Saturday, August 18, 2012

Movie Review: “The Expendables 2” by Nathan Hinds

Release: 2012
Director: Simon West
Written By: Sylvester Stallone
Actors: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Nan Yu, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth, and Chuck Norris
Rated: R
Run Time: 113 min

Let’s just sum up “The Expendables 2” really quick here. Its action is big, it’s loud, unrealistic, and it’s probably got the highest body count of any movie I’ve ever seen. The stars of the film are big, loud, cheesy, and past their prime. The script is filled with a constant barrage of one-liners and jokes poking fun at each of the stars previous films and the fact that they should be too old to be doing what they’re trying to do. The plot is something we’ve seen over-and-over again, and has several holes. Basically what I’m getting at here is….the film is great!

“The Expendables 2” is a glorious return to a time when action films relied on the actors in front of the camera, rather than the special effects people behind the camera, like so many of today’s action films. The film delivers on all the false promises of the first film, and improves on everyone of it’s flaws (at least the ones we cared about it improving on). “The Expendables 2” gives its audience exactly what they expected, nothing more, nothing less. It’s in your face action, aging icons, cheesy one-liners, all stirred up together, and man does it taste good.

I went into this film not having the same high expectations I had for “The Expendables”. The first film was built on the foundation that it brought together all of these action stars from the 80’s. Other than Stallone, all the other guys were just cameos. To put it bluntly, the first film was a giant case of false advertisement. So sitting down in the theater to check out “The Expendables 2”, I was worried that we would get more of the same here.

I don’t think anyone was worried that the action would be lacking in this film, but just in case there were, the filmmakers decided to crush any doubt about that aspect of the film in the first ten minutes of the movie. The film opens up with Barney Ross (Stallone) and his gang of "expendables" charging into Nepal to rescue a Chinese businessman and engage in a fire fight that I’m fairly certain sees more men killed than all of the first movie. They also find Ross’ rival, Trench (Schwarzenegger), here as well.

After they return from their mission in Nepal, Ross takes a job from Church (Willis) that is supposed to be a simple mission to retrieve a secret item from a crashed CIA plane. So, like any movie where the hero takes a simple mission, naturally, all hell breaks loose. The team is joined by Maggie (Nan) a tech specialist who is brought in to get the item out of a safe on the plane. After retrieving the item, they encounter the terrorist group known as the Sangs, lead by Jean Vilain (Van Damme). Vilain kills one of the members of Ross’ team and takes the device. With that, boom, it turns into everyone’s favorite type of 80’s action style film: revenge film.

We find out that the item that was stolen contained the location to a mine that was used to store Plutonium during the Cold War, and Vilain plans to sell the Plutonium to the highest bidder. On the way to the mines the team stops in an abandoned makeshift city that was made to look like a U.S. city for Russians to practice invasions of the United States. Here the team encounters a large number of the Sang army and engage in another massive fire fight. This is also where Booker (Norris) makes his grand entrance. He’s there long enough to tell a Chuck Norris joke and then is pretty much gone again. The team then travels to the mine but arrive just after Vilain has cleared all the Plutonium from the mine.

The team follows Vilain to an airport as he tries to make his escape with the explosives. They are then joined by Trench, Church, and Booker and they engage in one of the best shootouts I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if anyone else got this feeling while they were watching this scene, but it was really reminiscent of “The Avengers” final fight scene.

Let’s start breaking down the film with that last scene. The payoff I got from that scene was what I expected to get from the first film. Any shortcomings in the film, which I wasn’t too concerned about in the first place, were easily made up for when you finally see all these guys side by side, mowing down hundreds of bad guys. That’s all I ever wanted from this film in the first place. I just wanted to see all of my childhood heroes together in all of their over the top glory. And the film delivered. Look, it doesn’t take an expert to see that this movie isn’t good when judged from a technical standpoint. Then again, it shouldn’t take an expert to see that was not what these guys were going for here. For me to sit here and break down the shortcomings in the plot, and the cheesiness in the script would be as redundant as saying a blind person didn’t enjoy the meteor shower that happened a couple of days ago.

Now, even though I didn’t care about the technical aspects of the film, there was one thing I had a gripe with, the lack of swearing. A lot of times, swearing isn’t necessary to the script, but knowing how characters like these would talk in these types of movies, seeing them tell the type of jokes they were trying to tell without swearing just came across as sounding forced and juvenile. One actor in particular was Terry Crews' character; every joke he told sounded like it belonged in a family action comedy. Take out the parts were he’s blowing people apart with the rest of the crew, and he just sounded like his entire script was aimed at being kid friendly. Crews was one of the highlights for me in the first film, when they weren’t worried about the swearing, but that restriction really made his character come across as fake, because he was still trying to tell the same dirty jokes. One guy who was used a lot better in this film than the first was Dolph Lundgren. He was one of my favorite characters in this film after being virtually an afterthought the first time around. While he wasn’t really highlighted in the action scenes, he provided the most natural sounding comedic relief of anyone in the film.



Now I have to talk about the big three of the film: Stallone, Willis, and the return of Schwarzenegger. First, it’s great to see Arnold back where he belongs. His part of the script was nothing but one-liners, some of them funny, some of them missed, but just seeing him with a huge rifle in his hands tearing shit up was all I needed for this film anyway. I realize it’ll take him awhile to get back into the swing of things, but this was a great start. Willis was sort of a tale of two characters. The first scene you see him in, he’s trying to be the mysterious, evil CIA agent which I didn’t really care for. Once he shows up to for the final fight scene, he all the sudden is back to the fun, smart-assed Bruce Willis we love so much. Stallone is looking as physically fit as ever, and was great in all of his fight scenes. He is clearly aging the best out of any of these guys which is crazy because he is the oldest, yet looks just as agile as the 30 and 40-year-olds in the film.

For me, the best acting performance in the film goes to Jean-Claude Van Damme. While most of the other guys were just there for the action and comedy, Van Damme gives a legitimate, and serious performance as the villain. There isn’t anything deep to his character, he’s just trying to sell some weapons to make money, but he’s intimidating and evens out the silliness of all the good guys.

Look, I’m not trying to make a case for people to go see this movie. It doesn’t need any arguments to be made for it, because it does exactly what it sets out to do, and it’s blatantly obvious about what that is. If you like these types of movies, and are fans of the people involved, you’re going to like it. If you don’t like these types of movies, don’t go see it, but don’t get mad at the film for not being an artsy independent-style film if you do go see it. This film is a novelty piece, plain and simple. It’s here to give people a few more chances to enjoy an endangered style of film that people enjoyed so much 20-30 years ago, while these guys are still physically fit enough to do it. I feel like we say this all the time at this site, but films don’t always have to be “technically sound” to be "good". Sometimes you just have to take them for what they are, and enjoy the ride. If nothing else, just be impressed that these guys can still do a film like this at their age, and look as physically imposing as someone 30-40 years younger than them.