Sylvester Stallone played Ray Breslin in 2013’s Escape Plan, a security expert who is put to the test when he’s forced to escape from his own super-prison. By-the-numbers in most respects, it was notable for the long-awaited pairing of Stallone and 80s action superhero counterpart Arnold Schwarzenegger, as one of the convicts who helps him bust out.
The direct-to-streaming sequel Escape Plan 2: Hades comes without Arnold, or anyone else of note from the original besides Stallone’s Breslin, though 50 Cent is back as hacker sidekick Hush and I think the filmmakers tried to insert Jamie King into the role played by Amy Ryan in the first movie without anyone noticing.
The posters for Escape Plan 2 promise a showdown between Sly and Dave Bautista, Drax from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, but it’s a classic bait-and-switch: some viewers may feel conned as they watch Stallone spend most of the film in an Atlanta office while Bautista shows up halfway through in a minor supporting role.
Instead, the Chinese-backed Escape Plan 2: Hades is primarily a vehicle for Chinese star Xiaoming Huang (Ip Man 2) as Shu Ren, a protege of Stallone’s Breslin who finds himself trapped in the titular Hades prison and must fight – and think – his way out.
Here’s the surprising thing: Huang is a legitimate action star and easily the best thing about Escape Plan 2, and when the film keeps the focus on his character it mostly succeeds. The action scenes here aren’t particularly well-staged or shot, but they are well-executed, with Huang’s acrobatic lead topping anything Stallone or Schwarzenegger could pull off in the original.
In Escape Plan 2, Shu Ren and brother-in-law Yusheng Ma (Chen Ta) find themselves in the superjail Hades when a mega-conglomerate wants the details on Yusheng’s new satellite patent, which could become a weapon of mass destruction in the wrong hands.
During their time in Hades, the strong-willed Yusheng is tortured until he gives up the intel. Meanwhile, his bodyguard-brother Shu Ren fights off attackers while slowly mapping out the structure – which, for some reason, rotates on an axis while the walls remain in place – to find a plan of escape.
The Hades-set scenes are genuinely solid B-movie material, and while the workmanlike direction from Arsenal’s Steven C. Miller doesn’t add much flair, it’s efficient enough to get through the story. A throbbing synth score from The Newton Brothers helps move things along and occasionally drowns out the dialogue, which is probably just as well.
Only problem in Escape Plan 2: there’s a lot of franchise baggage getting in the way. Most of that comes from Stallone and 50 Cent, who spend the first two acts of the movie on the same Atlanta office set wondering what has happened to their associate. When team member Luke (Jesse Metcalfe) is also kidnapped and thrown in Hades, they stumble into action.
Climactic scenes actually insert Stallone into Hades; for some viewers it might be too little too late, for others it’s a distraction that takes the spotlight off Shu Ren during the film’s key scenes. But Stallone fares better than Bautista, given little to do besides hold a big gun and look dapper in a flat cap as the team’s man on the outside.
Also in Hades are Wes Chatham as a disgraced former member of Breslin’s security team, who gets a hostage killed in a superfluous Chechnya-set prologue, and an amusing (and underutilized) Titus Welliver as the Zookeeper, superjail’s no-nonsense warden.
Escape Plan 2: Hades is just as dumb as the first film, but in place of the wink-wink attitude and nostalgic pairing of Arnold and Sly, this one takes itself far more seriously and delivers some more engaging action sequences along the way. Ultimately, this gritty low-budget sequel is just as good – if not better – than the original Escape Plan.