‘I’ ON CULTURE
If you go to The Expendables 2 expecting high drama with an exceptional group of dramatic players, you’ll be disappointed. On the other hand, if you simply want Grade A, high-testosterone action, this film is for you.
Like its predecessor, the movie focuses on a rather elderly group of mercenaries doing their business and having fun along the way. The leader, Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), is a pilot/motorcycle builder and rider/mercenary who winds up doing noble things in the name of money. In this film, after an opening sequence involving rescuing a couple of prisoners from Nepal, the mysterious Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) demands that the gang do a “small, easy mission.” A plane with a valuable item on board has crashed and they have to retrieve the item.
They do, but get ambushed by Mr. Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) who not only takes the item (a computer) but casually murders the one young male on the team, Bill (Liam Hemsworth) who, to carry the caricature further, was about to leave to be with the one woman he really loved.
Stallone, his assistant Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), a knife and combat fighting expert, and a mixed bag of others go after Vilain, leader of a small army of psycho thugs who plan to grab tons of bomb-grade plutonium from Russia. Given time and assistance from a group of Russian women, Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Willis, etc., wipe out what seems like thousands of younger, but obviously not tougher, men.
I had the stray thought that if we got these guys together along with their really cool weapons (that somehow seem far more advanced than what we’re using now) and sent them to the Middle East on Sept. 12, 2001, they would have wiped out the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and the rest of the different terrorist groups in about a week and with a lot better one-liners than we currently get from our politicians.
A good piece of the movie in between battles was taken up with one-line wisecracks going back and forth. As expected, the Governator was the best at it, adding several times that “I’ll be back” until one of the other characters just snaps at him, “You keep saying that.”
Describing the acting performances in the film is almost useless. Stallone does express remorse at Bill’s death but is so “manly” that except for a couple of lines about death and honor, you would barely realize that he even realizes the kid is gone. Statham plays a henpecked boyfriend, actually speaking to his girlfriend on his cellphone in the middle of missions, until, of course, the fighting begins and he starts killing.
Dolph Lundgren plays a wacky Swedish mercenary with a background in engineering who can’t make bombs but kills well with a gun. Terry Crews and Randy Couture round out the rest of the mercenary crew. Yu Nan, a martial arts expert, plays Maggie, forced on the group because of special lock-breaking skills, but who can kill with the best of the boys. Van Damme matches Stallone’s lack of gesture for lack of gesture, but Scott Adkins, playing the bad guy’s psycho sidekick Hector, outperforms all the others.
Having well-known action stars provides a comfort level for the audience. We can quickly identify with them, particularly when the dialogue constantly refers to old movie roles. And, for an old codger like myself, I enjoy when the AARP generation sweeps down and wipes out all the young thugs.
The action is very cartoonish, bodies flying everywhere during some of the action scenes (and we all know that the good guys will win in the end… except for the poor, martyred kid whose death sets off the action) and the bad guys have absolutely no redeeming features. In one scene, Schwarzenegger and Willis rip the doors off a smart car (Arnold complaining that he had shoes larger than the vehicle) and drive it through an airline terminal, blasting bad guys from both sides while Norris takes out all the bad guys in a few waiting rooms. And, at the end, there’s an extended battle scene between Stallone and Van Damme that works its way through at least a half-dozen clichés.
This will never be rated as a great movie or even a really good one. But it is fun; the one-liners come fast and furious to separate the long battle scenes. In other words, a good popcorn film.