So, the wife’s out at a Christmas party and I’m left to fend for myself. Cue the frozen pizza, beer and a loud, dumb, needlessly violent action film; and action films don’t come much bigger than this. Basically, the plot can be summed up in two lines, following the murder by Jean Claude Van Damme (henceforth referred to as JCVD) of one of Sly’s team:
Lee Christmas: What’s the plan?
Barney Ross: Track ’em, find ’em, kill ’em
There’s something in there about plutonium as well, with the baddies using forced labor to extract it from a mine. Indeed, we are primed early on to feel no sympathy for the baddies as we watch them commit atrocities. This makes it OK to enjoy Sly and the gang wasting them (often with amusing quippery) later on.
The film succeeds by acknowledging its ridiculousness and at no times takes itself seriously. Some of the quips are pretty funny and there are many nods in the dialog to the action films of the 80’s in which most of the actors were made famous. Statham gets my favorite line…
Statham’s character: [dressed as a priest] “By the powers vested in me, I now pronounce you man and knife.”
Having praised the films sense of humor, it’s now time to damn, with faint mocking praise, the rest of the movie. Stallone wrote the screenplay and I wonder if he was aware of how cliched it was and if he wrote it this way intentionally. I like to think that he did and that he’s in on the joke, gently mocking the ham-fisted scripts of movies in years gone by. Seriously, you can’t use the following dialog in a modern movie, without raising some guffaws:
“Why is it that the good ones, who want to live, die, but the ones that deserve to die….live on. Like, what’s up with that? Is that the message, or something?”
“I don’t wanna, you know, get close to anyone. Too many people who get close to me get hurt.”
OK, so to expect subtlety, or even a plot is probably too much to expect from an Expendables film. To be honest, it’s enough that Stallone has managed to rouse up every 80’s tough guy and assemble them for an outing. Probably my favorite scene is when out heroes are under heavy fire from a tank and what seems like an entire army of inept soldiers. In a sequence that is never explained, a 72 year old Chuck freaking Norris appears from nowhere, and single handedly takes out the tank and all the henchmen.
Stallone-“I heard a rumor you were bitten by a king cobra.”
Norris-“The rumor is true. It was 5 days of horrible pain. Then the cobra died.”
The acting is universally poor, these guys have the acting range and depth of a paddling pool. Schwarzenegger is especially bad and looks like he’s squinting at cue cards during the scenes where he has to actually talk. JCVD does what is required of a baddie and must be happy to have a cinematic outing instead of going straight to DVD. Statham and Stallone unsurprisingly produce the best acting performances.
The film is directed by Simon West, who copes with the action sequences well enough. The cinematography is nice and the near miss sequence with the aircraft is well executed. The musical score is very good, it uses a full orchestra and has some nice bombast to it.
The Expendables 2 is superior to the first film, its funnier and more action packed. Taken on its own terms and viewed as a kind of love letter to the hard man action films of the 80’s and 90’s, The Expendables is the perfect nostalgic celebration. Switch off your brain, sit back with a beer and enjoy watching these geriatric alpha heroes doing what they are famous for.