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Monday, August 20, 2012

The Expendables 2

First Step Up 4, now The Expendables 2: The guilty pleasures just keep on coming!

Also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

Mr Church enlists the expendables for what should be an easy pay day but when one of their own is murdered, an easy retrieval mission becomes a quest for vengeance deep within enemy territory.

What we thought

Without so much as taking a step towards reviewing this film, I feel oddly compelled to list my 80s/90s action movie credentials. As a thirty year old male, I was there for the hey day of the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean Claude Van Damme and Sly Stallone and I spent my teenage years watching both their better work (Terminator 1 and 2, the Rambo films, Hard Target and, yes, Last Action Hero), as well as the veritable boatloads of truly awful straight to video g-movies that bore their names. I loved it all – the good, the bad, the ugly and the face-shreddingly horrific, it made little difference to me.

I like to think my tastes have improved immeasurably since then, but I will always have a soft spot for at least the memories of watching these dopey flicks with my friends and it probably explains why I like Jason Statham's ouvre as much as I do as well. Context, you see, is crucial when talking about a film like The Expendables 2.

Those who can't relate to my own background or those who look back at those years of enjoying truly trashy trash-cinema with nothing but embarrassment will despise every single minute of The Expendables 2. And rightly so. It's badly written and badly acted nonsense that is as loud as it is dumb, featuring the kind of unfettered machismo that is sure to have at least half the audience running for the nearest romantic comedy. On any kind of objective level, The Expendables 2 is pretty much awful from start to finish.

However, it is to its immense benefit that The Expendables 2 is exactly the sort of film that expects its audience to shut down their critical facilities and whose target audience is more than willing to do exactly that. Action junkies will lap up every last ear-shattering explosion, every implausible victory over far superior odds and, lest we forget, every toe-curlingly lame macho one-liner to come out of the mouths of these most manly of manly men. It may be lowest common denominator junk but it is lowest common denominator junk with nicely handled action scenes, stripped down storytelling and crowd pleasing sentiment.

Best of all, for those of us who consider this stuff a guilty pleasure at best and a shameless nostalgia fest at worst, The Expendables 2 is much more self-aware than its predecessor, resulting in a film that spends at least as much time laughing at itself as the audience does. The greatest moment in the film, by a fair distance, is a perfect example of its self-deprecating “charms”. The moment,of course, involves none other than Chuck Norris who, without going into any specific details, plays a “lone wolf” who is effectively little more than a walking, talking Chuck Norris joke. The moment is as action packed as any in the film, but it's hard to notice over the sound of yourself laughing at just how knowingly silly and yet oddly hilarious this particular joke is.

As for the action stars themselves, we have something of a mixed bag. Liam Hemsworth is sadly little more than a bland plot device and Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews and Randy Couture are just there to add some extra brawn to an already ridiculously brawny group of blokes. The two Asians of the film are also rather underused as Jet Li vanishes after the first five minutes and Nan Yu is there as nothing but a fairly ineffective female counterpoint to all the alpha males.

As for the rest though, only Schwarzenegger lets the side down as Sly and The Stath have worked up a pretty good rapport as the film's leads and Statham unquestionably steals the show in the hand-to-hand combat stakes. Bruce Willis once again out acts everybody on screen but then, unlike the rest of the cast, he is a proper actor who happens to have a bit of an action hero career on the side. That he is the star of the greatest action film of all time (Die Hard. Obviously.) doesn't change that he is an actor first and an action star second.

Van Damme is perhaps the greatest revelation here as the film's central bad guy but it is actually a particularly smart bit of casting. Unlike all of his contemporaries save for the extra-rubbish Steven Segal, Van Damme never had the likeable charisma to make him a particularly sympathetic hero in any of his 80s and 90s films so casting him as the ruthless villain of the piece worked to both the film's advantage and his own benefit.

Maybe The Expendables 2 isn't quite as stupid as it looks, after all.

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