The Expendables 2 Review By Adam
After all the hype had settled, many were disappointed with Sylvester Stallone’s 2010 film The Expendables, but not me. The minute Dolph Lungren shot-gunned a man in half, I was onboard. That film had a rough-and-tumble feel that had been missing from contemporary action films (at least since Stallone’s other bloodbath 2008’s Rambo). Few could argue that the first film was perfect, unabashed genre film or not. It had a plethora of clunky lines, a shit bad guy in Dexter star David Zayas (co-baddie Eric Roberts was the balls, though) and a half-baked romantic subplot that went nowhere. Now in 2012, the meanest crew of cinematic badasses is back, and this time they’ve brought reinforcements. Is The Expendables 2 perfect? Hell, no. But it does feature Jean-Claude Van Damme kicking a knife into someone’s chest, Arnold Schwarzenegger firing a big, fuck-off shotgun and Chuck Norris playing, well, Chuck Norris. With credentials like that, who needs perfection; it looks like Father’s Day came a month early this year.
The Expendables 2 starts mid-mission. The boys head to Nepal, kill half of its population, and rescue a hostage (a cameo too good to spoil). After their mission, Barney Ross (Stallone) and his motley crew are told by the perma-scowling Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) that they need to retrieve the contents of a downed plane. At the crash site, the boys are ambushed by the crazed international criminal Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Fucking Damme). After the encounter, Barney swears revenge and the team sets out to obliterate Vilain and his cronies.
The start of this film kicks an ungodly amount of arse. Director Simon West (Con Air) pulls out all the stops early: the first ten minutes of Ex 2 is better than the entirety of the first Expendables – no shit. West knows what his audience wants and he more than delivers: heads explode, bodies are perforated and bombs are detonated. The violence in this film is gleeful to the point of fascism, and so it should be. In an age of pussyfooted action filmmaking, it’s great to see a film that not only embraces its nature, but tries to invent new ways to dispatch people onscreen.
The script to this film could have been (and probably was) written on a napkin and it wouldn’t matter: films like Ex 2 are critic-proof. Resistance is utterly futile, and there is no middle ground: you are either onboard this testosterone-fuelled Titanic or you should give it a seriously wide berth. Any hoighty-toighty critic who calls this film out on its weaknesses (which, make no mistake, are plentiful) will be labelled a ‘faggot’ who ‘doesn’t get it’ by this film’s target demographic (primarily, my housemates). Thank God, then (at least for my self esteem), that I am a child of the 80s who used to bounce on a trampoline and imagine plotlines for films like this. I get it.
Speaking of my 10 year-old self, I’m sure I conjured up better ideas while hopped-up on a mixed bag of lollies than this subpar script. Except for some so-good-its-bad ribbing and macho declarations — including the pearler ‘We keep it light until it’s time to get dark, then we go pitch-black’ — this screenplay is completely unmemorable. One huge area where this sequel’s script does eclipse the first film is its inclusion of some (intended) humour. This is no more apparent than in the character of Gunner played by Dolph Lundgren. Gunner seems to have undergone some form of personality transplant in between the films and now he is just as likely to bust a joke as a cap in someone’s arse. I’m not complaining about the nonsensical change, because if you came to Ex 2 looking for character continuity, you are a fucking idiot.
This film is bookended by phenomenal action, but the middle passage sags like the world’s longest sausage dog: it is limp, boring and contains another useless romantic subplot. It’s a damn shame because it knocks this film off its ‘instant classic’ trajectory. All is forgiven, though, when Chuck Norris shows up and, I kid you not, tells a Chuck Norris joke. All of the new additions to this film are good, even Miley Cyrus’s squeeze Liam Hemsworth. I was worried this young sprog was going to act like a cinematic shot of oestrogen and ruin this film with his pretty boy looks, but he is pretty damn good in this. He has a few scenes against Stallone and he holds his own. Stallone is one of the most physical actors of all time so it is slightly useless talking about his performance; I’m better off talking about his looks. He looks healthier in this film as he has increased his body fat percentage from the 1% it was in the original and he has shaved off the bottom of his penciled-in goatee. He still looks like a drag queen, but his handlebar mo is pretty badass.
Except for The Stath and Lundgren, all of the original crew (Li, Couture, Crews) are regulated to bit parts. Stallone and West are far more interested in the big fish they have caught for this sequel. Bruce Willis and Arnie were regulated to a deadly average cameo in the original, but here they get in on the action. There are few things that are as deep and true as watching Schwarzenegger lower a country’s population, even better when he is cracking wise while doing it: here we get both. In 2012’s great act of cinematic convergence (sorry, The Avengers) we have Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Damme in a single goddamn scene (my inner ten-year old just fainted).
In the interest of honest journalism I must confess that I am obsessed with Jean-Claude Van Damme. If I could meet one celebrity (and do cocaine with them) it would be Van Damme. His exclusion from the first film was a heartbreaking travesty and now Stallone (or more likely Van Damme) has wised up and included ‘The Muscles from Brussels’ in proceedings; though, I must confess, his involvement here is a bit hit and miss. He has limited screen time (four scenes, max) and it’s a shame that he has to hide his cheeky charisma behind a villainous scowl. Physically, he is awesome. He looks in great shape and his battle with Stallone is a keeper (yes, he does two of those fucking cool helicopter kicks!). I would have loved for Van Damme to be a member of the team, alas, I’ll take what I’m given. Van Dammage is like pizza: it’s all good, baby.
Ex 2 is a far slicker looking film than the original and technical credits across the board are all sound. Despite the upped sense of carnage, West keeps things visually coherent. I wish he could maintain the frantic pace established at the start though – if he had, we would have one of the best action films of the decade on our hands. As it stands, this is dumb, violent action entertainment that has a closer shot at the Razzies than it does at the Oscars. But if seeing a man’s head explode like a watermelon is your thing, book a ticket, because The Expendables 2 frequently makes fruit salad.