Friday, February 1, 2013

The Expendables 2

I enjoyed The Expendables.  It was a movie where past-their-prime action stars punched the faces off of some bad guys.  Sure, it wasted almost a third of the movie with inept attempts at character development, but it was gloriously dumb fun.  The success of that film made a sequel inevitable, and the debut trailer made it look like they were going to pack in more stars, which virtually guaranteed less plot, less development, and more boomsplosions, which is what The Expendables 2 should be about.
Aside from the returning cast (everybody but Stone Cold Steve Austin and Mickey Rourke), we get Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and...Liam Hemsworth?  Not even the Hemsworth that was in Thor?  The one they choose for the biggest, dumbest action movie ever is the guy who doesn't do anything in The Hunger Games?!?  He's obviously the least famous actor billed in this movie, but that was still an odd casting choice.  It makes you wonder what other odd decisions went into The Expendables 2... a dance scene, perhaps?

Barney's (Sylvester Stallone) crew of good-guy mercenaries is back to work.  This time,they find themselves in a tight spot.  Instead of picking their own missions, as is the norm, they are forced into doing the dirty work for Mr. Church (Bruce Willis), or else risk being thrown into double-secret probation CIA jail for the rest of their natural lives.  That means trying to recover a mysterious something from a plane wreckage site in Albania.  Correction: scenic Albania.  The team (Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture and the new guy, Liam Hemsworth) accomplishes their mission, thanks to their chaperone, Maggie (Nan Yu), and is ready to extract, when they are ambushed by a bunch of villains.  The villains, led by the appropriately named Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), murder poor, innocent, three-days-away-from-retirement Liam Hemsworth, and get away with their "Get Out of Jail Free" card.  That shit's personal.  Enter extreme violence and minimal plot.
Look, it's the one expendable member of The Expendables!

The Expendables 2 was directed by Simon West, which should be an improvement over Sylvester Stallone's direction in the first Expendables film.  The key words there are "should be."  West isn't bad, exactly, but his work here is uninspired.  West is no stranger to dumb action movies, but he doesn't quite make a successful transition from dumb to enjoyably stupid action films with this entry.  What's the difference?  An enjoyably stupid action movie keeps up a rapid pace and varies up the gratuitous violence enough to keep the audience entertained.  The Expendables 2 has some solid action in it, but there is also a hefty amount of downtime, where we are forced to watch Stallone emote; at this point in his career, the only emotion Stallone's face can convincingly portray is "lumpy."
"L" is for "Lumpy"
Overall, though, West makes sure there is action, and he makes sure the biggest names in the cast receive a few moments in the spotlight (for better or worse); in other words, his direction is less than I had hoped, but certainly within expectations.

So, how's the acting?
"Heh-heh.  The blogger made a funny."
Honestly, that just depends on your standards.  I went in with pretty low expectations, acting-wise, but I was still a little underwhelmed.  Stallone does his best to add some depth to his character --- and I think he does a decent job --- but the attempt is misguided in this movie and this role.  If he was just a little more gleefully destructive instead of angsty, The Expendables 2 would have been a hell of a lot more fun.  Liam Hemsworth probably did the best job acting, although his role was clearly designed to justify the extreme violence in the rest of the movie.
...which is, admittedly, a tall order

It felt like Jason Statham had a lot less screen time in this sequel, but I guess his character just didn't have much to contribute; Statham is present in every major action scene, but I thought his role was far less important this time around.  As for his acting, he did a pretty good Jason Statham impression.  Jet Li was barely in the movie, so we didn't have to suffer through the unintelligible banter between him and Dolph Lundgren.  Lundgren was particularly mush-mouthed, and I found it hard to believe he was ever an action star.  But then I re-discovered this little gem on the interwebs and my faith in Dolph was restored:
As for the other Expendables, Randy Couture and Terry Crews weren't given a whole lot to do, which I think was a poor choice, since they both seem to have a decent sense of action movie humor.  I wouldn't mind seeing Crews in a buddy action movie in the near future.  The big news in The Expendables 2 was not the main cast, though --- it was the featured cameos.  Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Chuck Norris all had scenes focused exclusively on them.  Norris' scenes were the funniest, if only because they lived up to his internet reputation; he actually came across fairly awkward, like he didn't get why his part was supposed to be funny.
If they had CGI-ed a fist under his beard, I would have given it a pass
Bruce Willis was okay at first, but as soon as he stumbled into catchphrase territory, he was pretty damn hammy.  Arnold was the worst, though; he looked awful and made his Conan-era acting look like Daniel Day-Lewis by comparison.  Perhaps the biggest surprise in this film was how fun it was to watch Jean-Claude Van Damme as a villain.  Van Damme has never been a very good actor (understatement!), but his accent and lack of charm plays surprisingly well as a bad guy.  This is easily his best work since he lost his mullet.
Without having to smile and be likable, Van Damme actually looks cool here
His number two man, Scott Adkins, wasn't as entertaining, but his physical stunts helped make up for the fact that the rest of this cast is too old for stunts.  Nan Yu wasn't bad as the resident damsel in varying degrees of distress, but she wasn't terribly important and basically gave Stallone opportunities to brood.  Charisma Carpenter returned as Statham's girlfriend, but she didn't really do much except look age-appropriately attractive for a few minutes --- bonus points to the movie for giving Statham a love interest that is roughly his own age, a rarity in action movies.

Seriously, though, does anyone care about the acting in The Expendables 2?  Of course not.  This movie exists only for the action scenes, of which there are several. 
Not this one.  This is an exposition scene.
If you're fan of explosions and lots and lots of CGI blood, this is the movie for you.  Especially if you like the middle third of the film being filled with plot and poor attempts at drama.  That's really the problem I have with this movie --- it has action bookends, but the movie slows to a crawl when they try to make the audience actually care about the characters.  Of course, the attempt was hilariously inept, but the mere fact that it was attempted shows how misguided the filmmakers were.  There are eight action movie headliners in this movie, with a healthy supply of supporting action movie veterans, and yet the pace would have to speed up to earn being called "plodding."  There is no excuse for that.  Who the fuck wants a movie with all these action stars that spends any time whatsoever on Stallone's feelings?  Can I see a show of hands?

Here's the thing with The Expendables 2: it was meant to be a ridiculously stupid action movie, but the filmmakers misunderstood how to make that happen.  Instead of stuffing this movie with action heroes doing action stunts that couldn't be believed, like some sort of action movie turducken, they gave into Stallone's ego and let him try to emote.  And then they made the ill-advised decision to let Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Willis trade catch phrases, which made for possibly the most painful ten minutes I spent watching movies this year.  Even with those problems, it's still got enough action to satisfy most viewers.  Too bad it's kind of boring.


  1. Jesus fucking Christmas, I could not disagree more with your view on the two Expendables. I thought the first one fell way short and that this one was tits. Maybe this one just needs a Lefty Gold rating or something. The parts that were not action were just hilarious. They kept going to different places in different coutries (?) for reasons that were not exactly clear, but had me in tears. I remember there being more action (I saw it in the theater in a less than sober state, so I could be wrong), but was thoroughly entertained throughout. By the time the catchphrase-packed third act rolled around, I welcomed it with open arms, as it went from being just shy of a cartoon to full-on Looney Tunes. After the letdown that was the first Expendables, this one blew me away - the surprise of the year!

    Oh yeah, Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ, is that Dolph video amazing!

    1. I was just bored with most of this movie. It's not like I wasn't drinking during it, or watching it alone. I made a night of it with the Mrs., and both of us were bored stiff. In the first act, there was wisecracking and toasting. By the end, we both sullen and only I was drinking.

      The first one was far superior. Dolph blew the torso (!) off a guy, Mickey Rourke's ugly mug was the only attempt at depth, and everyone else shot bullets the size of beer bottles. That was gloriously dumb. This sequel failed to kick it up a notch, or even match the action in the first one.

      As for Dolph's talents, I'm glad I'm the one who introduced you to that clip. It is a unicorns-birthing-leprechauns type of magic.