Friday, August 17, 2012

In Theaters: THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012)

(US - 2012)

Directed by Simon West.  Written by Richard Wenk and Sylvester Stallone.  Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Jet Li, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth, Scott Adkins, Yu Nan, Charisma Carpenter.  (R, 102 mins)

When Sylvester Stallone's THE EXPENDABLES was released in 2010, it was hyped as a summit of action stars old and new.  That was kinda sorta true, with Stallone and Dolph Lundgren teaming up with relatively younger action heroes like Jason Statham and Jet Li, and other brawny dudes like Randy Couture, Terry Crews, and Stone Cold Steve Austin.  There were even unbilled cameos by Bruce Willis and then-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  But while it's always nice to see Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts on the big screen, they really didn't gel with the "action hero" angle, and we should still be thankful that 50 Cent had the decency to drop out shortly before filming began.  THE EXPENDABLES was an enjoyable throwback to big, dumb '80s action movies, but it needed more aging icons of that decade to really accomplish its goal.  Bigger and better in every way, THE EXPENDABLES 2 corrects those errors and for any fan of the aforementioned Big Dumb '80s Action, it's one of the best times you'll have at a movie this year.

Stallone, who co-wrote the script with Richard Wenk (16 BLOCKS and the Statham remake of the Charles Bronson classic THE MECHANIC), just stays in front of the camera for this one, opting to leave directing chores to Simon West, who commandeered 1997's CON AIR, one of the all-time great Big Dumb Action epics.  As a director, Stallone did a good job with the boxing bouts in ROCKY's II-IV, but West is much more adept at staging huge action sequences, and THE EXPENDABLES 2 opens with a truly impressive 15-minute prologue of the titular mercenary heroes on a rescue mission in Nepal.  Back for action are Expendables leaders Barney Ross (Stallone) and Lee Christmas (Statham), along with Gunner (Lundgren), Hale Caesar (Crews), Toll Road (Couture), and new recruit Billy the Kid (Liam "Not his brother Chris" Hemsworth).  They get a new job from shady government operative Church (Willis):  retrieve a small case from the safe of a crashed airplane, and in the case are the blueprints to a secret stash of plutonium, left in a hidden mine that's been abandoned since the end of the Cold War.  They're joined by Maggie (Yu Nan), who has the safe combo, and the job goes off without a hitch.  That is, until they're ambushed by villain Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his army of generic Eurotrash goons.  Vilain steals the blueprints, and plans to sell the plutonium to the highest bidder.  The Expendables get some additional help not just from Church, but from Ross' longtime rival Trench (Schwarzenegger), and self-described "lone wolf" Booker (Chuck Norris).

Look, the story and the acting aren't going to win any awards, and the film does drag a bit in the middle when it has to focus on plot.  But when West sets up the action sequences, and when Church, Trench, and Booker join in for the last third, THE EXPENDABLES 2 really starts firing on all cylinders.  It's completely ridiculous and over-the-top, with totally cartoonish splatter effects and an endless supply of cheesy and/or self-deprecating one-liners and winking homages:  Norris' Booker is introduced telling a Chuck Norris joke,  Stallone and Schwarzenegger make constant references to their age and past quips, and after four Expendables machine gun a bad guy into a pile of raw flesh, Stallone yells "Rest in peaces!"  Van Damme, who's very quietly made some better-than-average action films during his DTV years, is a solid bad guy and confirms my suspicions that he would make a formidable Bond villain if given the chance, and DTV action star Scott Adkins (UNDISPUTED II and III) has some good moments as Vilain's chief henchman.  But really, the big reason this works so well is the opportunity to see some old-school ass-kicking by Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, and Norris.  The latter three don't get a lot of screen time (not as much as Stallone and Statham, and it's also worth mentioning that Li splits after the opening sequence), but it's more than mere cameos, and the film really hits its stride once they burst into action.  If you're a fan of these flicks from back in the day or grew up watching these guys in endless cable and TV airings, you'd have to be a real cynic to not just sit there with a big goofy grin when they start mowing down the bad guys.  I mean, really...how does this shot not put a smile on your face?


Or this! 


THE EXPENDABLES seems to have given rise to this sort-of nostalgia trip for aging action stars on the big screen.  Sure, we've got Van Damme, Adkins, and Steven Seagal (if there's an EXPENDABLES 3, he and AMERICAN NINJA's Michael Dudikoff need to be in it) doing their thing in DTV work, but these kinds of movies rarely get wide theatrical releases anymore. In addition to this, in the coming months, we've got Stallone in Walter Hill's BULLET TO THE HEAD, Schwarzenegger in THE LAST STAND, and the two team up again in the prison thriller THE TOMB, due out in spring 2013.  The torch appears to have been passed to Statham, who may indeed be the Last Action Hero, but neither Stallone nor Schwarzenegger seem to be ready to call it a career.  And yeah, we can make jokes about their age and their facelifts (a lot of Stallone's close-ups here seem to be shot through ABC's Barbara Walters/Diane Sawyer lens filter), and sure, they've made their share of crappy movies, but you know what?  They're damn good at what they do, they've still got it, and we're gonna miss them when they're gone.  THE EXPENDABLES 2 is a blast.


  1. I didn't like the first one very much, a total letdown, but this looks much better and after reading your excellent review I' chomping to see it.

  2. Biggest question for me, how are the actions scenes shot? Full of shakycam, CGI and quick cuts like the first one?

  3. A bit more stable. The shakycam is really toned down, and even the CGI is a bit better. There's one really phony-looking chopper crash.

  4. Great write-up!

    This was awesome! Loved seeing all the legends shooting all the baddies at the airport. This delivered what you wanted.

    Also Van Damme rocked as the villain (Vilain) Haha. "Let's wrap this up..."