Friday, March 14, 2014

Film Friday: The Expendables 2 (2012)

I expected nothing good from The Expendables 2. I didn’t really care all that much for The Expendables and sequels are almost always crap, especially sequels of actions films. So yeah, I was pretty sure this was going to suck eggs. But do you know what? The Expendables 2 turned out to be very entertaining film. In fact, it was considerably better than the first one!

Plot

The plot isn’t really all that relevant. In fact, you probably won’t even notice it because you aren’t watching this film for the plot: you’re watching for the actors. In any event, the film opens with the Expendables conducting a hostage rescue mission in Nepal. They pull off the rescue and rescue Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in the process. After this, they return to New Orleans, where they are forced by Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) of the CIA to accept a mission.
Soon, they are flying to Albania to retrieve an item. They get ambushed by an international arms dealer named Jean Vilain (get it?) (Jean-Claude Van Damme). He lets them leave after disarming them and killing one of their members. Naturally, the remaining members want revenge.

The rest of the story involves Stallone, Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, and Yu Nan chasing Van Damme, who is using slave labor to try to dig weapons grade plutonium out of a mine, where the Russians stored it at the end of the cold war.
Eventually, Chuck Norris, Arnold, and Willis join the fight and a massive shootout occurs at an airport as Van Damme and his army tries to get the plutonium out of the country. I’ll leave all the twists and turns for you to discover.
Why This Film Worked
I said at the intro that I didn’t really care for the The Expendables. That’s true. I loved the idea of all these 1980’s action stars getting together and making an action movie together. I also loved the idea that it was more like an 80’s action film than a modern film. The idea of those things rocked...

...but the execution left me cold.

When I watched the film, I felt that they made poor use of all these action stars. Some were only on screen for a few minutes and most didn’t do much. There was no “Battle Royale” so to speak either, where they all came together for one massive fire fight. Moreover, while the film had a bit of an 80’s feel to it, it wasn’t that different from modern action films. The ultimate problem was that the film took itself too seriously as an action film.
So what makes The Expendables 2 that much better than the original? Yeah, you guessed it: this movie doesn’t take itself seriously. In fact, this film is almost a loving parody of the entire 80’s action genre. For one thing, the action is much more over the top. There is a scene involving Chuck Norris that is just ridiculous and yet gets your fist pumping in the air.
The ending scene is another example. This scene takes place at the airport and it involves each of the guy from the 80’s shooting it out with Van Damme’s ever growing army. In fact, what seemed like Van Damme and about 20 guys quickly morphs into hundreds of guys armed with machine guns. Naturally, none of them can hit a thing and our collection of action heroes plow through them in rip-roaring 1980’s style cough cough Commando, Terminator, Rambo cough cough. In many ways, this scene is a parody of those old shootouts, and it is played very tongue in cheek, but that doesn’t keep it from being awesome to watch. Indeed, playing this as a bit of a parody keeps you from rolling your eyes at the way over-the-top action occurring on screen. And what makes this even better is that this shootout is CGI free. This shootout involves real extras and real stunts, and that gives it a level of reality you just don’t get from CGI, even as the action itself is ridiculous. This is a heck of a way to end this film, and it’s FAR superior to the 45 minute CGI cartoon fight scenes that end most action films today.
Ultimately though, there’s one more key that really makes this film work: the relationship between the action stars. Throughout this movie, they joke and play around with each other. They act like old friends. Arnold and Sly compete throughout. Norris is his old likable self and plays the lone wolf, but still is loyal to his friends. None of them, except Van Damme, come across as jerks or Prima Donnas. What’s more, throughout the film, they steal each other’s most famous lines. But they don’t just steal them, they do it at the right times for maximum relevance, which makes the film feel clever and funny and gives you constant reminders of who these guys were, and they do it with the other guy standing there so he can fire back one of the other guy’s lines. This makes you feel like you’re with old friends trading good-natured barbs or like you’re on the inside of an inside joke.

Ultimately, these things make this movie really enjoyable. This film absolutely captures the spirit of what this type of movie needs to be: a friendly trip down memory lane as you get to see all your old heroes joking around and having a good time as they have some fun with the excesses of their prior work. So is this a great movie? No. But it is a fun movie and it will leave you smiling. I definitely recommend this one.

15 comments:

tryanmax said...

Agreed. Expendables 2 is what The Expendables meant to be. Sometimes they do get it right on the second try.

AndrewPrice said...

I was very pleasantly surprised.

AndrewPrice said...

BTW, I love them riding through the airport in the tiny car shooting everyone. Very entertaining.

Tennessee Jed said...

go figure. I truly was disappointed in the original, and sorry I had wasted money on the blu-ray (thinking it would be a good demo disc for the theater.) So, I completely ignored this, and while probably wouldn't push hard to seek it out, I won't automatically avoid it if the opportunity arises. I like your notion that it doesn't take itself so seriously. As a famous movie cop once said (sort of) "a film's got to know it's limitations."

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, That's how I felt. The original really disappointed me, so I didn't even bother with this one. But then we decide to watch it anyways (it was free) and I was very pleasantly surprised to find it was quite entertaining. Like I say, it's not a "great" film, but it was very entertaining and it was fun to watch these guys do their thing.

"A film's got to know its limitations" indeed! :D

ScottDS said...

I thought it was okay... and slightly better than the first one. The first one took itself a tad too seriously, the jokes weren't funny, and it was shot like a movie from today: I kept hoping Stallone would pull the camera back a little bit.

The second film was a little better in this area, though the whole thing still has a cheap "made in Eastern Europe" vibe to it (because it was). It was nice to see Arnold and Bruce show up at the end, but Chuck Norris had about as much screen time as I do in some of my background extra gigs!

And these movies are totally NOT taking advantage of their R ratings. The CGI blood looks just like that: CGI. And in a movie like this, there should be some iconic "Yippee ki yay" kind of line... bupkes.

The teaser for the third film looks good, though.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, It did have a cheap "made in Eastern Europe" feel to it. They should have filmed this in the US somewhere, that would have helped a lot. But it was still entertaining.

In terms of Norris, he's not on screen long, but his two appearances are fantastic. On the lines, I think the focus was on repeating their old lines rather than creating a new one, but yeah, a new one would have been nice. Only, I don't think this was that kind of movie. This one lacked the intensity of the kinds of movies where lines that were common. This was more like a stroll through the past rather than a rousing death race.

In terms of the CGI blood, I didn't miss the real thing at all. I think going more gory would have been a mistake.

ScottDS said...

I don't mean gory per se, but when you look at something like the original Die Hard films, they have a more visceral quality to them. Practical effects, a wider color palette (nothing like Bulgaria Gray!), etc.

I'm no gore-hound at all (but I know a few!)... but IMHO so far, only David Fincher (with Zodiac) has managed to do CGI blood well.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I agree. A little more intensity, a better color palette, a sense that they sent more money... all would have helped. They should have set this in San Francisco.

ScottDS said...

A while back, I read a great article about how Hollywood films attempt to "double" America in foreign countries. For instance, the studio in Bulgaria where they shot this film has a backlot street where we meet Chuck Norris' character. That backlot can be transformed into NYC if the film calls for it.

And apparently, if you can't afford Times Square, go to Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto... it might pass. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That you can, but you really can't duplicate the wide-open shots of the city where you see landmarks in the background as they race around town. It's worth it if you're making an expensive film.

Kit said...

I guess I'll have to see this movie.

ScottDS said...

Kit, it's entertaining enough but don't go to any special trouble. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, As Scott says, don't got to any special trouble, but it is worth seeing if you get the chance.

Tohokari-Steel said...

I also liked this better than the first one. My favorite part? When Arnold comes to their rescue in the mine and says, "I'm back.", immediately followed by the iconic beat from Terminator.

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