Expend It Like Beckham
The Expendables 2 2012 USA
Directed by Simon West
Playing at UK cinemas now
Warning: Yeah, they’ll be slight spoilers
popping up as I write this, I guess.
So here we go again.
I quite liked the first movie in this popular franchise (reviewed here) but if you read that review you’ll also know I had some problems with it too. So, for the second time around with this rag-tag unit of high testosterone empowered mercenaries for hire, I was expecting a little less from the concept but still thought it would be an okay movie. I’m happy to report that this wasn’t the case and that this movie was a lot better than the first, delivering everything the initial set up of that debut film promised and doing it with a considerable amount of tongue in cheek fun.
Starting with a very strong action set piece showing The Expendables, including a young new recruit known affectionately to his colleagues as “Billy The Kid” and played by Liam Hemsworth (yeah, yeah... that’d be Thor’s younger brother then), the movie is set up very nicely as this opening both reminds us of the general toughness of the team in an all out rescue/firefight while showing just how useful and likeable the new guy is to the them. After our heroes have rescued their target, plus liberated his would be saviour in the form of Arnold Schwarzenneger’s Trench character (back from the first movie), Jet Li makes a swift exit from the shenanigans, I’m sad to say. Which explains why he’s got a quite nice little hand combat sequence early on in the film for the audience to make the most of.
It’s a shame, but the amount of solid leads in these films mean that not everyone can have a chance to shine for very long... a fact I’d got annoyed with in the first movie when Li’s character wasn’t given a heck of a lot to do. In this one, his screen time is cut to what amounts to The Expendables equivalent of “showing his face” and I did miss his presence during the rest of the movie. However, the rest of the cast do make up for the absence of Li and, although the movie is as clichéd and unsurprising in terms of storyline and character interaction as the first one, there’s a lot more flesh added to the bare bones of the characters as they were in the first movie and I found myself even sympathising and rooting with Dolph Lundgren’s character in this one.
Of course, as soon as the new recruit starts bonding and fixing up when he’s going to leave the group... you pretty much know he’s doomed. His doom comes in a “pay me back for last time” mission from Bruce Willis’ Church character, who gives The Expendables a temporary, new female recruit played by somebody called Nan Yu (who’s brilliant in this, by the way) to help them in the trickier, high tech phase of their mission. When it all goes pear shaped, however, our gang of “little rascals” as Willis affectionately calls them in reference to Spanky, Alfalfa, Buckwheat and the gang*, are left humiliated by this movie’s bad ass villain Jean-Claude Van Damme (which works better for me than Eric Roberts, I have to say) and little Billy is left with a karate kicked knife through his heart... leaving Stallone and the gang to bury him and get his last letter home to his patiently waiting girlfriend.
And then The Expendables have a new mission which is put very succinctly by Stallone, as seen in the trailer...
“Track ‘em. Find ‘em. Kill ‘em.”
Yes, you guessed it... this time it’s personal!
And then it just keeps delivering... not just on the action front which is pretty strong and, unlike the first movie in a few places, very well edited so you can see exactly what’s going on and where, but also on the ensemble work. As I implied before, the chemistry between all the characters in this one comes off just right... possibly even shifting into The Guns Of Navarone territory in terms of presenting a fighting unit the audience can really care about. Plus it’s got a kick ass action score by a composer I’m beginning to enjoy more and more just lately... Brian Tyler. He tops his score to the first movie and raises the game a whole new level (like he did with films such as Battle: Los Angeles and Stallone’s epic, fourth Rambo movie... amongst others).
There’s some really good work with Schwarzenneger and Willis who have what amount to small cameos at the start, recalling their disappointing screen time in the first movie, but then actually bringing them back for the final balls-to-the-wall, final action sequence. And of course, since these stars, along with Stallone, are such huge, over-the-top personalities... movie stars in every sense of the word by modern standards in much the same way John Wayne was in his time, the humour filled dialogue playing with the baggage they bring with them is pretty welcome too. And of course, the most awesome of these is the inclusion of Chuck Norris to the cast in a few little action cameos. His entrance to the movie already plays on his legendary status in terms of the phenomenal amount of internet jokes citing his toughness, but the script takes this one further and has him delivering one of his own jokes about himself. Everyone in the audience is waiting for this moment and it works really well.
The levels of gory violence are pretty ferocious in this one again, recalling the fourth Rambo movie (reviewed here) and the previous film in this series as to showing just what the effects of various different weapons do to the human body. These films will, hopefully, make viewers very afraid of the devastating power of these weapons... which can only be a good thing in my opinion. It’s fun to watch the characters on screen cause bloody carnage but, like they say on the TV shows, don’t try this at home kids!
When all is said and done, though, it’s great to see all these fantastic action stars of yesteryear (that’d be from my time then) roaring into battle and ripping into their enemies in this one... yep, there’s definitely an emphasis on “rip-roaring” adventure here. And why not. A film doesn’t have to be surprising or clever to keep an audience entertained. True, it helps... but, frankly, the art of a well put together action movie is not to be sniffed at and this is definitely a well put together movie. Personally I would have liked to see a little more of Jason Statham in it, who I feel is a little neglected in places (I love watching “The Stath” in action) but at least his character doesn’t suffer the same fate as Jet Li’s in this... not that it’s much compensation.
All said and done, The Expendables 2 is a solid, more than competent and extremely entertaining, fast paced action thriller and it does exactly what is says on the tin. It’s not big on revelatory surprises, as I said... and don’t expect anything clever from the story. It’s one of those films that works well at it’s own level and the cast, all of the main cast, give absolutely rock solid performances and will doubtless bring a smile to your face in more than one place in the movie.
Formulaic... for sure. Fun... most certainly.
*Our Gang, later syndicated as The Little Rascals.