/ the expendables 2
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The Expendables are back. Sylvester Stallone leads his rag-tag ramble of washed-up action heroes – Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, and new kid on the black, Liam Hemsworth – into high-octane mayhem, once again proving that old dogs don’t learn new tricks so much as blow up the old ones. When a simple fetch-quest turns sour, leaving one of their number dead at the hands of a Eurotrash villain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) intent on blowing up the world, the mercenaries forgo payment in place of ice-cold revenge. Joined by some new faces (Chuck Norris and Yu Nan), as well as some old favourites (Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger), the Expendables do what they do best: die hard, with a vengeance.
By the time the explosions from the frantic, overblown opening gambit fade to a dull ringing in your ears, it’s clear that the sequel to the hit 2010 actioneer is a beast of less ambitious excess. Riding the wave of Stallone’s late-career renaissance (starting with the surprisingly assured Rocky Balboa and continuing into the giddy, brutal extremes of Rambo), the original Expendables played its all-star mash-up more or less straight. Stallone’s direction was grim and concise, and the violence savage and lingering. Nods were made to the legacies of its stars (each an accomplished action helmer), and while still ludicrous, the enormity of its moments were handled with something resembling reverence, and (if such a thing is possible) subtly.
Not so Expendables 2. Simon West, director of crap-tastic 90s classic Con Air, sacrifices Stallone’s erstwhile tone for a barrage of bullets and bad one-liners. While the former film played its cast roster for titillation (Willis/Stallone/Schwarzenegger three-way!), the sequel chucks so many names needlessly into the mix that its cumulative affect is numbing. By the time the screen legends assemble (this time with guns in hand), the action has become just one more firefight in a movie filled with them. Armies of Nepalese and Soviet-bloc soldiers explode into shreds of blood and guts, but at such a rate that the original’s unsettlingly graphic fixation is totally diluted. What was once an unconventional, defining edge is dulled to a grating, lacklustre shoot-em-up.
For a one hundred million dollar price tag, the film looks surprisingly cheap, with poor CGI set pieces and a grainy, uninteresting look. The action this time round centres on the former Soviet states, but each location has a same-same look that seems chosen more for tax breaks and scheduling ease than for any dramatic impetus. Stallone co-wrote the screenplay for this outing, and gives himself some truly clunky attempts at pathos that elicit heartier chuckles than sighs of reflection. Yu Nan, as the sole female presence among the muscle, fails to validate her presence, and out of the overwhelming ensemble, only Van Damme appears to be having fun, making a brief but gleeful villain of the piece. The film is all but highjacked by Arnie, however, and never really given back: he’s been away from movies for far too long, and his team-up with Willis (involving a ridiculous sequence in a smart-car), is the highlight of the film.
While there’s undoubtedly some seriously mindless fun to be had in this second serving of expendability, it fails to build much upon the strong foundations of the first, openly squandering them in place of something far jokier and slight. Our favourite old dogs are getting long in the tooth, and while their last hurrah is a few more sequels away, it may be kinder to put them down.