Wednesday, November 21, 2012

DVD Review: The Expenables 2

The Expendables 2
Directed by: Simon West.
Written by: Richard Wenk and Sylvester Stallone.
Starring: Sylvester Stallone (Barney Ross), Jason Statham (Lee Christmas), Jean-Claude Van Damme (Vilain), Jet Li (Yin Yang), Dolph Lundgren (Gunnar Jensen), Chuck Norris (Booker), Bruce Willis (Church), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Trench), Terry Crews (Hale Caesar), Randy Couture (Toll Road), Liam Hemsworth (Bill The Kid), Scott Adkins (Hector), Nan Yu (Maggie), Amanda Ooms (Pilar), Charisma Carpenter (Lacy).

There is something almost comforting about a movie like The Expendables 2. This is a straight ahead action movie, with clearly defined good guys and bad guys, where rarely does a 10 minute stretch go by without someone being brutally killed (complete with gushing blood and exploding heads!) or something getting blown up real good. No one would really mistake The Expendables 2 for a really good movie – it doesn’t have a thought in its head, doesn’t really care about character development or believable dialogue (although it certainly does like quips after one of the good guys shoots a baddie) and whose morality is very simple – the Americans are good, and the foreign bad guys, who sound Russian for the most part, are evil. The Expendables 2 is a throwback to a much simpler time.

Is The Expendables 2 entertaining? I guess that depends on your definition of entertaining, but it you’re like me and have a soft spot for the muscle bound antics found in 1980s action movies, it can be entertaining as long as you don’t expect too much. From its opening sequence where Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his motley crew of mercenaries blast their way through countless bad guys in Nepal to save a Chinese billionaire, to its finale inside an airport, where the same crew – plus a few cameo players added in for good measure – shoot up an airport full of civilians (never hurting them, of course, just the bad guys), and the hand-to-hand combat finale between Ross and the chief bad guy Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), The Expendables 2 doesn’t have a thought in its head other than how best to kill the bad guys, and splatter as much blood as humanly possible. If all you want to see is blood, guts, gore and explosions, than The Expendables 2 delivers the goods.

For me, I was somewhat disappointed. Stallone, who directed the first movie and most of the rest of his recent output (Rambo, Rocky Balboa) gives the director’s chair over to Simon West this time. West is not what I would call a good director, but he’s very good at staging action sequences, which is really all that is required of him. But personally, I (perhaps naively) thought that Stallone had matured a little in his old age – and was interested in doing slightly more in his late career efforts. Laugh at me if you want to, but his last Rambo movie is actually really good – and at least touches on some of the same themes as Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven – especially in what may just be the bloodiest shootout in movie history that ends that movie. Stallone, whose career has been built around his one man army characters killing a lot of faceless enemies, at least touched on the senseless carnage in that movie. And even in the original Expendables movie, there was an undercurrent of regret and sadness beneath all the blood and guts. While I’m certainly not arguing that Stallone reached the same heights as Eastwood did in his masterpiece – he didn’t even come close – what I am suggesting is that it appeared like Stallone was at least questioning the morality of his characters.

But The Expendables 2 is just straight ahead action. After the first one became a success, it seems like they wanted to cram in as many former action stars as possible into the sequel. Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger are back – and this time not just to talk – and the movie adds in Chuck Norris, and gives Jean-Claude Van Damme the opportunity to be the bad guy – and show that yes, he can still do high kicks. Most of the rest of the crew are back – although Mickey Rourke’s absence is felt, and I wish Jet Li had stuck around for more than what is essentially a cameo. And I quite liked the addition of Nan Yu as Maggie Chang – someone Stallone has to take along, but who gradually wins his respect. Women can kick ass too you know.

In short, The Expendables 2 is precisely what you think it is. If you have any interest in seeing the film, I have a hard time believing you won’t think you got your money’s worth from the film. If you want more than just an action film, look elsewhere. But if want to see Stallone et al kick ass again, then this is the movie for you.

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