Seen: At the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square. Accompanied by a super annoying, SUPER HUGE group of loud thirtysomethings, possibly a birthday party?
I know, I know, I know. I thought the first Expendables movie was a general disappointment, why would I want to give money to the sequel? Well, the trailers promised Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and JEAN-CLAUDE VAN DAMME so I was drawn in again, however stupidly. The plot is about as nonessential as the first one, something about a bunch of old soldier dudes led by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) who have to go into a foreign country (this time, Albania and Bulgaria) and do a thing. A badass Belgian (Jean-Claude Van Damme, OBVIOUSLY) is digging up huge stores of plutonium in an old Soviet mine and generally terrorizing the surrounding villages. So everybody has to shoot each other or something to save the world. Who cares.
So here we are again, disappointed that Stallone can't put together a better action throwback even though a lot of people I like are hanging out with him. At least it's better than the first one (she says, unenthusiastically). To be fair, this movie does have a lot going for it. There are some solid action scenes- especially the opening rescue mission and the Bulgarian village brawl. I liked the addition of Nan Yu as Maggie, a computery person who works for Bruce Willis's secret organization, since she is a capable fighter despite not having a Y chromosome (WHAAAAT?). Schwarzenegger and Willis get some cute time together but it's short-lived, and they're way too hammy (and you know if I'M saying that, it's definitely too much). Dolph Lundgren is excellent, as expected, but the best part is he's basically playing himself! There are multiple references to how he's a scientific genius, studied chemical engineering, and got a Fulbright scholarship to MIT- ALL TRUE. I'm not sure how many audience members knew this about him, but it makes the joke so much better. The number one best thing about this movie is, obviously, Jean-Claude Van Damme, who is just the best guy. He is having so much fun playing a bad dude whose name is literally Vilain, he gets to wear hip shades AND throw some amazing high kicks. He's funny and badass and the final fight is so fun to watch, despite having the most unbelievable result (there is NO WAY in HELL that Van Damme would be defeated by Stallone, in ANY time or context).
So Lundgren and Van Damme totally got this movie, they knew how to act and what to do, and they were tons of fun because of it. The rest of the main cast... didn't really get it. The dialogue is stupid and everyone is trying way too hard, making some scenes funny that weren't meant to be. Or if they were meant to be funny, it wasn't clear enough and comes off as just bad. I just wanted Stallone to shut up every time he talked, to be honest, and I didn't care much about the rest of them. Chuck Norris's appearance was stupid and unnecessary, but then I'm not a Chuck Norris fan so that's a personal thing. The whole subplot about Liam Hemsworth dying (whatever, I don't care about spoilers for this movie) was soooooo dumb and cheesy. Here's a new character that we barely know and they're going to spend the whole movie talking about him like he was important? Nope. Don't care, get to the action. Another big issue is that this movie looks like shit, everything looks fake and thus most of the big action setpieces are unimpressive. The bridge explosion at the beginning looks good, and far as I can tell that was the main thing that was real. If you're going to make an 80s throwback action movie, then why not make it look like one too, with real effects?
In the end The Expendables 2 scrapes by with a few terrific action sequences and fantastic performances from Van Damme and Lundgren, as well as quips from Schwarzenegger, Willis, and Yu. But I guess it's not enough to just take a bunch of recognizable old action stars and throw them together into a deadly situation, if the script is beyond saving and everything looks terrible. I know that currently there's a dearth of good action movies being made, with something great like Fast Five the exception rather than the rule, so people are just ecstatic to see these lovable old faces back onscreen kicking ass because it reminds them of when awesome action movies were plentiful. I'm thinking we should try harder to make great modern action movies with new stars, since we can't rely on those old guys forever. (Not that they should stop, obviously, I'm psyched as hell for Kim Jee-woon's The Last Stand and the new Universal Soldier movie).
And as much as I'm salivating for more decent female-fronted action flicks, I'm pretty sure they'll manage to fuck up a female Expendables. And yet I'll still see it, because I'm a tool.
Pair This Movie With: Well we just wanted to watch a GOOD action movie after this- might I suggest Commando, Tango & Cash, or Expendables 2 director Simon West's fantastic debut, Con Air? I was especially in the mood for more Van Damme, for which I recommend Bloodsport, Universal Soldier (with added Dolph Lundgren!), and/or Maximum Risk.