Well, I caved in the other day to my inner desires for the silver screen and spent a little over 100 minutes of my free time in Dublin at the Cinemaworld theater on Parnell Street. As it was the only movie in the theater I hadn’t seen, I decided to watch The Expendables 2. I had been pleasantly surprised by the first Expendables’ no-nonsense giddily action packed escapism, and from all of the promotional material it seemed like the sequel was taking that formula and applying more than enough extra aging action heroes to justify the cost of admission. Having seen generally positive reviews from my fellow bloggers as well as the larger reviewing public (a fresh 67% on Rotten Tomatoes), I was surprised to find myself much less impressed with the movie at every turn than my fellow critics were. While the artistic bar for this movie is intentionally low, I felt like the action was never entertaining enough to compensate for the unbelievably lazy screenwriting and heavy handed cameo appearances.
I’m not even going to worry about going over the plot as it is kept intentionally on line with the typical action movie formula. Instead, I’ll begin with talking about the smorgasbord or gun-toting He-Men whose names take up the majority of the film’s poster Space. Of the actual “Expendables”, we still have the core group from the last film. We have Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) clutching his AA-12 with python arms, Toll Road (Randy Couture) with an M-79 Grenade Launcher and zero personality, Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren) with a newly revealed past as an MIT dropout, Yin Yang (Jet Li) complete with deadly cooking ware skills, Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) with his beloved brass knuckles dubbed “the classics, and finally Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) in the captain’s chair. All in all the crew is essentially the same as last time around,
but with the exception of Christmas’ clingy girlfriend and Jensen’s difficult to believe past as a Rhodes Scholar, the movie doesn’t do much to expand on any of the characters. To be honest I didn’t expect much more depth for these characters but I at least anticipated some sort of development to fill in the empty spaces between firefights. I was actually surprised to find that some of the most human-feeling scenes came from Bill “the Kid”, the new recruit to the team played adequately my Liam Hemsworth. Aside from being quite the Boss when it comes to Sniping with a Barrett .50 cal, Billy fills something of a “son” role for Barney and is established as the member of the team with “the most to live for”. Barney has some semblance of a love interest in Maggie (Nan Yu) but it all feels like essentially the exact same thing that happened in the first movie, so we’re frankly given little reason to care about any of it.
P.S. I want to meet whoever picked the names for any of the characters above, they have some sort of beautiful mind I just can’t fully grasp
The new additions to the cast were the main selling points of the film’s marketing, however, and should have been at the very least positive points of winking callbacks to each actor’s action career. Instead of winks though we are given referential equivalents of pies to the face, with the new faces spewing out lines that could have been written better by a fourth grader. While they were both briefly featured in the first Expendables, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwartzenegger now have greatly expanded roles and are joined by the legendary Chuck Norris to do battle with the evil forces of our fourth new face, Jean-Claude Van Damme. Each scene involving the first three is so lacking in any form of subtletythat I would’ve have been surprised to see their characters named something like Wuce Brillis
and Nuck Chorris. Between heavily repeated Terminator and Die Hard references I almost expected it when they threw in a token Chuck-Norris-is-God joke. These references could’ve been a lot of fun and a great reward for fans of each actor’s earlier work, but none of their parts felt like they had any effort put into them at all. Van Damme at least has a few badass moments, but I did feel like he lost some of his menace when he took off his shades to reveal the droopy eyes of the actor’s increasing age.
As I mentioned above, this is the absolute killing point of the entire movie. The dialogue first Expendables was essentially a bunch of one liners jammed together to resemble conversation, and while the same is true for Expendables 2 the lines themselves just aren’t very good. I can’t help but feel like even Master Chief is in possession of more with than all of the Expendables combined, and he’s technically a cyborg. But I digress… I realize that a lot of people will disagree with me on the opinion that the awful writing drags the movie down as it is intended to be pure dumb fun, but even dumb fun should have a certain amount of thought visible in the final product. The fact is that a small increase in the quality of the movie’s writing could have made that dumb fun a lot funner without sacrificing the homage to the earlier work of the stars it features.
This is not so much of a faltering point of the movie for me as it was an aspect of it that needed to be great and ended up just being solidly “good”. I fully admit that the best scenes of the movie came in it’s shootout scenes or other assorted action set pieces. What Jason Statham lacks in acting ability he more than makes up for in fight scene choreography. While none of the brawls have the same elegance or coordination as anything in The Raid: Redemption, Statham just looks like a natural when he’s dealing out pain on ruskie thugs. Other than him though, the only other scenes I was really impressed by were Jet Li’s frying pan fencing and a scene near the end involving Church (Willis), Trench (Schwartzenegger), a smart car and some heavy weaponry, most of the action was
taken up by somewhat repetitive shoot-em-up massacres of hordes of faceless bad guys. There is actually a surprising (and almost off putting) amount of gore here, and while there isn’t anything resembling sexual content to be seen it is completely understandable that the film earned an “R” rating from the MPAA. Other than that, I won’t even try to deny that the gun nut in me was overjoyed with the amount of firepower to be seen here. Aside from the ones I’ve already mentioned, keep an eye out for AK-47s, G36c’s, AR-15s, a UMP45, a Spas – 12, Sig Saur 556’s, and Van Damme’s personal Steyr AUG.
The Verdict: 5.0/10 Mediocre
When it comes down to it, I frankly don’t understand why Expendables 2 is getting consistently higher rated than its predecessor. Maybe there’s something other people are seeing that I’m not, but what I saw was a movie that did essentially the same thing as its predecessor without providing the character or story progression needed to make any attempt at making the movie feel like something other than a mere cash grab by Stallone. While I respect Mr. Stallone and his latest project from a business stand point, that doesn’t mean I have to extend that respect to Expendables 2 from a quality stand point, and for that reason I feel more than comfortable giving this movie the same middling score as I gave Savages earlier this year.