Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Expendables 2

"The Expendables 2" actually opens with a great deal of promise, much to my unending shock.  Stallone and his crew charge into some ridiculously-defended town on huge modified trucks covered with armor and guns.  One of the trucks basically has a plow on the front with the words "Coming Soon" that mows down random foreign enemies.  Then they got an I-beam on the front of the truck to ram right into hapless enemies.  Everybody is kicking ass kinds of ass.  All to save some mysterious person covered in a white sheet held by some random Asian mobsters.  Everybody splits up to either shoot-up, stab, snipe, or kung-fu a lot of bad guys to death, depending upon their skillset.  The Expendables crew busts in, smashing through three buildings, murder everybody, and pull up the sheet to discovery its... ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER!  And despite being captured by these random bad guys, he's just as awesome as ever, the greatest action hero to ever live.

But the escape is even more impressive.  Schwarzenegger can take care of his own Austrian ass, the Expendables need to get some Chinese guy out of this area, but the charge into the buildings was the easy part.  They all get on jet skis white Stallone and Statham get into the cargo seaplane.  If you thought the "Death Race"-style trucks were the end of the awesome, you are just as dead wrong as these random mooks who thought they could fight a team of action heroes.  Because this plane has a dude firing a machine gun on the nose, and it gets better.  The enemies are all chasing in their own boats, getting blown out of the water by the Expendables Air Force.  Everybody climbs into the plane for the final escape.  First there's a bridge covered by dudes - they got a solution for that.  The nose of the plane has a goddamn CANNON on it, which blows up that stupid bridge.  They fly through the explosion, raise the plane up above a bridge, and just barely avoid crashing into the structure and being killed in a massive collision.  After that, they throw the guy overboard into Beijing, and they all go home for drinks.

And for a moment, I thought "The Expendables 2" actually had a chance to be good.  I mean, not just good, really good.  A true send-up to the 80s action B-movies - which is all the more relevant and necessary today when the last big action movie of the summer was... well... "Total Bullshit".  It all seemed to be going well.  Then I saw the rest of the movie.  Nothing replicated the raw excitement of this first sequence.  "Expendables 2" at least is a huge improvement over the pathetic mediocrity of "Expendables 1".  It actually stands up as a decent action movie, with more classic stars, who actually get to do something.  I mean, Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Willis are actually on screen at the same and get to actually kill something while there.  But still... the movie is something of a mess.

The first problem with "Expendables 2" begins exactly one minute after the big rescue scene.  Jet Li parachutes down with the guy they saved, who is never actually given a name.  He says "I might see you again, who knows?"  Which I assume means that he's going to be gone for the next hour, but he'd be back for a big rescue right at the final climax, saving the day just before Stallone got the final punchout with the villain.  But no.  HE GOES HOME.  Jet Li is GONE!  He never comes back!  So I hope you weren't hoping for lots of kung-fu in this movie, like I was.

Replacing Jet Li is Chris Hemsworth's little brother, who might remember as being Catnip Everclear's cuckold boyfriend in "The Hunger Games".  That's obviously shining action movie credentials, right?  He's apparently a veteran from the Afghanistan War, and a sniper.  I thought for a moment that this was perhaps some kind of reverential statement about how America's real action heroes are out there fighting for us right now and they deserve as much credit as these pretend movie stars - but then the guy says he wants to retire right after this one last mission.  Well, he might as well have said he's got a nuclear bomb inside his skull ready to go off in thirty seconds for how dead this guy is.  And guess what?  Dead almost immediately.  Its funny too, because in the final confrontation, the villain asks Stallone what this young guy's name is.  And for the life of me, I could not remember either.  Some research later and I've found out his name is Billy.  Whatever.

The other new addition is some pretty Asian girl.  She's here to be female and pretend to be an action star.  I was hoping that she'd end up like Knives Chao or something, but she knows no kung-fu, is never convincing in her shooting, and is completely useless.  She's not bad per se, but there are female action stars, you know.  Lucy Liu?  Uma Thermon?  Michelle Yeoh?  Pam Grier?  Linda Hamilton?  Sigourney Weaver!

On the other hand, those two useless characters from "Expendables 1" have been properly silenced.  You know the two:  Terry Crews and that MMA guy.  They have basically no lines in this movie at all.  Forget about them.  I never really appreciated how well "The Avengers" was able to evenly space out its storyline and allow all the per-established superheroes work together and kick ass.  Yeah, their foe wasn't very good, but its amazing how smartly written and well-paced that movie was considering the huge difficulties of mixing together so many personalities and powers.  And it worked!  "Expendables 2" has the interesting solution of basically cutting half the cast out of the movie, leaving them with no purpose whatsoever.  Even Dolph Lundgren has nothing to do, he just spends the entire movie seeming very confused and imagining how better his life could have been if he were a chemist.  Jason Statham is still Stallone's right hand man, and he's at least given a miniboss to fight.

The biggest improvement, of course, is in the directing.  The action scenes are finally competently directed, and are actually exciting.  The best one by far is the first scene, but there are at least two decent action scenes later.  And a really great final fist fight.  The dialog isn't much better, there are some cringeworthy lame moments when characters say just truly awful one-liners or reference lines from the action scenes of old.  I still don't really care about the story or the characters, but in terms of action fanservice, it works.  Unfortunately, the middle section of the movie gets really stale and slow, because again, I don't care about the story or the characters.

Its almost amazing how much more exciting "Expendables 2" becomes when Arnold Schwarzenegger comes back on screen.  Or when Bruce Willis is there.  Even Chuck Norris* can bring the excitement because he's a true star.  I really wish the movie cut down the cast massively and just had Schwarzenegger and Stallone together in a "Tango and Cash"-style adventure.  Get the two best action stars of all time, give them a bad guy to fight, and do it.  We don't need like seventeen people, half of which aren't even proper action stars.

But, to give "Expendables 2" credit, and it deserves a lot, they did cast a real action star for the villain.  Eric Roberts was pretty much the best part of the original movie, but is he an action star?  Ha, "Best of the Best", notwithstanding, he isn't.  Instead, we have none other than Jean-Claude Van Damme, returning from the darkness known as "straight-to-DVD land" to play Albert Wesker playing the villain.  "Expendables" clearly has to do a lot of work to cover up the fact that its stars are way too old and too stiff to actually fight anymore, but Van Damme is still out there throwing his high kicks like "Universal Soldier" and "Time Cop" only came out yesterday.  Damme!  What a performer.  He's great in this, which is a shame because he's the villain, and thus must lose to the oversized-moose of a man that Sylvester Stallone has aged into.

At any rate, "Expendables 2" really is just about the best this action movie showcase thing ever could have been.  The idea was never to make high art, it was to be fanservice.  And ultimately, fanservice is going to be cheap, pandering, and in more than a few ways unsatisfying.  But for how ambivalent I sounded in this review, it actually was shockingly good.  I was expecting something so bad that "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" would seem like "Predator 1".  But instead, I got a movie that did its best to entertain, and actually succeeded.  I'm just unpleasable, I want something as great as the action movies of old, which these guys simply cannot give anymore.  This isn't something I'm bitter about.

And "Expendables 2" isn't killing the box office of "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World", so it has that going for it.  Instead its killing... "The Apparition".  Well, in that perspective, its actually doing some kind of civil service, isn't it?

* Who by the way, might just be the worst action star in all of history.  His movies truly suck.  I assumed the Internet was being ironic when they fell in love with him, but no, the Internet is really just that stupid.  I also have no idea why Ennio Morricone's music from "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" played when he entered.  Maybe the filmmakers thought Clint Eastwood was supposed to play that role and got confused?

1 comment:

  1. Arnold and Stallone are gonna be together in an upcoming flick in 2013! Wall or somethin like that..