing for the movie is deliberately misleading and despite featuring prominently in the advertising, Dave Bautista only has a support role, appearing in the final third of the movie. The director for this instalment is Steven C. Miller, whose body of work is predominantly direct-to-streaming action movies and low budget thrillers.
It quickly become apparent when watching Escape Plan 2: Hades that the movie is primarily a vehicle for Chinese star Xiaoming Huang (Ip Man 2) and not Sylvester Stallone. His character, Shu Ren, is a protege of professional escapologist Ray Breslin, who finds himself trapped in the titular high-tech prison Hades. Meanwhile, the rest of Breslin’s team sit around their Atlanta based office pondering why their friend has “vanished from the grid”. It soon becomes clear that Shu Ren’s brother-in-law Yusheng Ma (Chen Ta) is the reason for their incarceration. Yusheng Ma is a tech genius who owns several patents for next-generation satellites. Hades is actually a front for the Ruscho Corporation who want to control this new technology for their own nefarious reason. It’s all somewhat perfunctory and one can’t help but get the impression that the screenplay written by Miles Chapman, who co-wrote the original Escape Plan, has been retrofitted to accommodate the change of focus from a US leading man to a Chinese box office star.
I like many other viewers was not expecting a sequel to Escape Plan, let alone a franchise (there’s a clear indication that a third movie is on the way at the end of this one). Initially, the prospect of more was not inherently unappealing; I’ve seen far worse material get multiple instalments. However, the change of direction and star focus is a surprise. Escape Plan did well internationally, and a sizeable percentage of that box office was the Chinese market, so it’s hardly rocket science that this Chinese backed production has dovetailed a star from the home market into the proceedings. However, the budget for Escape Plan 2: Hades is demonstrably lower than the first movie and the production has that distinct direct-to-streaming look. The cinematography is vivid with a blue, red and green colour palette, but it cannot cover for the inherent cheap feel that permeates the movie. There is a pulsing synth score from The Newton Brothers helps up the ante, but it often drowns out the expositionary dialogue. The fight scenes are also poorly shot and edited, which is a damn shame because Xiaoming Huang clearly has talent. There’s also a plethora of digital blood spray and it’s stand out like a sore thumb.
Sadly, even the presence of Stallone and Bautista cannot save Escape Plan 2: Hades. Their joint input seems very contrived and workmanlike. Perhaps the producers should have eliminated all links to the previous movie and just made this a straight forward original vehicle for Xiaoming Huang. As it stands, the existing franchise baggage (and there’s a surprising lot) and US based scenes gets in the way of the prison-based action. So, all things considered, unless you like the lacklustre ambience of lower end of the action movie market, there isn’t really a lot to recommend Escape Plan 2: Hades. Although, I can’t help but smile at the hubris of the producers, in thinking they could make such radical changes to an established movie vehicle and think they could get away with it. It makes me just a little bit curious to see how contrived the threatened third instalment in the franchise is and whether Mr. Stallone decides to grace it with his presence.