Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: The Expendables 2 (2012)

Before the first “Expendables” came out, some people wondered if it would be a success at all. Sure, Stallone had pulled off something of a come-back in recent years. But would people really march out to the theaters to see a bunch of washed-up action stars and a few action unknowns? “Yes” is apparently the answer to that question, as “The Expendables” became a hit. Almost immediately, Stallone went to work on “The Expendables 2.” Promising more eighties icons and bigger action, the sequel corrected many of the mistakes the first film made. The result was a more fun and satisfying flick.

The Expendables are still up to their old tricks, rescuing a kidnapped millionaire from some banana republic in the opening action beat. They have a new teammate, a young sniper named Billy - wait for it - the Kid. Mr. Church isn’t done with Barney Ross though. He drafts him for another mission, to retrieve a computer containing sensitive information from a crashed airplane. After carefully rescuing the computer with the help a female agent, a mysterious villain steals the box. He also kills Billy. This time, it’s personal! The Expendables plan to track, find, and kill Vilain for revenge. Along the way, they may stop the bad guy’s plot too.

My biggest reservation about the first “Expendables” was the shaky action and overly grim tone.  Sylvester Stallone traded directing duties with Simon West, the “Con Air” filmmaker. The result is a film with much clearer action and a much lighter tone. With the exception of an overly chaotic plane crash, the action scenes are shot in the classic style. Henchmen are blasted away, punches land brutally, explosions result, and we can all tell what’s going on. The opening tank chase through the town is rightfully ridiculous. A motorcycle landing in a helicopter is only the most absurd moment. My favorite beat is Jet Li fighting off guys with frying pans. The following plane chase is fantastically orchestrated. A shoot-out in an empty town is clear and fun, as is a scuffle with goons in the European village. The action is as huge as the first film’s but it’s far more satisfying to watch.

The sequel also juggles its ensemble cast better then the original. Despite adding more cast members, the original Expendables are given more to do. Barney and Lee’s friendship is developed more. We see Ross teasing Christmas about his girlfriend. The camaraderie among the Expendables is focused on more. His betrayal of the team seemingly forgotten, Dolph Lundgren’s Gunner evolves into the goofball of the team. Lundgren’s real life history as a chemist is brought up, paying off nicely. Terry Crew’s Hale and Randy Couture's Toll were underserved last time. Crew becomes a boisterous body-builder who is slightly unhinged. Couture becomes somewhat sensitive and brainy. Though Jet Li exits the movie early on, even he seems better utilized. Over all, it seems Stallone and his team had a stronger understanding of the characters and the cast.

The additions to the cast are mostly welcomed. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis only had cameos last time. In part two, they graduate to proper cast members. Arnold and Willis get involved in the action, helping the main heroes out and telling jokes. Speaking of jokes! Chuck Norris drops in as Booker, a mysterious uber-badass who helps the team out. Despite Norris being in his seventies, the character plays into his Internet legend as the ultimate badass. When not killing people, Norris shows the easy-going charm that has always been his appeal. Newcomer Yu Nan plays Maggie Chan, a part I suspect was written for Michelle Yeoh. Despite being a complete unknown, Nan works well with the team, bringing humor and humility to her part. Really, the only newcomer I don’t care for is Liam Hemsworth as Billy. A performer I’ve taken to calling the Lesser Hemsworth, he's performance is flat. The biggest question is, “Why is he here?” What business does a teeny-bopper heartthrob like him have doing here? Furthermore, it is obvious Billy was born to die. The character might as well have a target on his back.

Of all the actors added to the cast, the bad guys are the most important. Stallone courted Jean-Claude Van Damme for the original “Expendables” but he declined. Obviously realizing he was missing out, Van Damme signed up for the sequel. Perhaps it was for the best. Jean-Claude plays the villain, Jean Vilain. The part plays to JCVD’s strengths. He brings an eccentric quality, dancing and making dramatic hand gestures, while maintaining an intimidating body language. Considering Van Damme’s evolution into a fine dramatic actor, he makes the character sadistic, intellectual, and just cold enough not to care about the people he kills. He provides a distinct villain to the piece and really helps bring “The Expendables 2” together. Another fine addition is Scott Adkins as Vilain’s main henchman. Adkins may be the modern equivalent to what Van Damme was back in the late eighties so it’s a smart choice.

Though action-packed throughout its run time, “The Expendables 2” really piles it on in the last act. The heroes corner the villains in an abandoned airport. At this point, the movie explodes into an unrelenting celebration of action movie violence. Everyone gets a stand-out moment. Stallone, Arnold, and Bruce Willis blast away bad guys together, fulfilling a dream action nerds have shared for decades. Later, there’s a great gag between Arnold and Bruce involving a tiny smart car. Dolph kicks a guy off a balcony. Terry Crews and Randy Couture employ tossed razor blades. Statham and Adkins share a bloody, immensely satisfying fist fight. Norris swoops in and takes a few more names. The final fight between Sly and Van Damme could have gone on longer but still provides some awesome moments of ass-kickery. I mean, JCVD does two spinning roundhouse kicks!

“The Expendables 2” is the movie the first one should have been. It’s a light-hearted action-fest that piles on the callbacks and in-jokes, while nicely balancing its extensive cast. Not only does it feature many stars of eighties cinema, it actually feels like something that could have been made in the eighties. Perhaps it’s not high art. Yet it’s hard to deny a film that is this much pure fun. [8/10]

[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[] Shows Off Buffness
[] Social Outcast
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling

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