Monday, October 1, 2012

The Expendables 2 (2012)


[NOTE: For purposes of this review, all characters will be referred to by the actor's name. Because come on. Who are we kidding?]

Stallone, Statham, and company are back for another round of bloody, high-octane adventures. This time, Bruce Willis is calling in a favor and sending the team off to Albania to retrieve the super-secret contents of a safe in a downed plane. Sounds easy, right? Well, it would be ... if JCVD and his team of baddies weren't poised to snatch the goods from Our Intrepid Heroes. And, to make sure we get the 'villain' message loud and clear, he kicks a puppy, punches a kitten, and mercilessly--and unnecessarily--murders the New Guy, thereby ensuring that the Expendables must Make Him Pay. It turns out that the super-secret safe contained the location of massive Cold War stores of plutonium. Which means JCVD and his Delorean can now terrorize both the past AND future to his heart's content. Just kidding--but he can sell serious nuclear power to some shady characters. Oh, and terrorize and enslave a bunch of poor Albanian villagers (of course). Unless Stallone and his posse (and the obligatory Hot Chick) can save the day, that is. Can they?

This is the rare sequel that surpasses the original. Not that the original was all that good, mind you. But still, it's worth noting that this film is better. I suspect that this is due in large part to the expanded roles of The Governator and, more importantly, Bruce Willis (one of the better actors in the bunch). Also, it turns out that JCVD is an absolutely inspired choice as the villain (even if, at least in sunglasses, he does look unnervingly like Richard Dean Anderson--who, come to think of it, would also make a great villain). The Muscles from Brussels should always be a bad guy. And he gives the people what they want: a couple wicked spinning kicks, just like the old days. Then there's the highly anticipated (by me, anyway) Chuck Norris cameo. Be still, my 80's action loving heart.

Of course, with these (excellent) additions, things get a bit crowded. Jet Li is relegated to a short sequence at the start of the film and then disappears into the ether--perhaps wisely. Dolph Lundgren and Terry Crews make the most of their screentime, but there really isn't anything for Randy Couture to do. And as much as I love to see Buffy (and Veronica Mars) alumni on the big screen, we spend far too much time with Charisma Carpenter, at least for a film like this. I understand the addition of Liam Hemsworth (the New Guy, adorably--and believably--called Billy the Kid); after all, they needed someone to kill off, thereby triggering the team's emotional investment in catching and killing JCVD. Plus, with a bunch of aging actors on screen, I suspect they hoped Hemsworth would draw in some younger--and maybe even female--viewers. Of course, this has mixed results. Hemsworth does a great job at selling the young, innocent Billy who just wants to go home to his girl (though how he could be so young and sweet and be teamed up with this bunch is a bit mystifying). But putting Stallone up against such a fresh-faced young'un makes him look that much older. Next to Statham (45), Couture (49), Crews (44), Li (49), JCVD (52), and even Lundgren (55) and Willis (57), Stallone looks grizzled; next to 22-year-old Hemsworth, he looks ancient.

Which, let's face it: he kind of is. He's 66, after all, and it shows. Schwarzie is also starting to show his 65 years, and Chuckles is 72 years old. And they look it. Which is kind of sad. But it's still pretty exciting to see all of them in one movie. Plus there's tons of cheesy nods to the actors other roles and personae: Willis and Ahnold give a nod to their respective best-known catchphrases, and Chuck Norris freaking tells a Chuck Norris joke. There's a clunky reference to Rambo that is oddly apropos of nothing (which is unfortunate, since with a little tweaking, it could have been much more organic and even funny), but otherwise this is a fun and funny action movie that goes to show that sometimes they do make 'em like they used to.

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