The Expendables 2 (2012)
I come to The Expendables 2 (2012) as an innocent. For reasons that currently escape me, I neglected to see the first instalment. The idea that Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) should therefore get the team back together again is not something that fills me with excitement. Rather it’s apprehension. Forgive my literal mind but the whole point of people being expendable is that their lives are sacrificed for the greater good. This can be heroic or stupid depending on the mission, but ever since Odysseus persuaded those suckers to get inside the wooden horse and wait for pick-up outside the walls of Troy, there’s been a tradition for soldiers to take suicidal risks. Obviously they hope to come back alive but, more often than not, they don’t. So there’s something faintly suspicious about the title because it suggests the core performers are bulletproof. Once you accept the star actors are not going to die, whatever tension there might have been in the plot evaporates and all you are left with is carnage on an industrial scale for everyone else, explosions and silly jokes about death and destruction.
So where are we on this? It starts with the mandatory high action sequence as the cavalry rolls into a random position controlled by vast numbers of rebels/terrorists/armed insurrectionists. They rescue Arnold Schwarzenegger and a hostage, then fly out with everyone smiling. Once safely back home, the young Billy (Liam Hemsworth) announces he’s going to quit. This, of course, immediately marks him down for death (being Australian seals the deal). We’re given a backstory and, after we’ve wiped away the tears over the death of his dog, he has the good fortune to be killed by Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme). If you’re going to go early in a film, at least ensure you’re offed by someone notable. Van Damme is notable even if it’s only for being over the hill like many of the others who appear in this parade of 1980s talent. This includes Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren) and Booker (Chuck Norris) who are all still amazingly wooden when it comes to acting. Still having star power, there’s Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) and Yin Yang (Jet Li — sadly only a cameo fight). Filling out the cast is Maggie Chan (Yu Nan), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) and Toll Road (Randy Couture) — notice the mandatory silly nicknames. Having meandered for half-an-hour, the plot comes down to two elements. The villain of the piece is out to steal some five tons of plutonium — not the easiest of loads to move around the countryside but, if it gets into the right hands, it can make lots of big dirty explosions. The rest of the team want revenge for the death of Billy. This fulfills the basic requirement that plots for films like this should be easy to understand.
In between the shooting and the conventional explosions, there’s some truly terrible dialogue veering wildly between mawkish sentimentality, silly jokes and suggestions on how to kill or avoid being killed. It’s better to nibble whatever’s to hand and take a pull on a stiff drink to get you through these filler scenes to the next action set-piece. That said, the arrival of the team in the mine where the plutonium has been stored must rank as one of the most absurd scenes of the last decade. I can imagine this being a sequence of images in a comic and fanboys thinking it was cool but, on the big screen, it just looks stupid. Everything else is standard shoot ’em up stuff except the personal fights at the end. I can understand Sylvester Stallone not wanting to risk himself, even in a fight with a pussycat like Van Damme, but it’s disappointing so much of it is shot in semi-darkness. That goes double for the final contribution from Jason Statham. When you keep losing the man in the shadows, there’s something seriously wrong. We pay good money for something vaguely credible. When corners are cut with the fight choreography, it’s a major disappointment.
Taken overall, I suppose we shouldn’t expect anything special from a film like this. It’s made to a formula and looking at the box office takings of about $300 million on a $100 million budget, it drew big audiences around the world. To me it’s not unenjoyable, but obviously I’m out of step with this niche in the market. This audience likes the action stars of yesteryear coming back and making fun of themselves (or not as the case may be). If your taste is action films, I guess The Expendables 2 is as good as it gets.