The first Escape Plan was released almost five years ago now. The film continued Sylvester Stallone's patchy-post millennium career as one of Hollywood's most unpredictable action heroes. It was able to capture a modest amount of attention from moviegoers through its gimmicky pairing of the Italian stallion and fellow 80's action star Arnold Schwarzenegger. Unfortunately, this time Schwarzenegger is nowhere to be seen, and we are instead left with a noticeably disinterested Dave Bautista.
The original film made enough in box office receipts to turn a moderate profit, but it didn't exceed expectations by a long shot. As a result, this belated, unnecessary sequel was co-financed by Chinese production company Leomus Pictures. While China has been a source of huge profit for movie studios over the past few years, those unfortunate enough to have seen Transformers: Age of Extinction and Pacific Rim: Uprising will already smell the perils of this arrangement. As a result, Escape Plan 2 is laughably transparent in its shallow attempt at launching a new franchise hidden behind Stallone's extended cameo appearance.
While heavily sold as a direct sequel, fans of the original may be disappointed by the lack of actual screen time with its star. The majority of the mis-promoted film is actually spent with a new character named Shu (Huang Xiaoming), a field operative for Breslin's new security company. When Shu is attacked and kidnapped after a bad job, he wakes up in a high security prison where he is forced to fight the other inmates for his life. This undoubtedly leads to some well-choreographed action sequences, largely due to the stunning martial arts skills of Xiaoming. Unfortunately however, this is not nearly enough to save the film from its lazy writing, and unimaginative plot twists.
After the first film functioned as a fun 80's throwback teaming two of it's greatest icons for one last ride, the tone of Hades is also jarringly different. This time we are given a bizarre techno-thriller that attempts to combine elements of Death Race with The Running Man, but lacks any of the complexity or imagination of both. The third act manages to pick things up slightly, with the majority of Stallone and Bautista's roles taking place here. Although, those hoping to see the former Rocky and Drax on fine form will be sorely disappointed. Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson also reprises his role as the high-speed computer hacker, Hush. Connective tissue to the original is much-welcomed in this unrecognizable straight-to-DVD affair, but Jackson's role is also unsurprisingly minimal.
Escape Plan 2: Hades doesn't leave a lot of enthusiasm for a return trip inside the prison. But, with a third installment already on the way, audiences aren't done with Breslin and his crew just yet. We can only hope that it manages to find a way to escape mediocrity and boredom next time round.