Bill's Review of The Expendables 2
The Expendables 2(2012)
If you follow my reviews with any regularity, you know how I feel about the original Expendables movie. Look back at that review from two years ago, and you'll read about "the defining moment", the point where the movie completely leaps over the proverbial shark and swan dives into a lake of ridiculousness. Expendables 2 has a very similar moment.
Forty five minutes into the second installment in Sly Stallone's latest grab for a paycheck, there's a very tense and teary scene. After a moment of "terrible tragedy" featuring an actor we've spent a total of eight minutes with, Stallone reminisces to the crew about the nature of their deadly business. With as many tears as his crinkled face can muster, Stallone delivers a line to Jason Statham that resembles something heartfelt. A rumination. A genuine thought through the blood, bullets and CGI smoke. Statham's deadpan response? "What's the plan." Stallone's brilliant response?
"Track him. Find him. Kill him."
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Expendables 2.
The story behind Expendables 2 is irrelevant. Tough guys battle a group of not as tough guys headed up by a plutonium seeking Jean-Claude Van Damme. The baddies are looking for a ridiculous amount of the nuclear stuff to sell to an unnamed buyer and it's up to the Geriatric Rambo's to stop them. The streamlined story actually works better than the convoluted government / general's daughter claptrap of the first and allows the audience to think less about what's going on and just enjoy the ride.
Wait. Aren't we supposed to think at movies? Honestly, sometimes no. Commando remains one of my all time favorite "dumb movies", because it's pure escapism. Where the first Expendables took itself entirely too seriously, Number 2 succeeds in its simplicity. No goofy love story. No feigned political intrigue. Just guns, fists and a sound awareness that it's exactly as dumb as you would expect it to be.
And with a cast this epic, how could it not be. Last time around, the story centered around Jason Statham and Stallone with the rest of the billboard names acting as scene specific filler. This time around, everyone gets a bit more time, creating a slightly more realistic team. Of course, the film features plenty of nostalgic fan service, mostly featuring actors who clearly showed up for a day, shot their scenes and left, but the cameos are better integrated into the main story. There's also a smattering of decent acting, mostly by newcomer Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games) and a surprisingly funny turn by Dolph Lundgren as a chemical engineer / professional killer. Lundgren has a great deal of screen time, and nearly every joke he's a part of works perfectly. Van Damme is also a well cast villain because...well...it's Jean Claude freaking Van Damme.
But don't let this review fool you into thinking this is an A+ movie. Fun doesn't necessarily translate to good and there are plenty of bumps in the rollercoaster. The main hiccup is the shocking amount of bad CGI going on here. Computer enhanced shots are commonplace in movies but someone needs to remind director Simon West (Con Air, The Mechanic) that we can still create blood, bullet flashes and smoke (yes, smoke) via traditional means. Oh, and if you're going to do it with computers, don't make it looks like a Film 1 student's After Effects project. The characters, especially the new ones, are given the bare minimum of development, making the experience again suffer from the, "tons of action with no real stakes" syndrome. The movie also suffers from midway bloat and the scenes where things calm down are just as poorly written and acted as one would expect.
When I saw the original film, it was on a whim with a friend and it was so bad, we laughed hysterically. The sequel also had me cracking up but not because it was unassumingly poor. It was a genuine good time. While nobody featured in this flick is going to win any Oscars, the fights scenes are well done, there's nice mix of hand to hand combat with the gunplay and the whole feature flies by like a runaway tractor trailer strapped with machine guns speeding along a crowded highway. No worries, that's not a spoiler. The result is a fun filled thrill ride that raises some pulses while dialing down the brain stem, the most you can ask for with a trailer so full of long forgotten names. A good time for fans of good times.