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Star - Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, Statham, Norris, Li, Hemsworth....
Genre - Action
County - U
Certificate - 15
Run Time - 103 minutes
Blockbusters - £3.50 per night
Amazon - £11.50 DVD (£15.00 Blue Ray)
So, the boys are back, yet more over the top action and joyous vein humor for the old legends to revel in, the dumbest ensemble movie ever made and the biggest gathering of A-List stars since those Technicolor World War Two classics of the 1960s and 70s, pure showing off.
This accelerating franchise was the brainchild of Sylvester Stallone and unlike his duties on the previous installment as actor, co-writer, co-producer and director; he has a lesser hands on approach this time with a studio director and scriptwriter bought in to take some of the strain. Stallone's son Sage would die during the promotional tour and it's believed that ongoing problems with his kid were part of the reason he wasn't able to repeat his directing efforts on The Expendables, doing everything done to save money on the first film, of course.
New additions are a typically hammy Bond villain turn by Van Damme (called 'villain', ho ho) and a glorious cameo by Chuck Norris, his first film for seven years, 72-years old no less, enjoying sending up his previous films with some nostalgic 80s action quipping here, the concurrent theme for this franchise. I think they call it post modern. Who knows who will be in the third film. I bet the crowd roared in the American multiplexes when Chuck arrives onto the screen mid movie. I did. All the boys loved Norris in the good old days, a B-Movie legend!
Stallones character - 'I heard that you [Chuck Norris] got bitten by a cobra'
Stallones character - 'I heard the cobra took five days to die'.
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
"By the powers vested in me, I now pronounce you man and knife".
Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), the leader of a team of hardened mercenaries, each having special skills that compliment the team, have just completed a job in Nepal to recover a kidnapped Chinese dissident, also rescuing Ross's biggest rival Trent (Schwarzenegger), who clearly failed on his teams attempt to nab Dr Zhou.
Back in New Orleans and the beers flowing, Ross telling there newest recruit, young Billy (Liam 'Thor' Hemsworth), an ex army sniper, that there is work if the kid wants it as he performed well on the job. But this is not the life for Billy and he turns down the offer. But they will need the kid for one last job as CIA man Church (Bruce Willis) is calling in a quick favor and wont take no for an answer.
After boarding Ross rickety old sea plane the plan is to recover an item from a safe in a downed aircraft in Albania. Church insists technical expert Maggie Chen (Nan Yu) goes along for the ride in case of problems with the safe. But on the ground they are double-crossed and lose one of their number to Albanian Mr Big 'Vilain' (Van Damme), the prize valuable enough to cost lives. Maggie reveals to Ross that the safe contained the location of a secret stash of cold war plutonium that didn't make its way into the Russian warheads.
The caverns where the radioactive material is stored are in Bulgaria and the team on their way to the old Eastern Block country to get even, with the help of a nearby village who are forced to supply the mines with cheap labor with many husbands and sons never returning. Vilain is a very powerful man with a whole army of thugs to keep the village in line. But Ross and his team are going nowhere until Vilain is dead and the nukes are safe.
I would not have liked to pay their hair dye bill for this movie, some very middle aged men squeezed into some very tight trousers, only the youthful Jason Statham and Chris Hemsworth keeping it under 35. But its good harmless fun and if you go with it then you will enjoy it. They all play their aging bones for laughs and although one too many in-jokes and catchphrases for my liking it just about works. It is almost self aware quipping to camera at times so it feels kind of silly at times. Saying that you know your going to get exactly that when you rent this movie so you shouldn't really complain about it.
It must have been great fun for the older action Gods to do this and if they can't flex their pecs anymore to get the big grosses and girls then they may as well win the audience over on those memories with spoonfuls of 80s irony. And yes Arnie does say 'I'll be back', the films biggest groan. He even wears the Planet Hollywood Hawaiian shirt under his fatigues so he can privately guffaw some more nostalgia furball. I suspect they thought that ironic humor all through the film would be funnier than it actually is.
Arnie does a small catchphrase cameo before departing to take on 'The Last Stand', his first starring role in a movie since Terminator 3, some nine years ago, back in the movie business proper it seems now his political career is over. Terminator 5 is being talked about, as is Triplets, the later a somewhat tongue-in-cheek rumor doing the rounds you hope. Arnie looks old on screen and playing the worn-out sheriff in a small town is where his career is heading, as proved the case in The Last Stand, very much the territory the near senile Clint Eastwood is now in and Bruce Willis also contemplating. There are only so many burnt out cop roles you can play Bruce before it gets boring mate.
The $92 million budget is surprisingly low for a film so bold. Presumably most of that wedge is wages and no way the actors were allowed to see each others pay packet. That would have shut the production down right there, due to the egos involved. In fact they nearly did have to close down the film after one stuntman was killed and another seriously injured. They had built an actual real bridge in Bulgaria over a river to get a critical scene right - so sturdy it's even used today by the Bulgarian railway - but the pillars were so solid the stuntman was killed when his rubber attack boat hit one at speed. The production team further angered the Bulgarians (where 75% of the film was shot) by causing environmental damage to some famous caves, later resulting in a court case and small fine. Arnie, ever the politician, decided to award the Bulgarian Prime Minster with the sword from Conan the Barbarian as a further offering and supporting future US productions in the country no doubt, a country much cheaper than a Hollywood lot and American extras.
So far the sequel has done a decent $331million back with the third film already in motion. With Stallone you know he only ever makes everyman action movies and the dialect is almost certainly going to be a series of grunts and the action over the top, using some of the gruesome sadistic special effects to the last Rambo film from 2009, heads being exploded by high caliber bullets in a tsunami of CGI blood. According to the US military, this is exactly what happens to a man, woman or child's head or body in real warfare if hit by a snipers round so why not?
The plot and bad guy are straight from the bad Bond movies of the 1970s and 80s and the body count just as high, be it less visceral in Bond. There is so much ham and testosterone on the screen its one-upmanship everywhere you look, as you would expect from a tongue-in-cheek film like this. Stallone also takes the opportunity to plug The Expendables gothic looking merchandise, lots of chunky silver jewelry and severe looking skeleton adorned knives and firearms .You can see this is a big personal commercial project for Sly and maybe he, too, is building up a war chest to run for office...
Imdb.com - 7.0/10.0 (101,234 votes)
Metacritc.com - 51% critic's approval rating
Rottentomatos.com - 66% critic's approval rating
USA Today -' The Expendables 2 is corny, barbaric and sometimes visually murky. But humor and self-deprecating macho charm make this male pattern badness crowd-pleasing fun'.
Empire -'I wanted to like this movie. Really. But this sequel doesn't wear down your resistance; it just wears you out'.
This is London -' Those hoping for a deeper, smarter, or more polished piece of action cinema: Sorry, but this franchise has pretty much established it isn't about that'.
Movie Talk - 'The Mail on Sunday -'I was thoroughly appalled, mainly at myself for enjoying it'.
The New Yorker - '"The Expendables 2″ is just entertaining enough to permit a third film. If only these steroids-packing seniors can coordinate schedules again'.
The Melbourne Age - 'saggy, rickety and occasionally winded geriatric action thriller ...
When they announced they were making a sequel to the all action hero film The Expendables, the questions on everyone's lips had absolutely nothing to do with plot, acting or the deep directional skills that most films rely on for success. No, here everyone was wondering which action film stars would be drafted in to add to the already impressive list from the first film. For those not aware of the concept of the first film, it pitted together the action credentials of Sly Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Randy Couture, Terry Crews and Mickey Rourke (among others) to create an all action film with a basic plot that allowed the stars some cheesy one liners and a hell of a lot of fighting and explosions - an action film lover's ideal film. There were even short cameos from Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The sequel then, surely had to do better? Well, with the characters already established it was over to the action at least to start with. After a high octane 20 minute rescue operation that allows us to see some of the best skills of the motley crew that remains, the main plot sort of starts. Willis plays Church, a sort of contractor, a gun hirer as opposed to a gun for hire. The first film arguably sees Stallone and his crew as owing Church a debt, and so Church calls it in, throwing in a member of team of his own - a woman to try and balance up the odds.
The mission goes badly when the team lose one of their own, and they encounter the main villain of the film, a man named Vilain (didn't require much thought with the name there then!). Here's where we get our first addition: Jean-Claude Van Damme. Notoriously refusing to take part in the first film, he fills the role of bad guy expertly here, making you instantly hate his character as well as his sidekicks. As the film progresses, we discover a plot to steal some plutonium and blow loads of things up and kill loads of people: standard action film really but as I said this is no real plot effort, it's all about the cast and the action.
After the buildup to an inevitable final scene and a random village under threat with the families in the mines about to die, our heroes decide to go gung ho, exact their revenge and save the world, of course. High octane action doesn't really stop for long, but the lulls disappear entirely towards the end, and it's almost like a half hour finale where they must have spent kajillions of dollars on the explosives and damage and destruction to things. I don't think I've seen another more destructive end sequence to a film, and to cap it all, the Lone Wolf himself, Chuck Norris, makes an appearance.
It's great really - Norris, like all other stars here, is happy for familiar characteristics about himself to be used and abused. The wolf noise a la Eastwood in the Wild West, the random shot appearing out of nowhere only for one of our heroes to turn around and see Norris there with a nod, and the whole 'I only work alone' repetition all add to a brilliant cameo from him.
In fact, there's a lot more play on words from the stars. Arnie and Willis get a lot more screen time than the short scene they did before, and the sight of the two of them flanking Stallone as the three of them shoot up an entire air hangar of never ending bad guys is a glorious wonder to behold for anyone who enjoyed Predator, Rambo and Die Hard as I did. These guys must have had so much fun, with the one liners from all of them making me chuckle. In fact, the interaction between Arnie and Willis is brilliant - one liners galore here. Lundgren overplays his 'can't act very well' status, while Crews' big black bad ass but gentle on the inside stigma is funny as is Couture's no nonsense business attitude. Li gets some martial arts action in early on and everything is complete.
The only thing left is to wonder when they're making the third film, to be honest. They're running out of worthy additions, and since you can't bring people like Bruce Lee back from the dead, I don't think there's much more you could add to this that would enhance the experience. I mean, how many more superstars could you have left out when you bring in the Muscles from Brussels as your villain and have Chuck as your go to guy? Huh? I just know though, that a third film will be in the pipeline. It must be true, cos Chuck Norris said so...
Now here's a rarity: a sequel that is better than its predecessor. Admittedly, in the case of The Expendables that wasn't terribly difficult, but it happens so rarely that you need to take these small crumbs of comfort where you can get them.
It's rare in another way, too. The writers of this sequel have not just taken the first film and made it bigger and louder. Rather, they have looked at what worked in the first film and kept it and what didn't and fixed it. So whilst you end up with a film that is, yes, bigger and louder, you also end up with one which is better.
One of my chief criticisms of the first film was that it was too straight-faced. It was in desperate need of a bit of tongue in cheek humour to liven it up; a bit of cheesy 80s dialogue so that it became both an affectionate homage to overblown 80s action movies and a sly dig at them. Without this knowing wink to its ancestry, it just ended up ended up looking a bit dated. On the other hand, if it's cheese you're after, then The Expendables 2 has more cheese than a Mr Cheese Cheeseburger with extra cheese and a side of cheesy chips.
There is a plot (of sorts), but it's all a bit irrelevant. Something about The Expendables being hired to track down some old plutonium deposits hidden by the Russians during the Cold War to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Let's be honest, though, the plot is nothing more than a justification for shooting lots of people and blowing lots of things up. And on that level, The Expendables 2 succeeds admirably. Explosions and 80s Cheese. What's not to like?!
If you grew up during the 80s, you will probably have a deep affinity for those over the top action films and that's exactly what The Expendables 2 seeks to emulate. The cast is an action film lover's wet dream: Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, Norris, Li, Lundgren, Van Damme, Statham, all together at last in one film. And did I mention stuff explodes?
It would be hard to say that there is much actual acting going on, but with such a cast, who cares? These people were never exactly renowned for their acting ability and it didn't hold them back! They gurn, grunt, grimace and gun their way through proceedings and show that whilst they might not ever have mastered the subtle art of acting, they've still got what it takes when it comes to holding a gun, making bad quips and blowing stuff up.
It's clear that they are all having a blast, re-visiting their glory days, cracking awful one-liners and taking good-natured side-swipes at each other. They gleefully steal each other's catchphrases, poke fun at the things that made them famous and generally run around like small kids in a playground being allowed to do things they been banned from doing for too long. This sort of stuff's infectious and you can't help but enjoy this guilty throwback of a film.
Inevitably, some characters get more screen time than others and some are used more effectively. Arnie's big comeback, for example, is spoiled by the fact when he gleefully utters a variation on his Terminator catchphrase ("I'm back"), he has already actually been in the film and anyway, this clip was seen in the trailer. Jet Li crops up at the start of the film and then disappears for most of it; only to re-appear briefly at the end. To be honest, though, with so many action stars present, this was always going to happen; and it doesn't actually matter anyway since when one disappears, there are plenty more to take their place! Besides, amount of screen time is almost an irrelevancy. Chuck Norris barely appears, yet his extended cameo is amongst the best things in it.
As with the first film, it's clear that Stallone and Statham are the two main characters and they form a surprisingly good double act. Given a little bit more freedom to be slightly silly, they exchange banter and act exactly as you would expect a couple of 80s mis-matched buddies to act. Sure, these days Stallone's face moves slower than a large glacier and it's often hard to make out what he's mumbling on about but that was always the case and his old-married couple bickering with Statham is fun.
The Expendables 2 just about works because it is so gloriously over the top. It's clear that everyone involved is having a real blast and being allowed to do stuff that Hollywood doesn't normally allow these days. Writers are being allowed to write ridiculously over-the-top set pieces and plots which make very little sense; actors are being allowed to get away cheesy quips and lots of in-jokes and special effects guys are being allowed to blow stuff up in a more low tech way. The Expendables 2 is so stupid it will make you laugh lots - sometimes intentionally, sometimes because it is so cheesy.
It starts at a stupidly over-the-top pace and keeps going. Within five minutes of the film starting, the body count is already massive and more bullets have been fired than in the whole of the Second World War. Sure, it loses its way a little in the middle (when it becomes a little but talky), but it rallies magnificently with a fantastic final battle that manages to rip off the endings to both Die Hard and the original Lethal Weapon. Scriptwriters: I take my hat off to you for such a fine piece of unashamed plagiarism!
Even with a 15 Certificate, The Expendables 2 is surprisingly violent. Whilst some of this is pseudo-comic book stuff (unlikely amounts of blood gushing from wounds, heads exploding or being severed) it's close enough to being realistic to be offensive to some. The level of violence is on a par with that of Rambo IV and perhaps sits slightly uncomfortably with the lighter, cheesier atmosphere on display elsewhere
The Expendables 2 is a throwback to those stupid overblown 80s movies that slowly sank under the weight of their own clichés. I'm not going to sit here and pretend it's a work of cinematic genius or even (if you stop and think about it for a few minutes) that great a film. However, it is good fun and for that, it has earned itself a perhaps surprising three stars.
The Expendables 2
Director: Simon West
Running time: Approx. 103 minutes
© Copyright SWSt 2012