The Expendables 2 (review)
I’m “biast” (pro): loves me some Bruce Willis; was weaned on 80s action movies
I’m “biast” (con): was extremely meh on the first film
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
If you could drop a bomb on The Expendables 2— That would be like totally awesome, man! Er, sure, but I was thinking you could wipe out 80s action heroes, and that would be a good thing, if it would mean we’d be spared The Expendables 3. Because if there’s one thing 2 is really good at — and there is pretty much just this one thing — it’s demonstrating that The Expendables was a one-joke wonder that had more than fulfilled its very limited potential before that first movie had even finished unspooling.
Okay, I lie: There’s one tiny thing that made me laugh in what is supposed to be an action comedy, and that is a comment about “male pattern badness.” That’s clever and witty and pointed. Alas for this dumb movie, no one involved seems to appreciate the humor in it, for it is tossed off in such an offhanded way that sharing it with you doesn’t qualify as spoiling a joke, because the movie doesn’t treat it as a joke. Even though Bruce Willis gets to say it. What this dumb movie does want you to find absolutely hilarious is random 80s action heroes — this flick is lousy with ’em — now puffy with age and sporting embarrasingly bad dye jobs (just let it go gray, Chuck Norris, and salvage your dignity) popping up in deus ex actioner situations, trading quippy dated one-liners with one another, and then disappearing again.
Generally the less awesome and the more cheesy an 80s action hero is, the more he screentime he gets here. So prepare for a lot of Dolph Lundgren, and not so much of Arnold Schwarzenegger (Around the World in 80 Days, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) or Bruce Willis (Red, Cop Out). Plus mere 40something Jason Statham (Safe, Killer Elite) has been promoted to one of the old guys now that barely legal Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games, The Last Song) has joined the gang of geriatric mercenaries headed by Sylvester Stallone (Rambo, Rocky Balboa). If it’s meant to be funny that Liam has an “I’m too young for this shit” conversation with Sly that puts him on a path to very early retirement and buying a boat and living with his girlfriend in peace and quiet… well, how does the film reconcile that with the way it plays out this reversal on a hoary trope to its obvious conclusion?
This time out, a girl crashes this He-Man Woman-Haters Club, in the form of Maggie (Nan Yu), because Awesome Badass Chinese Chick!, as they head out to scenic Albania on a new mission. (I love how they fly internationally with impunity, immunity, and anonymity. No passports or air-traffic control for the Expendables!) This mission is interrupted by Euro baddie Jean-Claude Van Damme (Kung Fu Panda 2), whose character is called, in perhaps another feeble attempt at humor, “Jean Vilain,” which translates exactly as you think it does. I’ll leave you to discover what Van Damme is up to, but I will say that Plutonium MacGuffin is totally the name of my new band.
Director Simon West, who clearly has decided that his own Con Air was too artsy-fartsy and intellectual, provides little physical context for most of the action, but he does glob on extra-meaty, extra-gory splatter — it’s either CGI or the stunt guys all wore XXL blood squibs — for each of the numerous gun battles. And he figured out how to shoot armored vehicles and cartoon physics like he’s making pornography. If I wanted to be generous, I might suppose that West is doing what he can with a script that required four screenwriters, including Stallone, to come up with notions such as “The gang finds abandoned military equipment just lying conveniently around Albania as needed” and “Torture totally works” and “Here some macho posturing stands in for dramatic conflict” and “Here they deliberately crash a plane.”
There’s a level of brutal, boring stupidity here that makes The A-Team look like it was written by Sun Tzu. It’s all a big joke. Except it isn’t in the least bit funny.