Should I Watch..? 'The Expendables 2' (2012)
What's the big deal?
The Expendables 2 is an action film released in 2012 and is the second entry in the Expendables franchise. Like the first film, it is a loving tribute / parody of the big budget action films of the 80's and 90's and features many of the stars used in such movies. Due to the unexpected success of the first film, the filmmakers had a much larger budget this time around and assembled a much larger cast. With director Simon West taking over from star Sylvester Stallone, it was enough of a financial success to generate a third film but critics remain divided, praising the action and tongue-in-cheek humour while dismissing the script and dialogue as poor. The film also caused controversy in Bulgaria (where it was filmed) after environmental damage was caused during the shoot, during which a stuntman was also killed.
What's it about?
The Expendables are a group of highly trained and experienced mercenaries operating out of a bike garage in New Orleans. Their latest recruit, a sniper named Billy The Kid, informs the groups leader Barney Ross that he wishes to quit to spend time with his girlfriend. But before he does so, the enigmatic CIA agent Church gives Barney a new mission - retrieve a laptop from a downed plane in Albania - and even sends along a tech expert to assist, a young woman called Maggie Chan. But the mission is halted by another mercenary team led by international arms dealer Jean Vilain who kills Billy and steals the laptop.
Swearing revenge, the Expendables discover that the laptop has the location of a secret plutonium mine which Vilain is attempting to uncover. With the fate of the world in their hands, they head off in pursuit of Vilain to serve him justice the only way they know how...
Trailer (may contain explosions!)
What's to like?
If you're looking for brutal and heavily stylised action violence then this is the first movie you should look at. The Expendables 2 is an indulgent and shameless exercise of cinematic mayhem, launching itself like a greyhound from the first reel and not stopping until the end credits start. If The Matrix is a slow roasted belly of pork then this movie is a whole Carolina Reaper chili pepper - it will blow you away but it's not exactly what I'd call filling. That said, this movie expands the cast to include several key names missing from the original line-up and gives a bit more credence to the mission brief of being the ultimate action picture. The action is also shot much better and isn't obscured by inky darkness that the first film had in abundance. The direction is much less clumsy as well, which makes the movie decent enough to watch without you losing who each person is and where they are all the time.
The banter has also been retained and, if anything, turned up to 11. With Willis and Schwarzenegger now given greater roles, the lines come thick and fast - at one point, they exchange catchphrases with each other with a cheeky glint in their eye - and the inclusion of Chuck Norris only adds to the comedy, playing off his now infamous Chuck Norris Facts. It almost feels like a parody movie at times but thankfully, never goes too far down that path.
- Chuck Norris came out of retirement at the age of 71 to star in this movie. When Stallone asked if a Chuck Norris Fact could be included in the screenplay, Norris' wife Gena O'Kelly suggested the one used (about Chuck being bitten by a cobra).
- Schwarzenegger shot all his scenes in under a week, seven days before shooting his official comeback in the lead role of The Last Stand.
- The original fight scene between Stallone and Van Damme was much shorter and had Van Damme running away. It was Van Damme himself who insisted on a longer stand-off to appease the audience.
What's not to like?
I've seen bad scripts turned into movies before but The Expendables 2 really is as dumb as they come. It is painfully apparent which member of the team is going to get killed at the beginning of the film from the moment they talk about leaving the group before something bad happens. The dialogue is full of the sort of uber-macho nonsense you'd expect from such a legendary bunch of beefcakes and the action, while certainly fulfilling the criteria, is almost cartoony. Compare this to something like The Raid which is just as adrenaline-fuelled and one-dimensional but gritty and genuinely exciting. There is rarely any feeling that things are going to go wrong for the good guys in The Expendables 2 and this strips the film of any sort of tension which it badly needs.
The other problem is one which also plagues the recent Avengers: Age Of Ultron - there are simply too many characters to be given equal screen time. Jet Li is literally only in the film for a few seconds while Couture and Crews have so little to do behind the more experienced cast members. I'm not sure we're missing much - performances are adequate at best while JCVD reminds us why he's spending so much time these days selling Coors.
Should I watch it?
It's definitely the best of the series so far but The Expendables 2 is little more than a one-trick pony, however good the trick may be. There's no doubt that it is an action-film fans dream-flick and offers plenty of bloodshed and mindless violence to satisfy even the most rabid of fans. It just needs to remember that we're not living in the 80's any more - action movies have evolved through films like The Matrix and while there is a certain amount of charm in its old-school methods, it doesn't thrill in quite the way you hope it might.
Great For: boys night in, fans of the 80s, Chuck Norris' reputation, the NRA
Not So Great For: romantic dates, young children, Bulgarian cave bats
What else should I watch?
There is a third movie in the series - The Expendables 3 - but due to a fall in the rating, the violence is watered down so much that it simply isn't worth bothering with. If you can cope with subtitles then I suggest Indonesian action-thriller The Raid which is also an old-fashioned action movie with a dumb plot but with vast amounts of lightning quick martial arts that take your breath away. Alternatively, how about House Of Flying Daggers which combines Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon style fighting with a simple plot and an amazingly beautiful look to it. It's almost art.
Of course, there are plenty of action movies to enjoy which don't fall into parody - Speed, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and The Matrix are three of the best examples from the 90's but there are many more to choose from.
Jean-Claude Van Damme
Billy The Kid
Richard Wenk & Sylvester Stallone *
Release Date (UK)
16th August, 2012
© 2015 Benjamin Cox