It is time for Action Movie Friday, where I treat an action movie like an action movie and not like a drama and stuff. All movie reviews are subjective and while I may like something, you might think it’s shit, and vice versa!
Title: The Expendables 2
MPAA Rating: R
Starring: Stallone, Statham, Li, Lundgren, Norris, Crews, Couture, Liam Hemsworth, Van Damme, Willis, Schwarzenegger, Scott Adkins, Nan Yu, Charisma Carpenter
Director: Simon West
Writer: Richard Wenk, Sylvester Stallone, Ken Kaufman, David Agosto and Dave Callaham
Budget: 100 Million
Box Office: 312 Million
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 65%
I had a hard time deciding what to review next. Should I review one of my favorite film series of all time (Star Wars) or should I go with something classic (Die Hard) or should I go off into left field somewhere (Shoot ‘Em Up). And then I got honest with myself and decided that since I’d started a series, I might as well finish it. So, let’s get back to the Expendables and their whacky hijinks with a movie that has to prove the rule that sequels are just not as great as the original idea. Damn.
Church (Willis) has unfinished business with Barney Ross (Stallone). Feeling that Ross and his crew has wrong him, Church offers Barney a deal, do this job and maybe Church will consider them even. The catch is that Barney has to babysit an agent of Church’s choosing and if that agent gets hurt, Church will kill Barney. Without much choice, Barney takes the job and has to accept Maggie Chang (Nan Yu) into his crew. The job goes well, until their sniper, Billy (Liam Hemsworth) is captured by Vilain (Van Damme,) the leader of the Sangs, mercenary cartel for hire. They try to negotiate for Billy’s life, but Vilain kills him anyways. Now Barney Ross and his crew are out for blood and to deliver vengance, Expendables style, with the fate of the world on the line as they race against time to keep Vilain from selling 5 tons of weapons grade plutonium to the highest bidder.
I wish half of this movie didn’t make me cringe.
Quickly by the numbers, this movie had a production budget between 92 Million and 100 Million. It brought in 312 Million worldwide, and sold about 37 million in DVD and Blu Ray sales. Overall, a financial success, enough of one that there is a third movie! Financial success however did not equal into story success, even for an action movie. Sadness.
The opening sequence of this movie is actually one of my favorite opening sequences. It makes me laugh the entire time and once again is supposed to set the tone for the rest of the movie. I say supposed to, because less than twenty minutes later, the tone is completely gone and we’re down to serious business y’all. There is still something incredibly entertaining about watching the main Expendables break into a base with some put together vehicles with snarky sayings spray painted on them, rescue Trench and a Chinese Billionaire and get back out again, especially when the last part of it, serves to show off the skills of the new member, Billy the Sniper. Despite the obnoxious call backs to the previous movie, I am once again hooked and ready for more thrilling adventures with our Expendables crew. I also applaud Barney for adding a sniper to the team, always a good move to have someone watching your backs and making sure the exit is clear. Once they’re on the plane, Jet Li makes his exit from the movie. (I guess he wasn’t being paid enough or something.) And we don’t see him again.
After this, we have a short interlude where the crew bonds in a bar and Billy asks Barney to go outside, only to reveal he wants to get out. The life isn’t for him, but hey, he wants to end out the month. So, yay! We’ll get to see some cool sniper skills. Oh wait. No. In writer terms this means, well, shit. And this is where the movie starts getting predictable and worrisome. Though it’s nice to see that Lacey and Christmas are still an item and that Lacey is now on first pseudonym basis with the crew. But she’s barely a blip on the screen before she’s gone.
Now, there is nothing wrong with a predictable plot. As long as the journey is entertaining. And you see, from the point where Billy asks to be let go, to the end of the movie, the journey wasn’t entertaining enough to make up for the cringe worthy bad plot. Maybe it was the fact there was five writers, maybe it was the pressure from executives that the movie had to appeal to do well to justify the increase in budget, I don’t know what it was, but in trying to be mass appeal and have all the in jokes and actors saying other actors catch phrases and the awkwardness of anything to do with Maggie Chang (Nan Yu) this movie fell way short of its predecessor. That, and there wasn’t an over the top, what the fuck was that for, gratuitous explosion. (I have to eat that cookie.)
You see, the first movie stood well on its own. The shout outs, what few there were, were worked seamlessly into the movie’s script that you had to be an action movie trivia buff to know what they were. Lundgren’s insane ramblings as a man hooked on drugs made a certain amount of sense for his character. The only times it felt like this movie worked was when the story was standing independent of the shout outs, the elbow nudging and wink wink, and when Maggie Chang wasn’t trying to make a connection (romantic or otherwise) with any of the crew and vice versa.
The reason the plot of the first one worked so well is that it was a limited scale plot. It didn’t feel the need to work in “The Expendables save the world” as part of the foundations. The Expendables were there to save one person and one person alone, fuck everyone else, but as a result, an island regained its freedom and good things happened. Saving the world was not on the list of things to do. It was in this movie and that is where it failed big time. I can understand the ‘job gone wrong, we now get revenge’ plot line, that made a certain amount of sense, but then the writers threw at us part of a spy thriller where the fate of the world was in the balance due “insert horrible weapon/bad guy of the year here.” But even the revenge plot line didn’t have to happen, much less the “save the world” one.
See, this is what happens when you have something everyone says they want, which is a bunch of big name actors working together, and too many writers with their hands in the pot (because five is overdoing it folks) and everyone trying to get their fair share of the screen time when there is only 102 minutes! This is why Jet Li left less than half an hour in! There just wasn’t enough space on the screen to share with Sly, Arnie, Statham, Bruce Willis and Chuck Norris. (Though props to Chuck Norris telling a Chuck Norris joke, that started off as a Vin Diesel Joke, but oh well. I digress.) Plus the bad guys, Van Damme and Scott Adkins. I give the casting directors credit for finding henchmen for the villains who are both actors and proficient in some form of martial arts. In fact, this was probably Adkins’ dream job since it involved working with Van Damme (again.)
There are times when the plot works. Hail Caesar likes to cook (but that quickly degenerated into Gunner trying to flirt with Maggie again.) Dolph Lundgren’s real life background was worked into the background of his character, which was mildly entertaining. We learned nothing new about Toll Road. Anytime that Christmas and Barney were talking, once again, the plot sizzled. When you had Bruce, Sly and Arnie together, the story was taut and ticking. Otherwise, it was just a bloated fat mess with too many people and no focus. Which is what happens when there are two lines of headliner actors making main characters!
So, I must eat half of the plot cookie.
But hey, with this many actors and this many martial artists, the fights were indeed entertaining. We once again got to see Jason Statham against a bunch of goons. Jet Li did a fun Jackie Chan impression. We got to see Stallone and Van Damme face off. Then Statham faced off against Adkins. Chuck Norris took on a tank and won. And the big airport gun sequence was nothing to sneeze at. The whole “you can’t beat a classic” could have been taken out of the movie, but that’s just my opinion. I don’t know if Nan Yu is any sort of known martial arts figure, but her short fight against some goons showed some proficiency, but not enough to justify her character in the movie. (So, the fight cookie stays.)
In fact, character wise, I would have much preferred to have an entire movie of Liam Hemsworth than Nan Yu, instead of sacrificing Liam’s character to Van Damme’s villain in a cliche style just to prove how bad ass Van Damme is. This is Jean Claude Van Damme, all he has to do is flex a muscle or two and we know he is bad ass. We don’t need him to kill anyone to know this! Killing a character is Hollywood’s way of saying, “this is serious, life or death folks” and to try and get us to believe it. When most of the time, the viewers end up staring at the screen going “What the hell was that pointless bit of death for!”
Now, most the reason why I would prefer Liam to Nan in the movie is because half of Nan’s scenes were the guys pointlessly trying to flirt with her and her doing, I have no idea what she was trying to do, with Sly’s character. Whatever it was, it was uncomfortable to watch, I hate to think what it must have been like on set. The other reason is, we were shown Billy’s skill set within ten minutes. We knew this character must be former military by the way he talked. He was a sniper and he was pretty good at it. We got it. That’s usually about all you need to know a supporting action movie character, especially a new one. Then when Maggie shows up, we get told for ten minutes that she is an awesome person who is combat proficient and she won’t need a babysitter, thank you very much. And then she rides away on her motorcycle because see, she can be one of the boys with their motorcycles!
She then spends five minutes connecting with Billy on the plane to find out why Billy had left the military. We now have more back story on Billy than any of the other characters in the plane that we should reasonably care about more. Which means in true Hollywood storytelling style, that Billy is going to die soon! Thank you, writers. (Sarcasm abounds.)
Maggie does end up being plot important, somewhat. She is the one who can crack the safe and does. She does show later that she can fight as promised. However, for most of this movie, she hangs around and takes up space. It just felt to me that the writers didn’t know what to do with a woman when she wasn’t punching things! There really was nothing to Maggie. We knew nothing of her past, just that she was efficient and proficient in whatever you want, but otherwise, she had no reason to be there. There wasn’t even the flimsy prop of patriotism to explain why she was on the job. I have to eat half the cookie for female characters.
The world building is fairly consistent. If not quite as over the top as the first movie. In fact, there wasn’t enough world building to actually have anything reverse on us last minute. The guns run out of ammo. Plastic cars get torn apart when Arnie gets near them. The plane crashes though no one dies, but that is Hollywood. Hey, no one explodes in half from a gun shot. I’d say that in Hollywood terms, this movie is a teensy bit more realistic than the last one! (We won’t discuss the usual hiding behind cars that bullets would shred like paper.) So, this cookie stays by default.
This movie had such potential, if they had stuck with the formula that had made the first movie so great instead of bowing to the pressure of Hollywood to try and amp up the volume, which also ramped up the dissonance and brought in a bunch of feedback loop to make me cringe. There were too many big name actors spouting off cheesy one liners, a plot that was both out of focus and predictable and not enough explosions and entertaining fights to make up for this lack. Three Gingersnaps.