Friday, 17 August 2012

Review: The Expendables 2

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

The Expendables 2 poster

The Expendables 2
103 mins / Dir. Simon West

You've got to feel a bit sorry for Stallone. Doing the press for the Expendables he said he hoped to re-invigorate the genre, seemingly not realising that the ideals he thinks encapsulate and elevate The Action Film™ are the very factors that pushed it towards straight-to-video sequels. Baffling, blinkered moralising, high-end pyrotechnics and poor acting leads you down a one-way street that's not easy to escape; hence the trapped passengers of that inexorable journey all being wheeled out to auto-pilot their way through 2010's ensemble-flick that took itself a little too seriously. So it'd be an appropriate technique to just do the same thing again two years later, yeah..?

The Good: I found it to be far more fun than the first Expendables movie. There's a real lightness of touch considering how many un-named characters get killed, and for the most part there's a great chemistry between the leads. There are no real surprises in there, although wasn't expecting The Character Death™ to happen at the point it did (that's not a spoiler, get off my case).
I found myself grinning on more than one occasion, if only due to the sheer scale of the effects on display. There are shoehorned-in scenes of exposition and the gang chilling in their downtime, but they do provide breathing points between the explosions. There's also a very clearly marked line between who is Good™ and who is Bad™, but in the context of this film it's entirely excusable; enough extras have been hired with the sole purpose of dying on-screen that they really need to justify that these people are just too naughty to live. And it's not strictly the USA vs The World either, as one scene points out when Ross (Stallone) introduces his team as "Americans", only to be corrected by them one by one. Sort of like a United Nations of Blowing Shit Up.
For better or worse, The Expendables 2 is a fairly easy-watch, which works in its favour given the brooding nature of its contemporaries, Bourne and Batman. There are brightly flagged jokes in there (some work, some don't), and the moral ambiguity of the agency Bruce Willis is working for is barely even addressed, but the sense of adventure is undeniable.
The Bad: As with the previous film, the problems creep in when the characters aren't shooting, stabbing, punching or kicking each other. Or blowing each other up. Anything that isn't driven by immediate, gleeful violence veers between charmingly silly and flat-out stupid. Now while you may think that's acceptable for a film of this type, you soon realise it's not while you're being subjected to it. I don't care how large Stallone's IQ is, he can't write, and he can't deliver dialogue. And if you're thinking of pulling out magical evidence that he can, then I'll use Expendables 2 as proof that he's chosen not to. Which is worse, if anything.
Can you imagine how dire the situation is when I tell you that all the charm in the movie comes from Jason Statham and Dolph Lundgren? No, seriously, they're both pretty great. Generally speaking, the whole cast is great. But Stallone keeps pulling the train to a crawl, and Schwarzenegger and Van Damme threaten to de-rail it completely.
But those are just acting quibbles. Elsewhere we have a massive shootout in a civilian airport where our heroes are firing every bit as indiscriminately as The Baddies™, and some batshit-crazy subplot about five tonnes of weapons-grade plutonium being handled and transported with no protective measures whatsoever. My point is, this didn't have to be a dumb movie... but they made it one, anyway.
The Ugly: You know that bit in the trailer where Arnie leans out of that car door, and with delivery and comic timing that can only be matched by his Quaid line, spurts out "...I'M BACK!"? You know how you thought, 'Oh. They've taken one of the most iconic verbal references of 1980's cinema, and rather than parodying it in a self-aware manner (which would still be clunky), they've bludgeoned it to death with the actor who can act less now than he could when he first delivered it'? I thought it, anyway*.
Well, there's a moment during the shootout in the airport that trumps that. This moment steamrollers in like a toddler with a claw-hammer, and manages to make that earlier reference look like Oscar Fucking Wilde by comparison. Schwarzenegger and Willis stumble over the dialogue, barely able to believe what they've been scripted to say, while the audience are barely able to believe that they agreed to it. At least Willis has the decency to deadpan his lines to try and mask his shame a little...
Worth leaving the house for? Despite the above, The Expendables 2 is a lot more of a fun, relaxed ride than the first installment. Embrace-the-stupid, you'll enjoy it immensely. A movie this big and unashamedly silly really holds more water when it's on a massive screen, so stroll down to your multiplex next Orange Wednesday.
Geek Point: On the plant-flight into Albania, Dolph Lundgren's Jensen is wearing a Star Wars t-shirt. This Star Wars t-shirt, to be precise. Fucking high-five, Dolph! Now, that's not the only reason I like him in this film, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't one of them. Vader represent.
*To be fair, some people might have thought 'Oh! It's funny because he said "I'll be back!" in a film about 30 years ago AND NOW HE IS SAYING HE IS BACK AND I HAVE MADE A CONNECTION WITH THE TWO THINGS AND I AM CLEVER!'. To be fair, these are the same people who found the Expendables 2 Orange Promo funny as well. Y'know, the people who check their e-mails during films at the cinema. Yes, those people.
Incidentally, I can't find the Orange promo anywhere online. It's that great that Lionsgate keep taking it down from YouTube.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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