They’re Baaach!!!

The Expendables 2 (August 17, 2012)     ★★ 1/2

Directed by Simon West (Lionsgate)

Double the guns! Double the laughs! Double the sighs! The Expendables 2 is here, and for those who care to remember, it’s already been two years since Stallone, Statham, Li, Lundgren, Willis, Crews, and Couture teamed up for the ultimate action flick. Unfortunately, it resembled little more than a direct-to-video entry in any one of these star’s expansive catalogues of ass-kicking. This sequel, while suffering from many of the same downfalls of its predecessor, benefits from the absence of star/co-writer/creator Sylvester Stallone’s direction, which along with Jeffrey Kimball’s cinematography, formulated an ugly barrage of close-ups and shaky-cam antics. In contrast, The Expendables 2 happens to be directed by Con Air‘s Simon West, and shot by Shelly Johnson (Captain America: The First Avenger), which at least supplies some stability to the film’s relentlessly chaotic style, and in effect, will satisfy those who anticipated the first to be crowned king of its genre.

Jean-Claude Van Damme plays the villain this time around, and we are assured so by the character’s last name of ‘Vilain.’ Like the first, the film lacks much of any ambition in the plot department, basically involving Stallone and his team in a quest to obtain precious cargo from a fallen aircraft. Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger, in what are two roles worthy of admission itself (despite their completely illogical placement within the narrative), both look terrific, state their absurd dialogue with excellent timing, and manage to earn applause with their campy, gun-toting return to the big screen. Van Damme is also a surprisingly fun villain, and luckily, had the smarts to demand an extended fight scene between himself and Stallone in the film’s climax, which remains the shining moment in West’s semi-oiled machine.

Meanwhile, Chinese actress Yu Nan plays the newest addition to Stallone’s team, and as if her acting weren’t lackluster enough, the film seems to indicate that her presence alone only adds depth to mediocre storytelling (She’s a woman … GASP! It’s not like this is the 21st century or anything, and we’ve been shown a million times that women actually CAN kick an obscene amount of ass). Liam Hemsworth, playing a young sniper who is also a new addition to the crew, is a catalyst for much of the narrative development in the film, and yes, it plays out just as generically as you may anticipate. But he is also rather satisfactory in the role, and handles a silly monologue (the script was written by Stallone and Richard Wenk) with convincing, emotional stature. He’s no Mickey Rourke, but hey, the guy’s getting married to Miley Cyrus. I guess he needed at least one thing to be proud of.

As for the action itself, these movies could really benefit from some slow-mo, John Woo-style theatrics. Even if Johnson’s cinematography gets the job done, the color scheme is often dull and murky, the frame containing grain and shadowy attempts to play with light. The editing, by Todd E. Miller, is nearly as poor as that in the first film, quickly cutting action scenes to the point of frustration. They are, however, slightly more coherent than the 2010 sequences, and the effects / practical sequences actually blend in a way that makes us appreciate these fellas doing their own stunts, rather than be overwhelmed by digital blood and explosions (although the CGI still looks utterly unconvincing).

The ultra-violence does feel considerably more cohesive and intense in this second entry, but still fails to live up to its potential. For a film that could have such a large scope, The Expendables 2 limits itself by continuing the original’s usage of Bourne-style schizophrenia, rather than staging elaborate sequences that could colorfully transport us into breathable frames of carnage. Instead, most of the enjoyment comes from simply seeing these guys all onscreen at once, shelling out one-liners like it’s a competition. Their frequent use of self-parody does make the film consistently amusing, but can’t make up for dialogue that is laughably second-rate, and plot elements that resemble a deflated balloon.

I always thought it was a grand idea for Stallone to cast himself and Jason Statham as the two bromantic leaders of their mercenary crew, because if there is one thing worth appreciating about The Expendables films, it’s the sense of communal involvement amongst a group of guys who simply love what they do, and who may not always get the chance to enact their profession. Stallone’s films give these 65-year-old stars of yesteryear that chance, and his chemistry with Statham (a mere rookie compared with the rest of these veterans) exemplifies how lucky he feels, and how eager he is to share his colleagues’ blood-soaked abilities with a new generation. These movies have their audience, and it’s hard to believe fans will be disappointed. There is fun to be had with The Expendables 2, but let’s hope their next entry isn’t so … disposable.



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