The Expendables 2 Review
Action fans have certainly been treated to a better than normal year at the flicks. We’ve had The Avengers, The Raid, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Dark Knight Rises, The Bourne Legacy, the instant cult-classic of Dredd … and, of course, Skyfall. We won’t talk about the lame remake of Total Recall though, eh? But just look at this – sandwiched right in the middle of all that mayhem, we have the ultimate ode to the Alpha Male in the irresistibly explosive follow-up to Sylvester Stallone’s 2010 experimental homage to 80’s action cinema … with The Expendables 2.
This is an expanded version of my cinema review, which now features a few more observation than I first aired, and a somewhat more sobering verdict.
Let’s go to War!
Sporting Chuck Norris’ beard and mid-80’s mullet and wearing his dangerously expressionless mug proudly on my muscle-strained t-shirt, I marched into Liverpool One’s Vue Cinema to watch the Ginger War God join the ranks of Sly’s merry band of titanic “twirlies” in this long-awaited sequel. Bigger. Bolder. Badder-asser! Those were the claims. But was it any better?
“What’s the plan?”
“Track ‘em. Find ‘em. Kill ‘em.”
The gene-pool for Stallone’s smorgasbord of ensemble machismo was stamped firmly across the first entry’s men-on-a-mission ethos. The template is The Wild Bunch cross-pollinated with The Dirty Dozen, but sieved through the bullet holes left by The Wild Geese and The Magnificent Seven. That it is entirely Stallone’s baby is not up for question. Con-Air’s Simon West may have the directorial credit for the second film in what is now a very bankable franchise with its own unique brand name (ready-made tattoo emblem, custom combat clobber, stylistic macho vernacular and mega potential for bling merchandise – who doesn’t want a “lucky ring” that could eclipse the sun?), but I have my doubts about just how much control he had over this bludgeoning project. Con-Air, though very popular, was a lousy action movie in my opinion. A massive wimp-out that threatened to unleash so much whupp-ass yet played everything so damn safe. It was, to be honest, a better big screen depiction of The A-Team’s showy-but-harmless visual style than the TV show’s own big screen depiction. After that, he hardly set the world alight with Lara Croft: Tomb Raider or the potboiling Jason Statham remake of The Mechanic. Getting behind the wheel for The Expendables 2 would, I reckon, have been a pretty safe gig for him though … since Sly had everything already worked out and was continually on-hand to give “advice” not only to West but to the entire cast which, this time around, had some relative newcomers to big blockbuster action as well as some who might just have forgotten what it feels like to be spraying bullets at numerous extras and recoiling from incessant fireballs.
With Van Damme’s Eastern European scumbag Jean Vilain (yep, Jean Villain, or John the BAD GUY) digging deep into an old Soviet mine in the Balkans to excavate the plutonium that was hidden down there during the Cold War, Bruce Willis’ shady covert-ops contractor Mr. Church enlists Barney and his buddies, who he insists still owe him big time, to locate and retrieve a special device from a safe that went down with the spy-plane that Vilain shot out of the sky. Accompanying them on this relatively easy (ha, like that’s gonna be the case!) mission is a woman whose specialities lie in surveillance equipment, riding motorbikes and seat-of-your-pants timing, and a young sniper who is, typically, going out “one last time” before doing the right thing and then settling down with his Parisian girlfriend. Ahhh, bless.
It should be a walk in the park for these guys. But Fate, as always, sticks his big bloody scythe in, and things go wrong with one of the team getting executed and that “special device” they were going after ending up in Vilain’s hands. D’oh!
But Barney isn’t the type of dude to back down from a fight, especially when it has been personal. Enraged at their own loss, he and the Expendables task themselves with chasing this crackpot across the bleak countryside, tearing down his evil empire and getting bloodily even. This time around, however, even these indomitable guys are going to need some backup, despite having already proved themselves ready, willing and very able to take apart an entire army in the last one. Thus, wielding some immense hardware and carpet-bombing the screen with corny one-liners, we see the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis getting in on the action, as well as the resurrection of Chuck Norris, the man who allegedly once held the film to ransom over its excessive violence and naughty language.
The opening fifteen minutes or so has some of the greatest action that this franchise has spawned so far. Storming a Nepalese warlord’s stronghold in a variety of customised death-dealing jalopies, buggies and tanks (all of which are modified SAS land rovers), Barney Ross and his team bring on the chaos and immediately dispel any fears of this being a watered-down, family-friendly incarnation of the stuff we love. Even if the potty-mouths are held in check this time out, plentiful heads are removed amid astonishing welters of CG gore, bodies are crushed and vaporised. The death-toll is already colossal by the time they have reached their objective, and come across a captive that they didn’t expect to find – Arnie’s rival mercenary, Trench, in a crowd-pleasing reveal (“I need a weapon … a big one!”) – but then they have to make their escape. Running the gauntlet of relentless enemy fire via speeding zip-wire, jungle target-practice with a well-aimed finger (you know the bit I mean), and then helter-skelter speedboat mayhem, this becomes the best Bond pre-title sequence we’ve never actually had. With fresh meat Liam Hemsworth’s super-sniper, Bill the Kid, removing noggins in much the same splattery manner as Matthew Marsden did in Rambo, and the incredible desire to blow more things up than Michael Bay could even dream of, this is precisely the sort of thing that you paid your hard-earned to sit and savour. I doubt that there has ever been a bigger, ballsier or riotously dafter opening than this.
Coming on like a convoy of Mad Maxers – check out Gunnar Jensen’s (Dolph Lundgren) rig with its drop-down battering ram of a purloined steel girder, and a goggle-wearing Statham laying down a Black Hawk Down-style stream of fire from a swivel-mounted .50-calibre machinegun – this is as bold a statement of malicious intent as you could ever wish to make. The movie literally hurls everything it’s got at the screen, blowing the scale and the budget of the first film clean out of the water with a nonstop barrage of staggering mayhem on land, on water and in the air.
Jet Li gets to work in the kitchen with the pots and pans – well, you can’t make an omelette with breaking a few heads – and provides what must be his standout moment thus far.
Although in the frantic rush to get as many new faces in as the frame will allow, he then falls victim to narrative collateral damage, and bugs out very early. But, in truth, he is not missed. As sensational as he is, he doesn’t really fit the profile and sticks out like a sore thumb. Sly obviously realised this in the first film with that clumsy struggle to provide him with a sort of back-story of a needy family. “What family???” Ross was determined to find out in a rather inept running gag that just finally petered-out altogether. But the fact that he is effectively replaced by Nan Yu, as ace hi-tech spy and assassin Maggie, only seems to show that if he can’t get Jackie Chan to come to the party then Sly just has to have somebody Asian in the mix to add that all-important demographically exotic flavour.
Another loss to the team-up that, crucially, isn’t felt either, is Mickey Rourke’s Cool Tool. After initially being intended as something of a plot lynchpin to fuelling the story-fire for the sequel, Rourke’s character is just plain gone. But, to be fair, it’s no great loss.
There are way more than enough stars to decimate, blast, bludgeon and quip their way through this entry with all the style of a wrecking-ball with a big smiley face painted on it to notice these omissions. I mean the film now feels like a Christmas Special, the amount of guest stars appearing in it. You half expect to hear a studio audience laughing and cheering as each celebrity is wheeled on.
Sly, at sixty-six, is as mean and fast and rugged as he has ever been. With something that threatens to resemble a Fu Manchu ‘tache and a voice that sounds like the Earth is clearing its throat, his Barney Ross (he should be called Barney Rubble, as that’s all he leaves behind him!) has become the poster-boy for Cod Liver Oil. He totally dominates the film, as you would expect. But he does so in such a smooth, laconic and gruffly affable manner that you don’t mind a bit. Even the hint of romance that his character receives doesn’t seem so ill-fitting or as unlikely as it did previously with the lusciously dusky Sandra, played by Giselle Itie. However, to hear him grumble about how he won’t allow anyone to get too close to him because something bad always happens to them is pretty grating. I mean Statham’s ex-SAS knife-man, Lee Christmas, doesn’t have such a problem with the eye-poppingly sexy Charisma Carpenter’s Lacy. Mind you, ever the judge of character, Barney’s got her card well and truly marked as being “untrustworthy.” Not that Statham’s ever going to mind coming back from a mission to find something as tasty as that waiting for him! Carpenter isn’t called upon to do anything other than jiggle and bounce for the delectation of the patrons of a groovy New Orleans biker-bar in which our boys like to congregate when they aren’t levelling small nations. And it’s not too bad for our delectation, either.
Dress to distress!
It is always cool to see these guys donning the chic black combat-gear, even if neither Sly nor Statham have properly figured-out how to wear a beret yet. But it is also cool to see them adopt a more native look as they penetrate deeper into the bleak hostile territory that Vilain stakes a claim to. Stumbling across bizarre Americanised ghost-towns that the Russians built in order to train their troops in a simulation of Stateside invasion, and haunted hamlets from which the men-folk have all been forcibly abducted to work in Vilain’s mine and the women now defend with rusty, vintage weaponry, the Expendables come to resemble Second World War partisans – flat-caps, donkey-jackets and shabby hand-me-down sweaters, grey and rustic colours blending into the throwback territory of yesteryear. And this also helps to lend the movie a quirky out-of-time feel that fits the retro-vibe that The Expendables is all about like a studded-glove.
If you want technology, then head off in the direction of the IMF or Stark Industries, because these guys are decidedly low-tech in their approach to life, love and blowing things away. And this is something that really appeals and seems inordinately fresh in an era stuffed to the gills with super-powers, Bat-gadgets and rogue CIA agents with analytical brains that can outwit government think-tanks and global intell whilst riding motorbikes across the roofs of a foreign city and cleansing bullet-wounds with vodka. The Expendables is blissfully primitive in this regard, and revels in the macho cave-man mentality of its iron-hefting heroes. This is utterly exemplified by Gunnar’s boasting of his own scientific background as a chemical engineer – a nod, of course, to Lundgren’s own genuine academic prowess – and its almost complete uselessness to the team’s predicament almost every time he brings it to bear. Quite an intimidating loon-cake before, Lundgren’s loose-canon is used for comedy value this time, a move that works surprisingly well. He is an idiot-savant, a Cro-Magnon Einstein. A boffin with bazookas for arms and all the mathematical equations in his rock-thick skull that you would need to implode the planet.
“I now pronounce you man … and knife!”
Without any extant intelligence of his own to call forth, Statham is given a couple of fabulous skirmishes in which to produce his own particular flair. His taciturn Christmas goes blade-mental in a genuine rural church, delivering a benediction of cold steel from a pugilistic pulpit in a delicious display of evangelical athleticism. Naturally he gets his own evil adversary in Vilain’s right-hand destroyer, Hector, played with a nasty sneer by Scott Adkins, whom he can go up against in the breakneck, everyone’s invited finale, and this is just as wild, as punishing and as primally cathartic as any battle that Statham has previously ever indulged in. Adkins has worked with Van Damme before in the likes of Assassination Games and The Shepherd, and he delivers a perfectly horrible piece of henchman-work here. Wasting innocents without blinking an eye, he seems to be even more committed to doing wrong than his boss who does, admittedly, have far more grandiose plans for destruction than merely shooting people in the head. After a tense introductory scene when the Stath is “rude” to Hector, you can really taste the animosity between the two and you positively itch to see them go toe-to-toe. When the inevitable face-off (and I chose those words carefully) eventually comes, it does not disappoint.
And with regards to old-fashioned thuggery, you have to get a kick out of the scene when both he and Sly take the “classic” approach to going quietly behind enemy lines and equip themselves with knuckle-dusters to take out one absolutely enormous adversary in a very unwelcome bar. Extremely unpleasant weapons they may be, but when you see these guys fitting them to their already sizeable fists you actually feel bizarrely reassured! And, if you really want to see some of that traditional old school uber-violence, just check out the Verhoeven-esque moment when one poor sod gets the brunt of a full clip from the entire Expendables team all at once!
“Rest in pieces!” says Sly of the aftermath. Quite.
Liam Hemsworth was originally supposed to appear in the first film until his haunted ex-Marine character got written out in one of the last twenty or so drafts that Sly struggled over. Finally in the mix, and providing some teen-appeal after his turn in The Hunger Games, he offers good value as the enthusiastic young warrior who has found solace in the excitement and money that being part of Barney’s gang brings. Eagerly taking point in the badlands and sprinting uphill with an exuberance that both Sly and Statham look upon with envious, wistful eyes, he only comes adrift when delivering the wincingly naff backstory that led to his character leaving the Forces due to, um, creative differences. Now, you have to remember just who is listening to this tale of woe. As he recounts the grim saga of his squad getting pinned-down in Afghanistan and virtually wiped-out, you see Randy Couture’s Toll Road, Terry Crews’ Hail Caesar and Lundgren’s imbalanced, steroidal genius (who has just made a fool of himself by trying to chat-up Maggie) all pondering this distressing situation with grave, concerned faces … and yet they must all be thinking “WTF, man! We can get out of sh*t like that with our hands tied behind our backs and wearing blindfolds! How come a pussy like you got into our team anyway???? Pinned-down by a dozen Taliban snipers, my ass! Ain’t you seen what we did in the last film?”
And just when you think that the tragedy can’t get any more pathetically generic, Hemsworth’s Kid then caps it off by stating that the camp commander even shot the stray dog he’d adopted! Oh, sweet Jesus … man up! You’re in the Expendables now, hotshot! Of course, playing Devil’s Advocate, we can charitably assume that this cliché-hauled diatribe is actually just part of the jokey homage to a genre hardly known for its subtlety or originality … but, even so, it’s remarkably poor writing made all the more difficult to swallow by the fact that Hemsworth is actually trying really hard to make it poignant.
Sadly, the idiocy and scripting ineptitude doesn’t stop there. Not only are the mightily beefed Crews and Couture sidelined for far too much of the running time, but when they are allowed to get a word in edgeways they are handed some absolutely wretched exchanges. Besides a lame interlude revolving around cookery, just listen out for the utterly bewildering moment when Toll Road enquires whether or not Caesar can get a second cup out of his combat teas-maid, a choice nugget of dialogue that was clearly set up as some kind of gag, yet goes absolutely nowhere. I mean … somebody wrote this … and both Sly and West allowed it to stay in the movie. If this is the best that you can give to two of the strongest people on the planet, you better not mess up when it comes to my old mate, Chucky Mumbles!
Ahhh, yes. Chuck Norris. Mark my words - He not expendable.
Referencing both his character of John T. Booker in his first American starring role, The Good Guys Wear Black, and the iconic “Lone Wolf” mentality of his awesome Texas Ranger in Lone Wolf McQuade, Chuck Norris plays rival merc, Booker, in a couple of standout cameo moments that see the onyx-eyed seventy-two year old (yep, that’s seventy-two years old!) arrive in the nick-of-time to save some Expendable bacon. With his softly spoken delivery he actually stands right out from everybody else and becomes a properly refreshing addition to the pot. Whereas the rest of the cast, every single one of them, spout cheesy one-liners and strut about with an obvious and self-conscious verbal swagger, the Chuckster, as per usual, downplays the bravado and, as a result, comes over as being so much harder than all those around him. Sly and writer Richard Wenk (who had tweaked The Mechanic for West and written 16 Blocks for Bruce Willis) obviously know this reputation and respect it. They don’t give him much to say or do which is a pity … but what he gets is pure gold that plays up to this trendsetting persona. I mean he even finds time to quote one of those awesome Chuck Norris gags - the one about being bitten by a King Cobra, no less! Clearly, Stallone acknowledges that without the American one-man-army that Chuck created in the seventies (the decade, not his seventies), his own career, as well as that of Arnie and Bruce and practically every other action superstar, would not have taken off in quite the same way. To say that I was over-the-moon when he finally appeared on the screen, strolling through the smoke of the mass destruction he has just caused is an understatement … but what I was most amazed and ecstatic about was the recognition and appreciation that he received from the rest of the audience that I saw the film with at the flicks for the first time. Now, I’d had a gander at the people in the theatre before the lights went down – after the incident in Denver with The Dark Knight Rises, you really can’t be too careful - and most of them seemed quite young, so to hear them responding so well to this still-spritely septuagenarian was quite something. I, myself, let out a delirious whoop the second time he appeared.
I would have loved to have heard a little reference to Alan Silvestri’s addictive, cult-beloved Delta Force theme accompanying Chuck’s first arrival … but you can’t have everything. Quite nicely, we get a riff on Morricone’s score for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
And, speaking of themes, it is pertinent to say that returning composer Brian Tyler has pretty much shovelled-in the assertive, lock ‘n’ load thunder of his score for first Expendables largely en masse into this one. I didn’t really notice too much in the way of substantial new material, although the Balkan ambience of lawlessness and the dastardliness of Vilain do provide some disquieting motifs that are fresh, and there is a fantastic slow cue for military downtime and respect for the fallen. But the pounding, high-calibre, heavy artillery approach that served the first film so well is extremely welcome here, too. The team do have one helluva main anthem.
“I need a weapon. A big one. Yours.”
“My big weapon is hangin’ right where it is!”
Sly certainly has it in for third world aggressors. Which I think is only right, of course. He may have taken on the might of Russia in the 80’s – and seemingly defeated it with a combination of boxing gloves (Rocky IV), a big knife and a bottle of Newcastle Brown (Rambo III, folks) – but now he repeatedly turns his attention to those who would subjugate and oppress the impoverished masses of known trouble spots. Both Rambo and the first Expendables sought to expose the viciousness of tin-pot dictatorships and their vicious crackdowns. Rambo, of course, depicted a true-life struggle against tyranny in hard-line Burma. Expendables 1, by contrast, created a fictitious enclave, but the metaphorical South American island of Mileva was a stand-in for many blighted provinces from East Timor to war-torn Mogadishu – with Somalian pirates even making an early, blood-drenched appearance. Here, Stallone is dabbling in a neck of the woods that we know altogether too much about – the Eastern European states so devastatingly wrenched-apart by warlords, crime-syndicates, civil war atrocities and genocide – and this brings the action a little closer to home, no matter how glaringly comic-book it all is. The vision of a shanty town defended by unskilled and terrified women, who are just trying to protect their children from the clutching evil hands of Vilain and his troops is acute, and there is at least a token gesture made to redress the balance in typically gung-ho American style when the team try to persuade Barney that they should do something about it. What I think is slightly clever about this ode to foreign policy is that Barney, whilst clearly moved by the villagers’ dire predicament, is really only prepared to go Magnificent Seven all of a sudden because he sees it as an opportunity to hit back at Vilain. It’s strategy, that’s all.
In a cruel irony, one of the things that make this film so special, is also one of the thorns in its side.
Where the first yarn built up its final assault from one set-piece to another, gathering steam and momentum with almost every frame that bruised its way past our cordite singed retinas, until the explosions got so big and the bodycount so high that the adrenaline level was like a volcanic eruption, this one suffers due to the lighter-hearted nature of the Boys Own red carpet treatment. Instead of the tension rising and the pulse quickening, the undeniably frenetic climax, as filled with gunfire, shattering glass and tumbling baddies as it is, drops the intensity in favour of Arnie and Bruce clowning about (“You’ve been “back” enough times already … now it’s my turn to be back!” smirks Church, to which Trench resignedly sighs, “Yippee-ki-yay!”) – and West’s camera playing follow-my-leader with too many familiar faces in the maelstrom. I can understand the childlike glee with which both Stallone and West captured this potentially once-in-a-lifetime chance to get so many icons on the screen at once, and all doing what they do best, but this tactic almost spirals out of control. Nostalgia is a vital ingredient in this recipe, of course, but there does come a time when you’ve got too many cooks in the kitchen. As ironic as it may sound, I would prefer an extended cut of the film in which every one of these guys gets their chance to shine a little brighter and for a little longer. We have the screen-time casualties of Crews and Couture who don’t get to grips with their own adversaries with anywhere near the necessary level of detail (although a deleted scene reveals they originally did a lot more), and this only seems to make way for some crowd-pleasing but still markedly inferior moments from Willis and Schwarzenegger who both have their cheese-factor ramped much too far off the scale. Willis’ Church was a genuine bad-ass in the first movie, and somebody who definitely inspired a shudder or two with those sinister threats. Here, he is nothing more than a comedy stooge to Arnie’s lumbering buffoon. Now, you can call me a cynical killjoy if you like, but I don’t think that this is a great transition.
“I’m not gonna hurt you. I’m gonna take your life.”
When Sly’s original climax seemed to dovetail into a stunt-heavy helicopter ride that wouldn’t provide JCVD with a proper chance to show that he was still eminently capable of kicking ass, Van Damme took the Stallion to one side and convinced him that a full-on, mano-a-mano showdown was the most audience-pleasing way to go. As if Sly was going to resist the opportunity to go the distance against the Muscles from Brussels. With his patented balletic spinning kicks crashing down from six feet up in the air (just the one, actually, but shown twice) and showing absolutely no sign of age-related rust in the joints, JCVD comes on with an aggressive elegance and furious flamboyance, openly taunting the grizzled Expendable before sending him cart-wheeling across the screen. It is this confidence that makes him so formidable and still a force of nature. Man, look at those triceps! They hang down like water-balloons! But then pitched against Sly’s roaring rhinoceros of vengeance – who even gets in a nice little reverse kick a la the stick-fighting sequence in Rambo III to add some indelicate finesse to those pounding fists – the end result is never going to shock anybody. Although this confrontation is something that we have all been looking forward to, I have to say that when Stallone promised that it will be “one for the ages”, I think he may have overstated things just a little bit. It’s certainly enjoyable and breathlessly vigorous in little spurts, and you may well wince at one or two of the bone-crunching impacts – there’s chains and lots of unyielding metal surfaces brought into play - but I found that I had forgotten most of the moves after the tussle was over, and was left feeling more-than-slightly underwhelmed. For one thing, as battering as it is, the fight is all stop and start. We get a flurry of violence, and then a lengthy pause for the two to engage in verbal sparring. In this way, the battle never seems to properly get going, drastically losing its momentum.
And this, sadly, is what I felt about Van Damme’s character as well. Touted by West and Stallone as being the ace up their sleeve, with the Belgian offering them a dozen different interpretations of his Vilain for every take – from fantastically over-the-top and camp through sophisticated and erudite to downright dark and sadistic – the final screen incarnation, that barely has any more air-time than Arnie or Bruce is most definitely one-note and all-too obvious. However, in what little of him we see, Van Damme does enough to make us want to see a whole lot more of him than just Coors commercials. And there is definitely something teasingly renegade about seeing him as the bad guy. With more to say and do, this could really have been a career high point, but as it stands, he seems curtailed and sidelined. And predictable. As modern comic-book bad boys go, Javier Bardem managed to pull out all the stops and deliver a splendidly nuanced and properly dimensional villain in Skyfall without betraying his sinister credentials and over-the-top evil streak in the process. JCVD just doesn’t occupy enough of the narrative to ooze anything more than the most rudimentary nastiness. We know we are supposed to hate him because we’ve seen him commit one grim, though all-too-obvious execution … but beyond this he is just another generic stooge who got picked for the Bad Team. This isn’t necessarily a problem … but I just cannot possibly go along with it when some people shout about him being terrific in the role and one of the best things in the film. It just isn’t so. And viewing some of the outtakes in the disc’s Gag Reel actually seem to disprove that oft-quoted praise about him being able to deliver “something different” with every take. It seems to me that West was lucky enough to get as much useable footage of Van Damme as he did. I did enjoy his vengeful turn in Six Bullets, though.
“Maybe it’s time I started running with the pack.”
The thing about this sequel is that, much more so than the first film, it does not take itself seriously. There are moments of callous disregard for innocent life and the baddies do stuff that make you want to see them forced to pay in acres of their own flesh, but this is very clearly a film with a one eye winking at the audience and a permanent twinkle in the other one. It is in love with the action genre and doesn’t so much as pay homage to it as send the whole thing up … in flames, of course. But the downside to this is that it lacks that lightning-in-a-bottle attitude that its predecessor had. In that, there was a tougher edge to the violence and the entire finale was wickedly ball-busting in the extreme. Even if there are bodies dropping like flies, getting smacked into thick wooden pillars and getting hoofed off balconies, and the odd head getting sliced up in a propeller blade, this lacks the blood ‘n’ fury approach that enhanced the various stand-offs we had before. We now know the structure and the set-up, and the bits in-between the carnage really do seem to simply get in the way of the fun. The tough-guy banter is incredibly dumb, with no point and no discernible bravado. The in-jokes and playful referencing that the stars – notably Arnie and Brucie – indulge in can become tedious in the extreme. When Arnie says to Chuck during the packed party of the climactic battle as literally everybody shows up to start shooting, “Who is next … Rambo?” it incites more of a weary groan than an excited giggle. So let’s hope that they knock that stuff for the third instalment.
Ultimately, I didn’t come away from Expendables 2 quite as blown-away as I thought I’d be. And this sort of disappointed, neutered-down impression has only gotten worse with a couple of home viewings. I think that the rush to cram in as many all-out combat scenes as possible collides bluntly with the sheer number of celebrity carnage-causers storming about the screen, and none of the hotly anticipated new boys get nearly enough to say or do. This means that we never have enough time to spend with anyone other than Sly or Statham, which is being a bit unfair to both Crews and Couture out of the original crew who, alongside Nan Yu, have good stuff that ended-up on the cutting-room floor. The showtime excess peaks during the leviathan pre-titles sequence and, as exciting as the frequent bombast that comes afterwards may be, the film doesn’t manage to sustain such a level of riotous, adrenal indulgence. You pretty much get inured to the tempest of testosterone this time around, instead of being lifted higher and higher as you did with the first Expendable experience. And yet it is difficult to imagine a slice of cinematic bedlam that has more of what film-makers think action-devotees crave.
And nobody could ever argue that this isn’t indeed bigger, bolder and boastful of ass-kickage on a broader canvas.
But better … it is not.
Basically, I think I have now become too damn greedy. I loved the first movie so much that I just want more and more and more. Which means that whatever Sly and his dogs of war came up with next, I probably still wouldn’t have been fully satisfied. That’s my problem, though. And, at the end of the day, Expendables 2 brings the house down on top of you, and your inner war-child is sure to be chuffed to bloody bits. The action is delirious and you can clearly see that Sly has done pretty much everything he can to please the fans, which is still something quite unique in Hollywood. Plus, it’s got Chuck Norris in it! And knuckle-dusters … and you can beat “the classics”!
For its cinema review I raised this from a 7 ½ out of 10 to an 8. I was being foolishly charitable and typically gung-ho. I’m more tempted to go with just a 6 now. Watching it at home, it feels like a forgettable straight-to-video offering, its punches pulled and its shockwave much dissipated. Sly is great, as is Statham. Chuck is a pure tonic. But nobody else measures up and brings home the bacon. Seeing it again just confirms this as being a big dumb disappointment with only that incredible opening delivering the power-surge of pure repeatability.
But now let’s turn our attention to the third instalment which, even though I feel less inclined to hoist the flag for, I am still looking forward to.
We’ve all no doubt seen producer Avi Lerner’s proposed plans for who they want onboard next time. Well, now we know that Nic (I’ll be in anything) Cage is involved, and I can even see a small cameo from Clint Eastwood happening (all he has to do is deliver one classic line from behind a desk, or even just a stare, and pull out a Magnum .44, and we will all be happy little gun-bunnies), but I do not give one second’s worth of credence to Harrison Ford ever appearing in an Expendables movie. It is not his scene at all. Action God he may have been with Indy, but he has never been this type of bullet ‘n’ brawn junkie. Look how goofy he was even in the likes of Air Force One. No, we could certainly have Cage appearing as the manic-eyed, nutso brother of the next big villain … but how about Kurt Russell (bonafide 80’s tough guy who also has a great sense of humour) or Carl Weathers (definite chemistry with both Sly and Arnie and certainly got a cinematic axe to grind with Dolph)? And I would kill to see Sonny Landham scare the bejesus out of both Randy Couture and Terry Crews. If anyone could – it’s him. Even the likes of Bill Duke and Liam Neeson could temper the rising tide of impending cheese, with Mark Dacascos supplying some fresh martial arts. And if we really want to go k-k-k-k-krayzeee, what about Mad Mel, himself. The Gibbo may be a dangerous and delusional diva, but he can still act and, man, he’d be awesome as either a good guy or a bad guy.
Before all that, however, we have plenty of Sly and Arnie blasting our way. While I think that Walter Hill’s long-overdue Bullet to the Head, with Stallone on mightily chiselled and tattooed form, looks absolutely awesome, I cannot say the same about Arnie’s Tex-Mex actioner, The Last Stand, which just looks plain silly. But I will reserve judgement because it is obviously great that he is “Back!” And then there is the chance to see the two of them together again in the prison-break thriller, The Tomb (or Duh-Toom).
With everyone so worried about their pensions getting cut back and swallowed-up, it seems that Sly and co have the most emphatic solution of all ...
Tool up and fight back!
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