Yo G.I. Geriatric Joe!
A Film Review of The Expendables 2
By: Lawrence Napoli
Wow, these guys look old now, but I really enjoyed the first Expendables film. The reason (and I do mean only 1 reason) I relished in it was its particular blend of nostalgia with awe over the fact that so many marquee action stars were united in their efforts to shoot, maim, explode and knife their way into our hearts in one, contained, Hollywood production. The Expendables 2 attempts to do this once again by featuring an influx of additional marquee action talent to this franchise with the presence of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris [no, Liam Hemsworth a.k.a. Mr. Miley Cyrus doesn’t count even if he happens to be the real life brother of Thor!]. Once the final credits rolled, I shrugged my shoulders and admitted that I had certainly seen worse, but was glad that I used my free Regal Cinemas pass for admission as opposed to actual cash. The sequel to The Expendables falls prey to the common syndrome of “going-through-the-motions mediocrity” because everything the audience sees has been done by the same people in the previous film. I dare say that even animating Mr. Norris’ beard to punch someone in the face (of its own accord) could not have generated enough charming intrigue to justify dropping bills to see this film. As such, I’d only recommend this as a Netflix/On Demand rental or in 7 months time from now when it’s playing back-to-back-to-back on FX.
And that’s it for my review.
No, just kidding. I have a few other things to say.
You know what was really missing from The Expendables 2? Acting was missing. Now before you all pan me for criticizing a muscle bound, meat-head of an action/explosion blockbuster for lacking decent performances, let me explain. If all it took was muscles, then any ”˜roided out bum could be a Hollywood star. What made the action stars of The Expendables legendary was the ability to produce performances to make audiences care about their characters throughout their careers. If no one ever cared, no one would cheer for the hero and action films would be pointless. If I need to explain why the audience cared for the likes of John McClane, Rocky/Rambo and even a reprogrammed Terminator then there’s no hope for you. Realizing this, however, is the key to unlocking the secret of making a great movie (let alone action film). The first Expendables had three such examples of performances generating empathy: 1) Mickey Rourke’s overall performance as Tool, 2) Jason Statham’s (Lee Christmas’) side story with his girlfriend and 3) Giselle ItiÃ© as the daughter of the evil/wanna-be-reformed warlord. Stallone, Crews, Couture, Li and Lundgren are there to kick a$$ and blow sh*t up and guess what? The same holds true for the sequel minus the aforementioned quality acting. There is no Mickey Rourke this time around, Jason Statham’s role is severely reduced and the quota filling presence of a woman was bequeathed to Nan Yu who only manages a valiant attempt at being seductive and sympathetic.
Failed performances are the fault of shoddy directing, but all things being equal, I did not envy Simon West’s (Con Air & The Mechanic) task in telling so many alpha males where to go and what to do. Perhaps it takes an action star to relate to action stars? Say what you will about Stallone as a filmmaker, but you cannot deny the savvy of his specialty. His work as the director of the first Expendables is severely overlooked in getting the most out of his larger than life cast. Stallone was so personally invested at just about every level of production for the first film that it not only showed in his performance, but in the rest of the cast as well. The sequel features too many hands in the cookie jar and everyone was looking to kick back, Ocean’s Twelve style.
Another culprit of this sequel’s fizzling is easy to identify: the writing. Let’s just say if people’s brains were exploding over the plot gaps and convenient twists in The Dark Knight Rises, people will certainly be convinced that the world is flat after seeing The Expendables 2. Such is the randomness of most of the plot and action of this film, but the worst part about it was the complete lack of character development between films. No one seems to have learned a lesson in regards to their lives or how they approach their dangerous jobs. They all fight like they want to live, but shouldn’t they be getting more help or even using a little something I’d call strategy to win? I thought these guys were pros and the only way to survive the lifestyle of a professional mercenary is to adapt and evolve.
And speaking of “evolution,” the action and effects for this film demonstrate a lack thereof. Expendables 2 continues to feature animated kill shots to accentuate physics defying brutality so often that it started to feel like I was watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Can someone’s head really be taken off with a thrown knife? Since Jet Li is featured even less than Jason Statham, the lack of choreographed fisticuffs places too much of the action burden on gunplay which isn’t particularly diverse seeing how everyone sticks to the same weapons they have from the beginning. I was pleased to see the return of Terry Crews’ popular automatic shotgun, but it makes the same exact sound from the first film and I swear it looked like the audio dub for the sound f/x was not in sync with the video of that gun firing. If there’s one thing you could count on for a movie like this, it would be the explosions, right? Even those seemed a tad muffled as they didn’t come close to the amalgam of auditory chaos that wreaked havoc on the audience in the previous film. Don’t get me wrong, the body count was very impressive and blood was gushing galore, but I simply could not describe the action as intense and certainly not as good as Expendables 1.
Liam Hemsworth does not belong in this movie. He is not his brother (who, by the way, is still coming into his own). His presence is a shameless attempt to money-grab some attention from teenage girls who know about Miley Cyrus and The Hunger Games.
The Expendables 2is very average as far as action films go, but the names tied to this franchise generates the kind of buzz a film like this normally does not enjoy. If this franchise has a future, it had better consider being a better action film before adding Clive Owen, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Bradley Cooper, Steven Segal and the ghost of Brandon Lee to its roster. Simply adding the cast of The Avengers to The Expendables won’t yield a better movie or some additive boon at the box office. It will, however, expose your franchise as a one trick pony that can’t do much else besides name dropping.