Friday 17 August 2012

Review: The Expendables 2

Year: 2012
Director: Simon West
Screenplay: Richard Wenk and Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Liam Hemsworth, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nan Yu

Synopsis is here

NOTE: I go into some spoiler territory here, but if you turn up to this for the plot, you surprise even me.

In a brave new post modern world; where action heroes are now more likely to be character actors (Bale, Damon, Downley Jr et all), The Expendables came across as a distressing plea for relevance at the hands of it's director and lead, Sylvester Stallone. Rambo himself may have jogged audience members memories to remember heap of near forgotten action stars. However, the misty eyed nostalgia of seeing these screen heroes was quickly obscured by the real reason for the films existence: ego fuel.

Sly's film was less about showing the young pretenders how it's done and more about exclaiming that he was till around. Drunk of the response of Rocky Balboa and Rambo, The Expendables' constant extreme close ups of an elderly Stallone mumbling naff gags was unfortunately more memorable than the hastily hacked action.

Empire writer Helen O'Hara rightfully lambasted the net nerds and lugheads on twitter by quoting the following:
"It's ironic, a movie that wears masculinity like a badge has fans who read 1 bad review & cry like little girls"
I couldn't agree more. The Expendables is less about delivering a decent action feature as opposed to stroking the egos of those who star in it. Stallone, Arnie and Willis have all make their mark in action films that were way more effective in story and set pieces. High pitched screeches of how "old school" it is, can ring from here to Albuquerque. The whining falls on deaf ears when the likes of films like The Raid are only a rental away. That film also has issues, but when it comes to action, the scenes put forth could be watched over and over.

That said, The Expendables 2 will probably quench the thirst of those who lust for the wrinkly muscle of it's meat headed cast. The film starts out with a set piece that could have easily been the climax of any other action movie. As oddly composited the sequence is (considering the film, and the money put in place, it doesn't look great) this sequel clearly wishes to expand on what came before. Bullets fire, bones crack and faceless soldiers of a far away country are set on fire. Director Simon West sorts out some of the geography of the on screen action although still it feels like characters drop in and out with no real sense of place or time.

It is good that a director like West has taken over directing duties from Stallone. The film is a little more assured of itself this time round. The film trundles along at a decent enough pace and hits it's action beats better than it's predecessor. Most of the dialogue and gags are still pretty awful, but Stallone and his band of writers at least feel a bit more accurate with the ironic aspect of the franchise. I've got to believe that the confusing and cliched monologue that Liam Hemsworth spouts is for the "lolz" because his character goes so far past tongue in cheek that it skips past sad and ends up right back where it came from. Honestly, the moment Hemsworth utters his first line of dialogue, his trajectory becomes more than a little predictable.

But then that's what films like this are about. Stating the obvious and things that go boom. Things don't have to make sense as long as a famous action start pops up from nowhere, makes a pop culture reference to themselves and shoots a gun. There is little to no reason for Chuck Norris within this movie, other than to mention a Chuck Norris joke from the internet and distract you from the fact that Jet Li was only in the first 10 mins of the the movie.

It's not completely tragic. I really enjoyed the casting of Jean Claude Van Damme, who milks his villainous character for as much as he can get, while there's no denying that there's a certain chemistry between Stallone and chums, although it still feels like him Bruce and Arnie didn't shoot their scenes together. The inclusion of Nan Yu as an intelligent (for this kind of movie) female character also means well. Unlike a Micheal Bay movie, Yu doesn't feel as sexualised as so many Hollywood startlets, and yet remains attractive in her own right.

For all it's obviousness, The Expendables 2 does at times strive for something earnest. One "dramatic" moment has Sly's Barney Ross lament at why some are chosen to die, while others do not. The scene is badly played out (almost laughable) and yet touches on something I wished both this and the original film leaned on more. However, it's not meant to be. The Expendabless 2 stayed in my memories longer than the first film, but still faded quicker than watery mist on a hot July day. That negative response may have more grown men weeping and raging, but at least they'll have the large arms of The Expendables to keep them safe.