Stephen reviews: The Expendables 2 (2012)

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth, Scott Adkins, Nan Yu, Amanda Ooms, Charisma Carpenter, Nikolette Noel

Directed by Simon West

Expendables was a huge riot of nonstop action without much purpose beyond reveling in its own masculinity. So the only thing you can do with the sequel is make it bigger, badder, and bolder. That’s just what Expendables 2 tries to do, but it’s honestly hard to top the intensity of the first one. It does manage to succeed at this lofty goal, but by how much? Well, not a whole lot. Expendables 2 is a better movie, but your opinion of the first one will probably be the same the second time around.

One major improvement I do have to mention is the FX. The first film had some of the ugliest CG to ever ruin a bloody killing spree. Thankfully, those ridiculous looking exploding bodies, that laughable man on fire, and the worst, to me at least, that wince inducing scene where Stallone stabbed a dude in the neck were not used this time around. I apologize for dredging up bad memories, but I want you to realize just how much easier it is to watch the film because of the improved FX work. I spent the first film waiting for the next terrible CG effect to pop up, but in this film I forgot to think about the FX after the first ten minutes. That alone makes this movie superior to the original.

Another good thing about part two is the big toys. The first film had some big guns, but not a whole lot of unique and weird stuff. All it had to stand out was the rapid-fire shotgun and that tricked out airplane. Both of those return for some fun action, but we also get some great armored cars in the beginning. They’ve got battering rams and folding armor plates that make the opening scene one of abnormal and amusing action. It’s probably the best action piece in the film. But you know when you hear the first part of the movie is the best, there’s going to be some problems. Which brings us to the bad news. For every bit of fun inventiveness the film throws out, it has another two scenes that are merely humdrum and average.

It runs into the same trouble the first film did: it’s just too clumsy to tell what’s happening. I found the combat in the first film harder to follow than this one, but there is still a lack of clarity to the action that makes it tricky to decipher. Sometimes the shots have such obscure angles or lighting that I didn’t even know who was doing all the killing. I get a sense that not nearly as much is going on as the film wants you to think. You’ll get a shot of Stallone, or Willis, or Arnold (pick your favorite action star, he’s probably in there somewhere) firing off a gun, then a shot of some bad guy falling over dead. How much has actually happened in that? Not much. I suppose you could make that argument with any gunfight, but here it really felt like nothing much was actually going on aside from the sound effects and the explosions.

This film has a great collection of action stars in it, but they all feel like cameos. Not because they don’t get much screen time, but because they do so little with the time they have. Chuck Norris gets the worst of this. Sure he’s there, but all he does is stand around shooting a gun or swaggering around calmly in the aftermath of mayhem and destruction. Come on, this is the guy that went toe to toe with Bruce Lee! I want to see him do more than sit there holding a gun. Expendables expects you to be in love with it for simply having your favorite stars in it even though they don’t do much of the stuff that you love them for.

There certainly is some fun to be had from the huge ensemble cast beyond just seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis sitting next to each other. In fact, my favorite moment of the film is the conversation they have while ducking behind cover together towards the end. It’s one of the highlights of the movie, playing off the trademark lines of both actors to hilarious effect.  Thankfully, the film never takes itself too seriously and is never afraid to toss in a fun reference to the past roles of its actors.

Expendables knows that you’re here for your favorite actors rather than the characters they play, and the story plays to that more so than the plot. There is no reason for all these people to show up and get in on the action. They’re there simply to have an orgy of intense action with as many badass, brawny guys as they can. The plot makes even less sense than the first movie, mostly because the actors are there to be cool actors rather than characters in a story, but also because the plot is built off Bruce Willis’s character being upset over the events of the first film. Since that was the least logical aspect of the first movie it makes a very shaky foundation for the sequel. I know this is just a meaningless action extravaganza, but this goes way too far in not bothering to have a coherent chain of events.

As the battles kept coming I couldn’t tell where everyone was coming from or how they got there. The good guys run around a corner and find the bad guys waiting for them; the bad guys run around a corner and find the good guys waiting for them; some guys I can’t tell whose side are on run around a corner and get attacked by whoever happened to be there. How did they get ahead of each other? When did they get in that room? Just where the hell did that airport (at least I think it’s an airport) come from? No, seriously. We were in the middle of nowhere five minutes ago. That crowded airport has no business being there. After a while I realized that no good would come of thinking about anything. This movie isn’t about thinking; it’s about blowing stuff up and killing as many people as possible. Just sit back and enjoy the sound and the fury. There’s no other way to watch this movie.

As long as you go into it expecting nothing more than an adrenaline rush, there is a fair amount of fun to be found, and overall it is a better film than the first. It’s still not good enough to rise above the realm of average, though. Like the first film it gets by on sheer intensity rather than quality. I suppose it’s impressive just how far it manages on only that one factor, but this is by no means a return to the glory days of last century’s action films. Instead, it’s a collection of old men reminiscing about those glory days.

[Editor’s Note: Because The Expendables are all about excess, we’re following suit once again and having two reviews of the same movie on the same day! So come back later on today for my take on this one!]

7 comments to Stephen reviews: The Expendables 2 (2012)

  • I take the first sentence of your last paragraph seriously. I’m not seeing this as anything other than an adrenaline injection into my eyeballs. To riff on Team America… Expendables 2… Fuck YEAH!!

    • Stephen

      That is exactly the attitude that will give you the most enjoyment out of this film, so I wholly recommend keeping it up.

      It’s a fun film, but somehow that adrenalin just didn’t hit me right. Maybe my mental adren-o-meter was overloaded and broke with the needle stuck at “meh.” It didn’t give me the kind of oomph that oh, say, Conan the Barbarian does.

  • Glad we could pull this off to keep up the excessive reviews of Expendables, the most excessive movie in existence. Really enjoyed your take on it. I agree with everything you say, especially how the airport just comes out of nowhere, and how the action within that airport just consists of the old men shooting a gun and bad dudes falling down. I don’t care, but it’s definitely suspect. I really wish they had something to the level of the intro later on in the film, I mean that shit was so intense I was uncontrollably grinning and laughing and it was one of the best moments I’ve had in a theater in a while.

    I was also sad that Chuck Norris didn’t do anything other than walk out all badass, but that was the joke they were going for by playing off of all the “Chuck Norris is so badass, he…” stuff, so I guess I’m OK with it. But really, my love of this movie specifically hinges on my love of JCVD, so the fact that he’s awesome in it makes me overlook many of its faults. Despite a lifelong love of his movies, this is the first time I’ve ever seen him on the big screen, so it was kind of a big deal for me.

    Anyway, it was fun to do a double review! Thanks for suggesting it!

    • Stephen

      And a grand time was had by all! It was definitely fun to do, and despite my more negative take on it, our opinions weren’t far off. Great opening scene with a few moments of goodness scattered through the rest of it. And JCVD did do a pretty badass villain. And while I forgot to mention it, that zipline was pretty cool too.

      I’m glad my opinion had some value for you even though I know you have far more experience with these types of films.

      • Yeah, we basically say similar things but our perspective is different. It really comes down to what you’re expecting, and it seems like you expected more of it than I did. That zipline was awesome. I love action scenes like that, where the action just continually morphs into something else over and over. If you ever see Act of Valor, the first action scene has that kind of structure too, and it’s awesome.

  • Stephen

    Your right, I think my anime watching has given me a somewhat different expectation for action than what I grew up with as a kid. I mentioned the hyperdramatic feel of Redline in my review of that, and I think I was expecting something similar from Expendables. Even Redline leaves Expendables in the dust from that perspective, and I’ve seen crazier anime than that.

    Watching this has put me in mind of a ridiculously testosterone fueled anime from my youth, and I’m currently tracking down a copy to review. It’ll have to wait for awhile, because October’s horror fest is coming up pretty soon, but it’ll be tons of fun when I can bring on the anime reprisal to Expendables. If my decade + old memories hold true, it’s that movie you were hoping to watch whenever you feel like less than a man.

    • Well with anime (and animation in general) you can do all kinds of crazy shit that you’d never be able to do in live action (or at least non-CG filled films), so I think it’s just setting yourself up for disappointment to come to a film expecting something in that vein. I know what you’re saying, though. The thing with Expendables is that I feel like you can’t even expect a real movie from it, as it feels like the musclebound characters took over a studio and decided to make a movie their way, without any forethought or much intelligence. It’s the film equivalent of the “bull in a china shop” saying. As much as I didn’t like the original, I still loved it for what it tried to be and what it stood for. So with the major issues I had with that film resolved, it was pretty much smooth sailing here.

      Hahaha, looking forward to that anime!

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