‘The Expendables’ from 2010, directed by Sylvester Stallone, was an unremarkable action film that only contained two memorable scenes. 1: A beefy, but overly sensitive Mickey Rourke making an emotional confession about letting a woman commit suicide during the Bosnian war; 2: Jason Statham punching a guy in the face when the dude was already on fire. It was an ensemble piece in which Stallone et al liberated the masses of the third world using whatever tools they had at their disposal (I’m certain this included steroids).
I doubt those of you seeing ‘The Expendables 2’ are interested in its plot, but let me humor you anyways. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren – they’re all back. New to the team is an easily adaptable Yu Nan, a young but ambitious Liam Hemsworth, and the lone-wolf mercenary Chuck Norris. When one of these members, who I will not mention by name, is killed during a seemingly routine job, they seek revenge on Jean Claude Van Damme, a villain appropriately named John Vilain. He has the blueprint to the location containing five tonnes of pure plutonium (“Six pounds of it is enough to change the balance of the world” says JCVD). Their mission, as instructed by Stallone – “Track him, find him, and kill him!”
Despite the (marginally) negative review I gave the first picture, I have to say I had a blast watching ‘The Expendables 2’. Can I defend it as a great movie? Perhaps not. But, I can say I had a pretty great time watching this film fly with the fireballs, bullets, and testosterone. So, why an endorsement of this film and not the first? Well, I think much of it has to do with the directorial choice. Even though Stallone has directed a number of action movies, I think he is best suited for drama. Take a look at this scene, which I described in the first paragraph of this review. Notice how Stallone gets closer to the emotion of the scene by absolving shot-reverse-shot. His direction of action scenes, however, is often clunky and chaotic. Simon West took over the director’s chair for ‘The Expendables 2’ and that’s the biggest positive change I noticed. West’s previous (good) efforts include ‘Con Air’, and ‘The General’s Daughter’. He has a good sense of framing, and how to construct an action sequence, and combining the two in widescreen. Though the action scenes are as busy this time around as they were in the first picture, so much is simultaneously transpiring on the screen that you may need to watch such scenes frame by frame to fully appreciate what West has assembled. But, the end result is a much crisper visual sense that pushes the film forward. The opening rescue operation sequence involving trucks and airboats is nothing short of goofy, spectacular entertainment. And the final showdown left me with sweaty palms.
There is nothing dishonest about ‘The Expendables 2’ – it knows exactly what it is. It’s a blast to see these action film veterans together – yes, the first movie was an ensemble piece as well, but the screenplay of ‘The Expendables 2’ has a better sense of humor about itself, even if it is of the self-deprecating variety. It’s hard not to smile rehearing some of these actor’s self-referential signature lines. The special effects look as dated as the 1980s action films its paying homage to, but that didn’t bother me. Even if some of the actors are looking a little shrivelled at their old age, they’ve still got it, particularly Jean Claude Van Damme, an actor who many of my movie-going colleagues (and myself) have criticized for years. This back to basics action film is lean and efficient, seamlessly shifting from self-parody to shoot-em-up violence. ‘The Expendables 2’ is a pretty awesome throwback to the action films of yesteryear. I’m not embarrassed to admit it – I loved this movie. Perhaps the biggest positive surprise of 2012 so far for yours truly. QED.
– Jerry Nadarajah