Over the lengthy career of Sylvester Stallone, there have been a number of ups and downs. The ups are incredibly high, such as Rocky beating out Network and Taxi Driver for Best Picture at the Oscars. The lows are incredibly low, such as starring opposite Estelle Getty in Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. In 2013, Stallone finally starred opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in the pulpy action flick Escape Plan. Domestically, the appeal of Schwarzenegger and Stallone had lost quite a bit of its appeal and Escape Plan didn’t do great at the box office. However, overseas it had a bit more life. That is the only explanation for Escape Plan 2: Hades, an unnecessary sequel to the 2013 flick which sees only Stallone returning as Ray Breslin, the escape artist and businessman who utilizes his expertise to build the world’s most secure prisons.
It doesn’t take long to see why Arnold didn’t return as Escape Plan 2 might very well be the worst thing that Stallone has ever starred in. Yes, I’m saying that without hyperbole. Escape Plan 2: Hades is woefully inept, complete with convoluted plotting, leaden dialogue, and some of the worst CGI to grace the screen in a decade. This is the type of movie that was made solely with the intention of bilking undiscerning foreign audiences out of their hard-earned money. But director Steven C. Miller’s film is such a colossal wreck that even the most inattentive moviegoer will feel ripped off by this half-assed sequel.
This time around, Ray Breslin (Stallone) is the head of Breslin Security, which oversees a variety of security-type services. The opening scene features a team of Breslin’s employees led by the martial arts expert Shu (Huang Xiaoming) extracting a kidnapping victim from a dangerous situation. What should’ve been a smooth operation was complicated when Jaspar Kimbral (Wes Chatham) attempts some new tricks, costing someone their life along the way.
When Shu is assigned to guard satellite magnate Yusheng Ma (Chenying Tang), the two are kidnapped and taken to Hades, the most elaborate prison ever constructed. In Hades, inmates are called upon to fight each other for sport and the violent contests are overseen by Gregor Faust (Titus Welliver). Faust hopes to break each inmate and sell their secrets to the highest bidder on the black market. Shu’s disappearance leads Ray Breslin to seek out his former competitor Trent DeRosa (Dave Bautista) in the hopes that DeRosa’s expertise can help him find a way to track down Shu’s location and bust him out of Hades. But getting in and out of Hades is its own task and there are all sorts of secrets trapped in the cells of this hellish prison.
The screenplay Miles Chapman has the seedlings of some interesting ideas, but director Steven C. Miller can’t make anything cohesive about the story or its characters. The film staggers between its ragged plot threads, failing along the way to make anything the least bit captivating. And none of the actors involved seem the least bit motivated. Stallone is mentally already on the vacation his paycheck paid for. Even the typically reliable Dave Bautista and Titus Welliver seem equally checked out, as if they were instructed to just take this movie off because nobody will see it stateside.
Huang Xiaoming is the film’s main character despite the marketing materials, and the Chinese action star is underserved by its all around. Steven C. Miller can’t frame his action in a visually coherent style. The director’s predilection for spastically moving the camera during action sequences rob the audience of seeing its star utilize his various talents. That incomprehensible stylish tic also does a disservice to the film’s art departments. Some well-crafted sets gets lost in a hazy of shoddy camerawork and incomplete CGI.
Just to be clear, I didn’t go into Escape Plan 2: Hades with the expectations of a cinematic masterpiece that would skew the private prison system. I was hoping for a pulpy, absurd, action-packed B-movie and I was still extremely disappointed in Escape Plan 2. The film ends with a tease for a third Escape Plan adventure. I scoffed because another film in this series sounds as appealing as self-surgery. And yet, I learn after the movie, the third film is already in the can. The true lesson of Escape Plan 2 is that nobody needs to put themselves in the prison of bad movies. The best method of escape is never going into Escape Plan 2: Hades in the first place.