Movie Review: The Expendables 2
Directed by: Simon West
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, and Jean Claude Van Damme
Plot: Stallone’s group of macho mercenaries find themselves up against an arms dealer who gets his hands on a WMD.
What I like about The Expendables (referring to the actual team, not the movie) is that they are a bunch of hapless schmucks. They have nothing to show for themselves except the money in their pocket, the scars on their back, and the few relationships that are lucky enough to survive their odd work hours. When they aren’t retrieving dangerous objects and taking down rogue CIA agents, they hang out in a bar swapping stories trying to drink each other under the table. They seem like cool guys (because they are played by cool guys), and you are instantly on their side.
Now that said, I really wish these guys had better material. The comedic elements of the movie come so close to just killing the whole thing. The script is full of cheesy one-liners (and not the “so bad they’re good” kind). Usually, this cast is great at making those work. Arnold might be unsurprisingly rusty after his tenure as The Govenator, but what is Bruce Willis’ excuse? Did he sign on to YET another movie that he didn’t really want to do? Of the main cast, Statham is the real bright spot, but Stallone keeps giving him tasks that remove him from the group. Luckily, Terry Crewes and Dolph Lundgren (who is back on the side of angels) get much bigger roles. Crewes has the same comedic timing as Statham. They both have this “I’m cool and saying stupid things, and I know it” attitude, which just makes the idiocy works. Dolph, on the other hand, is a walking talking looney toon. He spends most of the movie half in the bag saying psychotic things. It shouldn’t work, but it does. I suppose that is all that matters.
I feel kind of bad about criticizing the comedy here, since that was my biggest criticism of the first one, that it lacked it. When it comes to ’80s actioners I was always more a Lethal Weapon/Die Hard fan than say Commando/First Blood. It was nice to see them not take themselves so seriously, but like I said before, it came dangerously close from ruining the whole movie. This installment has a big heaping of drama too. It seems to want to romanticize the heroism of these guys while also playing them to be a bunch of sad-sacks, yet it completely misses the connective tissue between these two concepts to make them feel like martyrs of any kind. You can see the desire to be something more than an cheesy action movie, and the saddest part is that they have the potential to rise above. When I think about what Stallone pulled off with Rambo and the surprisingly well-rounded performances that Statham delivered in London, Killer Elite and The Bank Job, this team could totally do an interesting, thoughtful take on violence, heroism, and soldier mentality. So far, the only person to do anything dramatically impressive was Van Damme. He killed in the villain role (which has possibly the least inspired character name of the bunch: Jean Vilain). He is quiet, understated, and ultimately charming. He is the kind of guy who when he tells his hostages that everything will be ok, you kind of believe him. That would be a mistake because he is actually quite cold and blood-thirsty.
At the end of the day, it is an action movie, and on that front, it fucking delivers. There is this awesome action sequence right in the beginning involving the Expendables driving around these Mad Max hodge podge cars just tearing up this little town. A big plus from the first one was that this had its’ smaller action scenes between the opening and climax scenes better spaced out with more of the team involved. In the first one, it only involved 2 members maximum. It all culminates to a finale shootout where practically the entire cast makes Swiss cheese of a small airport. No one is an auxiliary player here. Each character gets a cool weapon or move or line unique to them that lets them all stand out.
The Expendables 2 lives up to expectations, but as the expectations are always a little low for a bunch of meatheads shooting at each other, living up to them isn’t always the best thing. They should be blowing expectations out of the water.