– Summary –
Director : Simon West
Year Of Release : 2012
Principal Cast : Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Liam Hemsworth, Randy Couture, Chuck Norris, Terry Crews, Jean-Claude van Damme, Yu Nan.
Approx Running Time : 103 Minutes
Synopsis: Something about explosions, a few more explosions, some bodies being shot to hell, and a bunch of big-ass dudes manning it up all night long, brother.
What we think : Second verse, same as the first. Expendables 2 does exactly what it says on the box – no more, no less – and you’d be a fool to head into this thing thinking you’ll discover the meaning of life, or even a decent character to empathize with. Expendables 2 supplants emotion and gravitas with explosions and bullets, and just when you think things are starting to get emotional with gravitas, they simply throw in more explosions and bullets. Some terrific cameos, some wry one-liners from screen duo Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and some gargantuan set-pieces which outdo the original for sheer spectacle, make Expendables 2 a dizzying, testosterone-laden cinematic trip into killsville. It’s hardly subtle, it’s never nuanced, but it is a hell of a lot of fun. Big, stupid fun, but fun nonetheless.
“What’s the plan?”
“Track ’em. Find ’em. Kill ’em.”
If you enjoyed 2010’s blockbuster brainless action-fest, The Expendables, then it’s highly likely that you’ll find plenty to enjoy about its sequel, the superbly named Expendables 2. If you despised everything Stallone managed to achieve with his bloody throwback to 80’s action cinema, then there’s every chance Expendables 2 will find its way right past your playlist and into the “never want to see” pile. Filled with explosions, muscular hardbodies doing what they do – and always did – best, guns and random one-liners with as much wit as a bucket of pig-slop, Expendables 2 is the inane, insane follow-up to what can only be described as a teenage boy’s ultimate action hero fantasy. While Stallone stepped away from the directing chair for this one – replaced by equally talented action maestro Simon West, who helmed flicks such as Con Air, The General’s Daughter, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and more recently Jason Statham’s version of The Mechanic – the film’s primary ethos for existing, to blow up as much shit as possible, once more took center stage. While the original Expendables had that wry wink to the audience that it was never to be taken seriously (dear Lord, do you remember that cannon-for-a-shotgun Terry Crews carried throughout that last act?), Expendables 2 had more to live up to as an inevitable sequel. The explosions had to be bigger, the set-pieces more extravagant, and the stunt-casting even more good-ol’-boy than ever. So is Expendables 2 a worthy addition to the franchise? Or is it – like most sequels to trashy exploitation films – simply a quick grab-for-cash on the names in the cast and hardly worth your time?
The plot to Expendables 2 is nearly inconsequential to the events that transpire within this movie. The movie, from the cast to the story, exist purely to provoke action and explosions, death and carnage writ large by a variety of large scale weaponry and hand-to-hand combat, the likes of which makes The Avengers look like a class at Sissy School. The cast from the first film return, with Stallone once more leading his own wolfpack into combat against Jean-Claude van Damme’s central villain, appropriately named Vilain. Vilain is hunting buried weapons grade plutonium from deep within a lost mine, and is using local Albanian villagers as slaves to extract it. When the Expendables are sent in to retrieve a package at the behest of Bruce Willis’ conniving Mr Church, things go sour for the team, and one of them is killed. Seeking vengeance, the crew track Vilain and his cronies down and begin to extract the maximum carnage possible by simply killing every single bad guy in sight. That’s about as much as you need to know for the plot, really, because beyond that you’re gonna find things a little thin in terms of cinematic constants such as “character development” and “emotion” – there simply isn’t any.
If you’ve managed to get to this part of the review without thinking “hell, this sounds like a stupid film” then this is a film you’ll watch with exquisite joy. Where the original Expendables was a bolt of lightning on a clear blue day, the second edition manages to not only up the ante in terms of destructive scale, but throws in larger roles for previously cameo-supporting cast, such as Arnie and Willis, as well as bringing on board some new Action Movie Hero Legends such as Chuck Norris and the Muscles From Brussels himself, Jean-Claude van Damme. The addition of Liam Hemsworth to Stallone’s gang of killers brings in the youth vote, but it’s for naught once the onslaught of aging action stars kicks into high gear – and it does kick in – late in the piece. Expendables 2 delivers the kind of kinetic, large scale action we’ve seen in years since Stallone and Co strode across the cinema landscape of the 880’s and 90’s, although unlike the “serious” action directors like Michael Bay (and lately, Richard Donner), Simon West manages to tap into that wink-wink vibe Expendables 1 touched on. It’s enough to keep what little plot there is, and what little character development there is, from sinking under the weight of all the bullets and explosions. And man, are there a lot of those.
It’s easy for me to sit here and say I loved watching this film, because I did, and I wouldn’t be lying. The guys in this film owned my childhood with their blockbusting exploits on-screen, and seeing them doing their bit once more still gives me the cold shivers of joy. This isn’t to say there’s not some gaping problems with the film, because there are many so large you could drive a truck through and not even scratch the sides. Whether you’re prepared to sit back and watch these guys just do the shit they do best with a cheese-eating grin on your face, or whether you’re one of those folks who carp on about how inane it all is (and it is, really) because there’s no sense to what’s happening being even remotely plausible, depends greatly on your acceptance of Stallone as a mercenary commander leading a bunch of men with more testosterone than a squadron of Top Gun pilots. If you can accept the nonsensical story hook for what it is, then you’ll do okay, otherwise you’re in for an hour and a half of tedious, carnage-riddled mayhem the likes of which you’re gonna weep about into your pillow late at night. It doesn’t have to make sense to be good – Terrence Malick taught me that. At least Simon West doesn’t spend half the film shooting the sky. Or feet.
Expendables 2 features yet another mumbling leading role from the inexplicably incoherent Sly Stallone, who looks like a human truck rumbling through this movie. He’s backed up once more by Jason Statham, as the excruciatingly named Lee Christmas, while previous Expendables Terry Crews, Randy Couture and Dolph Lundgren all back them up with typically wooden style. These guys have very little to do in the film except look cool while shooting weapons, spouting off one-liners and faux-comedy (and I use the term “comedy” lightly), although they do both with extreme prejudice, it must be said. Van Damme hams it up wonderfully as the incredibly arch villain, going mano-a-mano with Stallone in the final showdown that had me gagging at its exceptionally thrifty counter-punch to all that preceded it. Jet Li makes an extended cameo, being written out of the film about fifteen minutes in, while Chuck Norris also pops in for a look with his own stylish method acting. To say he’s welcome in this franchise is an understatement, although I’d love to have seen him in a larger role than the “Lone Wolf” one given to him. His arrival is met with a weird throwback to Clint Eastwood, a factor which felt a little left-of-field to me, but hey, I still found his cameo to be a real treat. Yu Nan, cast as female lead Maggie, is solid enough although it’s fair to say the female parts in these films are typically flimsy and barely worth delving into. While there’s some focus on a potential relationship with Stallone’s character, you get the sense that Maggie was pushed out of the limelight a little in favor of the Big Boys and their toys.
And boy howdy, there’s some toys in this puppy. The cannon-as-a-shotgun returns, although the mantle of carrying it now falls to Arnie, who wields the thing like it’s part of his DNA (probably is, right?), while automatic weaponry is the choice of Expendable Madness when the shit goes down. Initial reports had this film being made as a PG-13 whitewash to appease the censors and drag the teenage boy market into the cinema; I’m glad to say those reports, which were condemned widely by all and sundry and forced the studio to go back and carnage this thing up, are false. Expendables 2 has plenty of gore and bloody viscera, as heads, arms and legs are blown off by high caliber weaponry shot from great distance, while explosions and knives are used to obliterate life in a seemingly endless stream of violence. While I’d be hard pressed to say Expendables 2 is in the same league as Stallone’s recent Rambo, or even The Raid: Redemption, it’s plenty violent and bloody enough for this viewer. The action is shot without extravagance – stuff blows up, people die in a maelstrom of bullets and roundhouse kicks, all without the ubiquitous shaky-cam and rapid-shutter style which has become de rigueur for action cinema of late. West keeps the camera moving, certainly, and ensures we see every bullet and body shot strike, but it’s never lingering or pornographic. As soon as we get one money-shot, we’re on to the next without pause. Breathtakingly simple, guys.
Look, you’re either gonna watch this or you’re not; the only question to those who do watch is whether it’s as good as, or better than, the original. While I’m hard pressed to give a film where Arnie once more utters his immortal classic (and spends some time wringing comedy out of everyone’s catchphrases) a better score than the impressively insane original, I’m going to have to admit that I think it’s on par with the predecessor. It’s lighter on “stop for a minute” moments than the first film, it’s harder on the body-count (by a vast margin, it must be said) and I think pound-for-pound has the best cast of any action movie, period; so take that as you like folks. Expendables 2 explodes with rampant machismo and stupid, inane thrills, set to a pulsing soundtrack and gung-ho acting from all the screen legends involved. It’s not subtle, it’s not serious, and it’s not bad.