Film: The Expendables 2
Alex Marshall finds The Expendables 2 a ludicrous, if gruesome, tribute to the action genre with tongue in muscular cheek.
by Alexander Marshall
Saturday 25th August 2012, 18:55 BST
To criticise The Expendables or its sequel on the grounds of weak narrative or shallow characters is like arguing a firework lacks subtlety; true, yes, but completely missing the point. These films are action/comedies at heart; big dumb films meant to be taken lightly, and only struggle when their uninspired plots distract from the joyful mayhem on screen.
In The Expendables 2 the cast is largely back (no Mickey Rourke!) so they can wreak havoc in the former Soviet Union with the addition of youngster Liam Hemsworth, heavyweight stars Jean Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris, and extended roles for action gods Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis.
The film feels short, coming in at just over 100 minutes, but that’s ample time for this gun-toting, cigar-smoking, and testosterone-saturated team to leave a path of devastation over the majority of Albania. The action is deliberately bombastic, ridiculous and exaggerated: think hyperbole with a hand grenade. Indeed, the action itself can often be comedic, a bloody homage to the visceral blockbusters of the 80’s and 90’s.
Similarly, the banter between the stars is intentionally over-macho nonsense, entertaining and devoid of conventional ‘wit’. But you get the wonderful feeling during such scenes of a self-awareness and almost self-deprecation. It’s when that self-awareness struggles that the film suffers.
As with the first instalment this usually is seen during the clumsy narrative signpost segments. The Expendables 2, like its forerunner, takes its Tesco Value story far too seriously for its own good: the film is a silly, fantastic celebration of action cinema, why even attempt to introduce emotional gravitas? It’s 100 minutes of famous faces running around during over the top set pieces and that’s absolutely fine if embraced. The script really should take a page out of Jason Statham’s Crank (2006), drop all pretence of gritty realism and revel in the absurdity of having Arnold Schwarzenegger rip the door off a smart car.
A couple more gripes: Jet Li is unfortunately absent for most of the film (this isn’t really a spoiler, no fear) and replaced with Maggie, a techie played by Yu Nan, who seems to exist only to facilitate some Inbetweeners-esque banter between Dolph Lundgren and the rest of the ensemble, or provide occasional, but painful, cultural stereotypes.
As for the bigger names on screen, Willis does a great job again and van Damme clearly revels in his pantomimic villainy. Yet however glad I am to see Arnie back on screen, his political career clearly hasn’t helped his acting abilities.
The Expendables 2 is probably an easy film to ridicule. However if you are prepared to leave your serious side at the door and watch this colourful group of action titans undertake an elaborate ‘lads on tour’ of Balkan carnage it is easy to enjoy this ludicrous, if gruesome, tribute to the action genre with tongue in muscular cheek.
(Oh, and watching Stallone trying to run is like watching a rhino with self-confidence issues tap dance.)