The Expendables 2 (2012)
Directed by: Simon West
Written by: David Agosto, Ken Kaufman, Richard Wenk, Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren, Jason Statham, Jean Claude Van Damme, Jet Li, Liam Hemsworth, Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone
IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 102 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
The Expendables, who comprise Barney Ross, Lee Christmas, Yin Yang, Hale Ceaser, Toll Road, Gunner Jensen and Billy the Kid, the group’s youngest and newest member, are deployed to rescue a Chinese businessman. They carry out their task, though Yin departs from the group. Ross accepts a mission from Mr. Church to retrieve an item from a safe from an airplane that was shot down in Albania. The team, accompanied by tech genius Maggie, retrieve the item from the airplane; their victory is short-lived, when one of their number is captured and executed by Jean Vilain, who intends to retrieve the item. The Expendables swear revenge; Maggie reveals the item on the plane was a computer, containing a blueprint to an abandoned mine which contains plutonium…..
The Expendables was a hoot, a real fun, action romp, though it didn’t quite reach the heights it should have done. Maybe it was because it was a little bit too serious for the concept [get as many old action guys together as you can]. Maybe because star Sylvester Stallone’s direction went for the tiresome ‘fast cutting, shakycam” style that has infected modern action cinema like a virus [blame Paul Greengrass mostly for this, though he usually did it well] and therefore didn’t make the film feel very much like an 80’s throwback very much at all, a supposed throwback to the days when action heroes were “proper” men, not the more sensitive, non-muscular type you mostly get now, a throwback to those great days where [if you are of a certain age], it wasn’t just the likes of Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger who were blowing up the box office and who you loved, but folk like Chuck Norris and Michael Dudikoff [remember him?], whose product would adorn the shelves of video stores. Maybe….well, it’s hard to totally pinpoint the reason, but the fact that such a film, which ‘trendy’ critics just laughed at, did good box office, was still to me a cause for celebration [I’m trying not to mention two certain words, the first rhyming with “got”, the second ending with “rim”, here] and the general idea was roll on the second movie, it’ll deliver totally.
Well, The Expendables 2 is a slightly better film. It’s not substantially better, but, to be honest, how good could it really be? In some ways it’s more of the same, and in some ways it isn’t. It has a more jokey tone; you certainly can’t accuse this one of being too serious. There is perhaps slightly less action, though certainly not as much less as some say. Far more than film number one, this is a tribute to the 80’s action film, albeit one that feels like far more like one of the many action films to come from the Cannon Group [if you were a devotee of action movies in the 80’s you’ll need no further elaboration!], especially when they were under the auspices of Menaham Golan and Yoram Globus, then the bigger budgeted Hollywood kind. I totally had a ball with The Expendables 2, which knows it’s ridiculous and ‘goes with it’. If you expect a truly ‘great’ action movie you will probably be disappointed; I’m not sure you could make a classic of the genre using the basic concept that these movies have . Of course the majority of critics have already poured scorn on it, but they have rarely liked the purely ‘fun’ genres like action and horror have they?
Instead of Stallone, we have Simon West as director here, and though he’s hardly a household name, he did direct one of the defining action movies of the 90’s, the totally awesome Con Air. Therefore you would expect The Expendables 2 to be in very firm hands, though West, obviously restricted by the script, doesn’t match the earlier film. Still, right from the offset, he shows up the poor filming of many of the first film’s action with stuff that you can actually see. The cutting is fast, in the manner of Michael Bay, but precise; you can tell what is happening, and there’s no epileptic shaking the camera around! This early part of the film is joyously over the top and absurd with its sustained action, replete with the best bike/helicopter gag since Tomorrow Never Dies and the giving us of the knowledge that, whilst abseiling, it is still possible to still hit one’s target when using an automatic weapon with the hand that is free. We even get to see Jet Li in some decent Hong Kong-style fighting, even if it’s a little short.
After twenty-odd minutes of explosive mayhem the film slows down and stays that way for a period of time which seems to have disappointed some, but I enjoyed spending time with these guys and I actually wished that some of their scenes, such as one in which they discuss what their last meal would be, were longer. The plot is basic in the extreme and borrows from some unexpected sources like Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom [or maybe not unexpected; it’s a great 80’s action movie , isn’t it?], and it’s patently obvious that elements of the script were changed a great deal. For example, Jet Li was contracted to appear in this sequel, but, not being too fond of the first film, asked to be written out. Therefore he disappears a quarter of the way through but is somewhat replaced by a female character called Maggie, who fulfils the “token Asian” role and seems to be on the verge of adding some pointless romantic relief [of course the guy is twice her age] but it isn’t developed. Not that I’m complaining about the inclusion of the lovely Nan Yu though!
There’s much wondering about and emphasis on bursts of action which contain crowd-pleasing laughs, rather than sustained excitement, but when you have Chuck Norris [who certainly doesn’t seem 72] turn up to randomly blast away some villains and a tank and tell a Chuck Norris joke [you know the ones], it’s hard to complain. The action returns with a vengeance around two thirds of the way through, and you’ll be pleased to know Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis take part this time. The sight of those two and Stallone, standing together, blasting away at hundred of baddies, almost made me want to hit the roof in joy. There’s actually far more blood on display in this film, with good old-fashioned squibs jarring somewhat with the fake-looking CG blood, and we get to see lots of heads and whole bodies being blown apart , but no swearing….Norris’s influence, I guess, and actually I didn’t miss it. There’s less brawling but Jason Statham has one of the coolest fights he’s ever had in a church, and he and Stallone have fine duels in the final reels. I doubt the fact that Stallone battles Jean-Claude Van Damme counts as a spoiler, but it’s a fantastic fight, brutal yet somewhat graceful, a balletic display of movement which combines the best of both the Eastern and the Western styles of fight choreography, and if you’ve ever wondered what the plane fight from Raiders Of The Lost Ark would be like if Spielberg hadn’t cut away at a certain moment, you will be partially satisfied in this movie.
There is a wonderful sense of fun in this film, as if everyone is just enjoying themselves. The action legends gleefully mock themselves throughout, with well known one-liners bandied about, though the bit I laughed at most was when Arnie opens a car door…and pulls the whole door off in one. Visually Expendables 2 feels somewhat restricted by the blue and grey pallet that West and his cinematographer seem to have decided upon for the film, and some may miss the intensity that the first film had. Not all the acting comes off, and Van Damme appears to have some very excessive make-up. I’ll admit that, on a certain level, this picture is nonsense, but as probably an example of the main target audience, I also loved it. It finishes with comments about the stars belonging in a museum, which some may say is true, but I’d certainly like to see the exhibits come back to life again., with….Cage, Eastwood…the possibilities are endless. Hell yeah!