Sunday, August 19, 2012

"The Expendables 2" (2012)

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham and Jean-Claude Van Damme
Written by Richard Wenk and Sylvester Stallone
Directed by Simon West
Rated R - Strong bloody violence throughout and language
Running Time: 103 Minutes

They're all back.

The Expendables, Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li),  Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and newcomer Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) are hired to save a a Chinese billionaire from kidnappers in Nepal.  When they bust into the compound, they make a surprising discovery: Barney's rival, Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who was captured while also trying a rescue attempt.

Soon enough, Barney and the others make their bloody, extravagant escape and head home.  Barney is then approached by Church (Bruce Willis) with a mission, to make up for the millions Barney cost him in the first film.  Barney and his team are paired with Maggie (Yu Nan) and tasked with retrieving computer data from a downed plane in the mountains of Albania.  But the team runs afoul of Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) a terrorist who uses the information to locate buried weapons-grade plutonium in a nearby mine that he plans to sell.

One murdered teammate later, and Barney and the rest of the Expendables are out for vengeance.  Cue more gunfire and cheesy banter than you know what to do with.

"Intelligence" is not what you're going to find in "Expendables 2."  It is your consummate stupid action movie.  The plot is overly simplistic, the characters might as well not even have names, and there are only the most basic attempts at achieving some kind of emotional bond with the audience to make us give a crap about any of what's going on.  Everything here is focused on making sure that this team of ultimate badasses gets to do lots of ultimately badass things.

Only Liam Hemsworth's character, Billy the Kid, is given any kind of a try at emotional depth.  He tells a sob story about why he quit the army to join up with the Expendables, and mentions a nurse he's dating, but otherwise the film is only concerned with moving forward and putting the team into one scrape after another.  This sequel eschews all the character-building subplots of the first film.  Jason Statham's subplot involving his girlfriend (Charisma Carpenter) is cut down to a few jokes about a ringing cell phone.  Carpenter appears in only one scene at the beginning while the guys are winding down at a bar after a mission. This makes the film a leaner, meaner action flick than the first.

The action is mostly standard action movie fare.  There's lots of automatic gunfire, brutal martial arts, and plenty of explosions to go around.  It's all over the top, though, and very well made.  The film's action sequences are quite slick, and director Simon West is generous enough to keep the camera steady so we can see it all.  In fact, the production of "Expendables 2" seems rather old-fashioned in a sense; there was really only a single scene where the camera was shaking so much that things get lost, and this occurs during a plane crash, so it makes sense.  But the rest of the action sequences in the movie feature  lots of steady shots that are long enough to drink in all the carnage, so bravo on that.

Aside from the action, the rest of the film is concerned with cheesy banter between all the muscley action legends.  Some scenes are riotously funny, others are groaners of the highest order.  But even the groaners are enjoyable on some level, when you realize it's just too bad not to love.  The worst of these moments involve lots of references to the movies of Schwarzenegger, Willis, Stallone and, yes, Chuck Norris, who appears in a couple of key scenes.  There are references in the dialog to being "terminated," riffs on Schwarzenegger's "I'll be back" more than once, a "yippie ki yay," and even a goddamn Chuck Norris Fact. Yes, a Chuck Norris Fact, spoken aloud in the movie.  It's completely, absolutely absurd, and 100% stupid... but it is awesome.

While the first film had only brief cameos by Schwarzenegger and Willis, the two  have much meatier roles this time.  While the screentime still isn't much, and they are far from main characters, thankfully they get to be in on the action.  Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Willis have a few moments side by side at the films climax that are just a thrill to see for an action movie fan such as myself.

Jean-Claude Van Damme chews the scenery as the villain, Vilain.  Yeah, the villain's name is Vilain.  That's exactly the kind of movie this is.  But he pours on the sleaze for this role, swaggering around, even wearing his sunglasses while deep underground in a mine shaft.  It's hilarious.  But a big part of the appeal of this film is just how ridiculous it all is.  And the cast is clearly having a good time with it, and as I've said many times before on this blog, that makes a huge difference in a film such as this.  If your actors are having a good time, that translates to the audience; we can tell.

"The Expendables 2" isn't a good movie.  But it's the kind of movie you should watch with a like-minded audience in a movie theater.  The banter is cheesy and laughable, the action is ludicrous, and you need to watch it with the hoots and hollers of other people having a good time.  Get some friends together and enjoy all the lively, ridiculous carnage.

See Also
The Expendables
The Expendables - Director's Cut