Saturday, February 9, 2013

Universal Van Damme (sort of): The Expendables 2 (2012)

Shady CIA person Church (Bruce Willis) presses Barney Ross's (Sylvester Stallone) team of biker mercenaries (Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture and newbie Liam Hemsworth) into service to catch him a McGuffin out of a safe inside a crashed plane. Because you wouldn't let these guys attempt to crack a safe when you want to keep the things inside it un-exploded, he loans them…a GIRL(!) named Maggie (Yu Nan) with expertise in safecracking, not doing shitty one-liners, and killing people.

Alas, once our heroes have acquired the McGuffin - that turns out to be a computer map showing where the Russians hid a lot of weapons-grade plutonium during the cold war - bad guy Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his sidekick Hector (Scott "Totally Russian" Adkins) take it away from them, killing the newbie Expendable who had "guy who will soon die to motivate the heroes' killing spree(s)" tattooed on his face, in the process.

Obviously, the rest of the gang swears vengeance, but there are quite a few people to kill and cameos by Arnold "Couldn't Deliver A Joke If His Life Depended On It" Schwarzenegger and Chuck "Racist Homophobic Prick Whose Comedic Line Delivery Is Even Worse Than Schwarzenegger's If You Can Believe That" Norris to survive before the manly happy end.

Simon West's The Expendables 2 shares a lot of flaws with the first movie: the competent yet curiously indifferent action (a problem that is exacerbated because the film has to convince us of things like Statham being able to beat Adkins in a martial arts fight, Schwarzenegger actually hitting someone when he vaguely points his gun in a direction and wobbles around like an old man way past his prime, that sort of thing), the stupidity of its smugly winking humour, the inability to do anything with Jet Li (whose role is reduced to a mere cameo here anyway), the banking on nostalgia as the film's only reason to exist.

West's film even adds even more problems to these. The film is treating its main bad guy Van Damme as a cameo character who isn't actually in the movie much, which - oh the surprise - turns out not to be something that improves a movie's dramatic weight. For if the film doesn't give a shit about its bad guy, why should the audience care if the good guys can kill him or not? Even when he's on screen fighting, Van Damme is quite underused, an really not allowed to do a move which isn't THAT KICK during his fight (see also indifferent action).

The cameos - and the nostalgia that goes with them - are another of The Expendables 2's problems, because they are handled so badly: the film really is just stopping to pop in Schwarzenegger and Norris (as if anyone wanted the latter) without even attempting to integrate their appearance properly into what little plot there is, and without a care this method kills any tension that might have been left. It's clearly more important to West and his film to have Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis exchange old catch phrases and Norris (yuck) make a Chuck Norris joke than to make an action movie with these guys that is actually exciting.

That's a bit of a shame too, for there's a much better (and more entertaining) movie hinted at whenever Stallone, Statham, Lundgren, Crews and Nan Yu (Couture might as well not be there, and I'm honestly not sure if he actually is in much of the film) are allowed a little leeway to just relax, trade comradely jokes and shoot some people in an off-handed manner. Of course, that would be an actual movie and not just boring nostalgia and "irony", and therefore nothing West, Stallone, and co. are interested in.

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