The Expendables 2

November 29, 2012

When the new recruit to the rag-tag group of buffed up mercenaries presumably called “The Expendables” is asked why he left the military to join, he relays a story about being stuck for three hours in a firefight in Afghanistan.  He called for aerial support but his superiors wouldn’t allow it for fear of harming the locals.  Several of his fellow soldiers died “for nothing”, and to top it all off, his superiors killed the stray dog he had adopted.  This fear of the military institution and the lionization of the fighting man is reminiscent of classic, Reagan-era Stallone in Rambo: First Blood Part II, and indeed there’s nothing about The Expendables 2 that doesn’t just wish it was living in those halcyon days of pumped up heroes righteously killing en masse to hold up the classical values of American masculinity.  

That new recruit is Billy (Liam Hemsworth), a crack sniper that joins Barney (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), as well as Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren, and Terry Crews, who are all wisely given so little dialogue that they barely register other than a string of inane quips and mumbling jokes.  Along the way Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jet Li, and Chuck Norris pop up to fight the villain, Vilain, played with weird, wiry nonchalance by Jean-Claude Van Damme.  There’s also a girl, Maggie (Yu Nan), who is initially mocked for being a woman but somewhat holds her own and thus serves as what I assume to be Stallone’s nod to modernity, however shallow and ill-handled.  Vilain wants some thing or another so he can mine some plutonium for some reason and then he kills a member of the team and there is revenge and shooting and who the hell knows.  There’s not so much a plot as a string of half-assed action sequences and self-congratulatory high-fiving between old warhorses of the ignoble action movie days of yore.  It’s embarrassingly lazy, not only in its terrible, stilted dialogue (which is somehow delivered in such a poor manner that it almost does ‘terrible’ a disservice), but in the manner in which the action set pieces get resolved.  There are two major sequences that end with the team facing certain doom, only for another ex-movie star to happen by them in rural Bulgaria to save the day.  The fun it isn’t even supposed to be with seeing these men fire a hailstorm of bullets on the dozens of hapless extras; it is all about the excitement of seeing Chuck Norris walk by holding a gun (every time he turns up the famous bit from Morricone’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly score pops up for little to no reason).

In between all the cameos and the forced fun (Schwarzenegger says “Yippe Ki Yay” after Willis berates him for constantly saying, “I’m back!”), there’s an action movie going on, only its heroes are probably more stationary than any sequence I’ve seen since the end of Rambo.  Their plans tend to consist of going full bore into a huge army of enemies, guns blazing or shells firing or vehicles ramming, all the while just pointing a gun out a window and holding down the trigger.  Alas, it works every time, as we see hundreds of bodies erupt into explosions of CGI blood.  Though the action scenes are generally much better than the strangely inert ones in the first one, there’s still a heavy reliance on editing shots of the actors standing still and shooting big guns in seemingly any direction.  If I could diagram the climactic airport terminal shoot out, I’m pretty sure it would be 7 characters standing still firing in a general direction, with a brief moment where 2 characters move across the central plane of action in a Smart Car for about 200 feet.  Whether they’re too manly to move, or just too damn old, I don’t know, but it reeks of desperation on the part of those that really need this film (Willis doesn’t really belong here, as Die Hard introduced the everyman Joe Schmo as an action hero, in contrast to the musclebound gods that Stallone et al represent, and his performance betrays a feeling that this is just a goofy lark).

It’s all very terrible and stupid and pointless and dull and sad, sure, but there’s reason to take heart.  This film’s moral code seems to be that people shooting at you is fine, but the absolute nadir for the men comes when they’re forced to give up there weapons and get on the ground, or pick up a case and politely hand it to the man holding a gun to them.  Violence is all well and good, but this act of submission is terrifying and disgusting to them, forcing them to look almost, to their eyes, feminine.  When a cadre of frightened women start firing at them when they enter their village, after their menfolk have been taken away to work in a mine a la The Temple of Doom, the burly men just laugh at their poor marksmanship, falling just short of cackling, “silly women trying to hold a gun, it’s like watching a dog try to ride a bike.”  It’s truly abhorrent, so why take heart?  Because this movie only exists because it is a curio, and as they try to victory lap in their old age and “show the young’uns how it’s done” – presumably the sensitive, lithe Jason Bourne would be met with their disapproval – they look damn foolish doing it.  This kind of film is the exception, not the rule.  Though the action genre has an awful lot of tripe and backwards thinking, it’s not as bad as it used to be.  It wasn’t celebrated like these men think it should be.  This film is a sad, aging man who still thinks his off-colour jokes are hilarious, but doesn’t realize that he himself is the joke.

-M

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