Movie Review: The Expendables 2 (2012)

September 9, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

So I keep hearing that The Expendables 2 is what the first film should have been.

My expectations for the first film were, unfortunately, slightly higher. That said, Expendables 2 is a vast improvement on its predecessor because it decided to have do more with fact that it features a whole bunch of high-profile action stars who aren’t afraid to poke fun at themselves. It’s has more characters, longer cameos, bigger explosions, upgraded fight scenes and a lot of great one liners. I wish it could have been a little more, but perhaps I’m asking for too much.

The story picks up not too long after the first one ended. Sty Stallone and Jason Statham are still leading their team of mercenaries, which includes other action heroes such as martial arts expert Jet Li, MMA fighter Randy Couture (Mr “You got a door? You got a gym!”), Ivan Drago aka Dolph Lundgren , and the guy I will always associate with White Chicks, Terry Crews. Of the original team, only Mickey Rourke dropped out.

This time, the team has two strange new additions: Liam Hemsworth (who is not an action star — yet — though his brother Chris is) as a sniper, and Chinese actress Yu Nan (selected probably because of her proficiency in English), who keeps up the Asian quotient on the squad after Jet Li jets off minutes into the film (he hadn’t planned on being in it but Stallone insisted).

I think the plot had something to do with baddies forcing poor villagers in Eastern Europe to help them mine plutonium, but no one really cares about plot in a film like this.

The Expendables 2 still contains “serious” scenes and “character development” scenes, but on the whole the film was more lighthearted than the first. The jokes are frequent, and unlike in the first film, much funnier, and the fight scenes are better choreographed. There are plenty of blown off limbs and exploding bodies but it’s all so intentionally over-the-top that no one would call it realistic violence.

There are three major positives worth mentioning about this film.

The first is the new villain, Jean-Claude Van Damme, who plays a guy creatively named…er, Vilain. Van Damme does a delicious villain and actually gets to perform some of his trademark Kickboxer movers, such as that flying roundhouse he loves so much. Van Damme is backed up by the familiar face of Scott Adkins, who has been in a bunch of supporting roles and B-grade action films over the years.

The second is the extended cameos of Willis and Arnie. The biggest disappointment of the first film was that they appeared for about 5 seconds together and did nothing. This time, the trio finally get together and get their hands dirty. Even though it’s not for very long, it’s still better than nothing, and they even get to shoot witty remarks at each other. It was fun.

The third is the much-talked about appearance of Chuck Norris, who has somehow grown to legendary status thanks to those never-ending internet jokes. Chuck lives up to those jokes and even tells a few of his own. His presence is the brightest highlight of the entire film, and it’s a shame he couldn’t have gotten more screen time. I would pay to watch a Chuck Norris spin-off where all he does is live up to his legend.

What you should have noticed by now is that none of the three positives involve Stallone’s team of mercenaries. That’s because they still kind of sucked. The biggest culprit is still Stallone himself, who must be the lamest of them all by keeping a “straight face”  (okay, I see that’s a term grossly inappropriate for him) throughout the entire film. He remains jacked up on steroids, human growth hormones or whatever Lance Armstrong has been taking, but he exhibits no charm and no skill other than growling incoherently (I think he’s still saying “Adriannnnn!”), running in over-sized platform boots and squinting through those two pellets he calls eyes. But hey, it’s his movie and his idea, so he still has to be “the man” by default. I wanted more Rambo and Rocky, less whatever his name is in the film.

Statham has two good scenes where he gets to strut his stuff, but Crews, Lundgren and Couture fade into the background and practically do nothing. Hemsworth and Yu Nan don’t do a whole lot other actors couldn’t have done either. It’s disappointing and a waste of an opportunity.

I also didn’t get all the pointless talking that was supposedly aimed at character development. They were boring, and no one can tell what Stallone is trying to say anyway.

Ultimately, the film was still a solid piece of entertainment and plenty of popcorn fun. Kudos for improving on the first one and providing a blueprint for that inevitable third movie. It’s possible they may have already exhausted all they can do with this franchise but I suppose as long as there are new action stars to add people will still flock to watch it — me included.

3.5 stars out of 5

 

Movie Review: The Expendables (2010)

August 14, 2010 in Movie Reviews

The Expendables is the type of idea that would have been really amazing 15, maybe even 10 years ago: an all-out action blockbuster featuring all the most famous action superstars in the world.

Unfortunately, as often is the case, the idea turned out to be a thousand times better than the actual film.

The Expensables may have Sylvester Stallone (Rocky and Rambo), Jason Statham (the Transporter), Jet Li (the guy with the Kiss of the Dragon), Dolph Lundgren (my personal favourite, Drago), ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and Randy Couture (pro-wrestler/MMA fighter), with cameos from Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as fine macho actors Mickey Rourke, Eric Roberts, and beefy funnyman Terry Crews (every time I see this guy I think of White Chicks) (all it was missing were Van Damme, The Rock and Jackie Chan) — but it also has one of the worst screenplays (written by Stallone and David Callahan) for a blockbuster in recent memory.

Virtually no plot, uninteresting protagonists, horrible cardboard villains, even worse female characters, and dialogue that switches between grotsequely cheesy, cringeworthy and WTF — all these faults could have been forgiven had The Expendables simply been mindblowingly exciting and entertaining — but miraculously, against all odds, it wasn’t!

It wasn’t boring or anything, but despite all the fists, knives, guns, bombs, explosions and over-the-top carnage (think Rambo IV), The Expendables was nothing special.  I was particularly surprised by the relative large number of slow and ‘character development’ scenes.  When the action was going at full blast, I have to admit it was pretty good, but there simply wasn’t enough of such sequences.

Again, I go back to the horrendous script and I also partly blame the direction (also by Stallone).  To me, it didn’t feel like any of the action roles were written with the specific action stars in mind.  You would imagine that the film would play to the strengths of each of the action stars, but it doesn’t.  I was appalled to see a hand-to-hand combat scene featuring Jet Li absolutely destroyed by rapid camera movements and cuts.  What’s the point of filming a kung fu master using techniques that would allow any character to play the role?

Instead of roles written specifically for the stars, what you got was the opposite — a bunch of bland, stock standard roles that happen to be filled by past and present (mostly past) action stars.  How is it possible that with so many fantastic personalities that not one character was interesting or featured an ounce of creativity?

As for the performances, they weren’t bad if you factor in the material they had to work with.  With the 103-minute running time, there was really only room for two main leads — Stallone and Statham, with the rest relegated to filling thankless roles and cameos.

The reason I said the idea may have worked 10-15 years ago is because at least some of the stars would have been closer to their primes (and audiences would have loved the cheesy lines) .  With the exception of Statham, all of the action dudes looked and felt too old for their respective roles.  Now, it’s kind of sad to see a bunch of old guys trying to hold on to past glories.

Stallone, in particular, demonstrated perfectly why men over 60 should never use human growth hormones, work out with heavy weights, inject botox, pluck their eyebrows, or try to run with platform boots.

Stallone posing after a workout for the film

Ultimately, The Expendables was a good (albeit aged) idea that ended up as a failed experiment.  It felt as though Stallone had put all his effort into gathering these amazing stars into one film rather than creating a coherent and exciting movie experience.  What a shame.  There was so much potential wasted here.

2.5 stars

(In all honesty this is quite generous — but I have to give big kudos for getting all these guys together, and in particular the one classic scene where all three Planet Hollywood owners — Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger were on screen at the same time.)