New review coming up, as soon I hammer my catchphrase into the ground.
The sequel to 2010’s lacklustre but successful original packs in more action, more cameos and more humour to the proceedings which is a breath of fresh air after the very serious in tone original, but oddly the humour is both the film’s strongest and weakest aspect. The first film was supposed to be a throwback to the heyday of this type of action cinema, the 80’s. A love letter to that era of wanton violence, lots of shootouts, and a tonne of gore and one liners. But something felt off; it was too earnest. It was a serious film with aspirations to be tongue in cheek; and while the second film gets a better balance with this, it still feels off somehow.
Barney Ross (Stallone) is the leader of the Expendables. They’re kind of like the A Team, but with more violence and killing. They do off the books jobs for shady government types that normally involve blowing everything up with alarming regularity. They are hired by Church (Willis) to recover a device for the CIA, and during the mission one of their one is killed by the villain, called Jean Villa(i)n (Van Damme) and the rest of the film becomes a revenge tale.
However, the problem is that the story isn’t really that exciting and you’re just waiting for the next set piece to begin, with boring exposition in between. The opening sequence (and all of the action scenes, if I’m honest) is rather awesome, I must admit, but then it’s just waiting around for the next barrage of gunfire. There’s no real chemistry or feeling of camaraderie between the group, they’re just walking hulking muscle men with guns, and half of them can’t really act; namely Lundgren, Couture and Norris. You get the feeling the film is just happy to coast along on the reputations of its stars. Which is fine, but it also pretends to be something better than that. When it’s really not.
The tongue in cheek nature that the film is trying to replicate, the era of your Commando’s, Cobra’s, your Universal Solider’s, doesn’t really sit right. Perhaps it’s because the cinematic landscape has changed, especially in action cinema, in that films like that aren’t made anymore and as such everything in this film that’s trying to invoke a sense of nostalgia comes off as desperation. So, the first time Arnie pops up and says ‘I’m back’ it’s quite funny. By the third time, it feels like ‘Ok, we get it.’ The worst offender though, is not Chuck Norris reciting a Chuck Norris fact, but Arnie yet again saying ‘I’ll be back’ to which Bruce Willis replies ‘You’ve been back enough. I’ll be back.’ He leaves the frame; Arnie shoots a couple of guys and says ‘Yippee Ki Ay.’ Groan. The lines that work are the ones that reference the aging action stars without battering you over the head with lame rehashes of their lines from better movies. So when Willis says ‘that thing belongs in a museum’ and Arnie replies ‘Don’t we all?’ That works. As does the image of Arnie and Bruce mowing down bad guys in a Smart car, subverting the action star cliché and being genuinely funny but not stupid.
However, you don’t go to see this for the compelling plot and nuanced characters, you go for the action. Which is great, for the most part. And I will say, seeing Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis tear through the bad guys was a real joy. And Bruce Willis still has the best shooting a gun face ever.
Big dumb fun.
3 stars (it got one extra for the final shootout)