MOVIE REVIEW: The Expendables 2

A bruising, brawling, bullet-holed Monster-Truck ride with the Vintage Muscle Crew – but can they out do the first movie?

Let me start by saying I was a big fan of the first – love them or malign them as the typecast actors that they probably are, these guys are THE original action heroes from the past (nearly) 40 years, churning out some of the biggest box-office breaking films and huge multi-million $ franchises: Die Hard, Terminator, Rocky etc.

Put it this way – if these guys hadn’t been filling cinemas for decades, just as the whole cinema industry was over-hauling itself, a whole lot of intellectual, art-house, “look down your nose at the proles” films would never have received funding, let alone seen light of day. So with all that in mind, I was very much looking forward to the sequel, based purely on the hype of the bigger cast, expanded to include Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme and more screen-time roles for Willis & Arnie. So, did it deliver, or disappoint?

In terms of visual scale, the film seemed smaller than the original. The plot location seems less “dense”, and at times I found myself thinking I was watching a “re-envisioning” of ‘The Magnificent Seven’. To wit, the gang have to go into an East European country to retrieve the contents of a safe on board a plane that has crashed. Upon arrival, they run into the local villains who are running the area, led very competently by J-CVD, and after one of their number is despatched and losing the contents of the safe, they set about getting equal. Along the way, they also take up the plight of local villagers who are under the domination of Van Damme’s tyrant hand.

Now the good and the bad. I have to admit that there is an inordinate amount of very poor CGI blood & guts. People get shot or blown up, and it looks like someone applied the blood to the film cell with a trowel! Li is not in the film long – he’s given an excuse to exit stage left, and will no doubt return in the final part of the trilogy. I actually really missed Mickey O’Rourke and kept thinking he was going to cameo somewhere; his absence was felt. Lundgren got the best deal – his character really evolved and the script-writers gave him a great sense of humour this time ’round. Crews & Couture… let’s be honest – does anyone care? Hemsworth was good  and there were moments I thought he was going to hurl a hammer and rip the bad guys a new one! Muscle-bound Brit, Scott Adkins was also particularly vicious as J-CVD’s right-hand thug.

And then there was Norris. His appearances are lean, and tread an uncertain line between action and self-caricaturing humour (his entrance is heralded by the theme from ‘The Good, The Bad & The Ugly!), but this is “Google: You Tried To Find Chuck Norris. You Don’t Find Him – He Finds You!” This guy was making martial arts films with the great Bruce Lee back at the turn of the 70’s – they even call him Booker in this, which I suspect is a hat-tip to his same named role in his ’78 film ‘Good Guys Wear Black’. His last film was 2005, and it was great to see him on the screen, surrounded by the rest of the boys.

Statham & Stallone were largely the same, although Sly started to look a little tired in place. Sometimes he was dishing out lines and he looked a little like ‘The Duke” when his career was over and reduced to making adverts. There were occasions when I think the dialogue was supposed to serious & poignant, but the audience was laughing, such was the “cheesiness” of the script. Arnie & Willis did extend the screen time and word count, and the humour was good, although a little “lowest common denominator”  – at times they were reduced to using each other’s most famous screen catchphrases to get a laugh.

But to be honest, I didn’t care – I was getting a kick out of seeing the “Planet Hollywood Gang” together – guys I’d grown up with most of my adult life – smiling like buddies and making wise-cracks at each other. At the end of the day, Arnie knew the game was up years ago and stopped seriously making movies; Willis still turns out real gems, and Sly – well, I still think that recent films such as ‘John Rambo’ & ‘Rocky Balbao’ are two of his finest performances he’s ever turned out (the guy has an Oscar for Christ’s sake – rant over!) But for me, the revelation was J-CVD. Of late, I’m used to seeing him on reality shows and ads for Coors’ Beer. But with his hair cut short, sunglasses, all dressed in black – he cut a good villain. Only when he took his shades off and saw his eyes, did you accept that he was another part of this “gathering of old men”.

Overall, I enjoyed it even with the poor CGI blood-splatter and aging cast. If you enjoyed the first, then don’t do them or yourself a disservice by missing this one. Should they do another? Part of me things not as sometimes you need to know when to stop. There was a moment in this film where I’m telling you I kept all 10 of my fingers crossed that Seagal was going to cameo, but even rumours of him, Wesley Snipes or Kurt Russell signing on for ‘Expendables 3’ are not enough of a reason to make such a venture worthwhile.

If they can get the ex-Mayor of Carmel onboard that would be a film worth making.

Rating: 3.5/5
Reporter: SilverFox

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