TV / Movie Reviews

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Expendables 2

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Action/Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth, Scott Adkins, Yu Nan, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Charisma Carpenter, Amanda Ooms, Nikolette Noel, Lyubomir Simeonov/ Runtime: 103 minutes

I think it’s time we all come to grips with an undeniable truth. That of course being that guys both young and old may like their toys, but what they love is when said toys cause chaos and anarchy to say nothing of blowing stuff up. I mean if you take a look at literally the majority of popular videogames, you would not be surprised to learn that one of the key ingredients in a lot of them is epic squabbles where how successful you are depends on how big of a body count you leave in your wake due to being equipped with a mini gun and other assorted weaponry that I have no doubt in my mind the ATF would seize and declare illegal in no time flat. It is with that in mind that it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that the relentless and gleeful chaos on display in the form of the slice of cinematic pie I am reviewing today, 2012’s The Expendables 2, happens to exist. I mean after all even with all the money they make, it still stands to reason that older action icons still do deserve to make perhaps a little bit more every so often and credit where credit’s due Sly Stallone did manage to find an engaging and entertaining way to make said paycheck possible for both himself and for other people who made the same kind of movies he did back in the 70s and 80s. Thus if it’s a certainty that the main reason slices of cinematic pie like The Expendables movies are around is to view muscle men shoot and deliver a savage beat down to both people and the surrounding landscape then this is one film that is a rousing success on that front right from the get go. Indeed whereas the first film in this series from 2010 tried and failed to give movie goers both moments where this group of muscle-laden tough guys showed their inner humanity as well as a collection of riveting and engaging action beats, this one is able to sidestep that entirely. Indeed that is because this slice of cinematic pie is nowhere even close to the level of pompous that the first entry from 2010 was to the point that it chooses to eject quite a bit in order to show that the only reason this movie exists is for no more and no less than to answer 80s action cinema fans prayers and give them a film that has the simple desire to just blow as much stuff up and shoot up as many wave after wave of bad guys as it possibly can. Suffice it to say then that The Expendables 2 knows to the letter the kind of movie it is meant to be and what it wants to give audiences and as a result of that plus wonderful work both in front and behind the camera is able to come away as a delightfully over the top slice of action cinema that you may have to leave most of your brain at the door every time you watch it, but you will quickly discover that you don’t mind doing so in the least.

The plot is as follows: Picking up an indeterminate amount of time after the events of the first film, The Expendables 2 gets underway as we see our titular favorite band of renegade wisecracking mercenaries as they are in the concluding stages of an op involving the rescue of a Chinese billionaire as well as team leader Barney Ross’ occasional rival/frenemy Trench who went in to save the billionaire himself only to wind up captured. Upon completion of the mission, the team returns home to celebrate only for Barney to be confronted by mission appointer Mr. Church. It seems our favorite rogue CIA agent isn’t too happy about how things went down in the last mission he assigned Barney. Thus, demanding some serious payback, we see that Church assigns our trigger-happy team a “simple assignment” of going into Albania with a pro from the Agency, a female operative named Maggie, to retrieve a case from a safe located on a plane the CIA inadvertently shot down and keep it from falling into the wrong hands. However what was supposed to be a simple walk in the park in and out type job for the team quickly takes a turn for the worse when they are ambushed by a rival mercenary gang whose brutal leader not only takes the case, but also horrifically and brutally kills one of their own. Thus, upon discovering what was really in the case, we witness as our pack of old school mercenaries embarks on a new mission. Not only to recover the missing case, but to get revenge for their fallen brother in the most visceral manner possible.

Now the first key component that helps to make this slice of cinematic pie work on the level that it does is that Stallone wisely chooses to just focus on acting in front of the camera as team leader Barney Ross and hands over helming duties to iconic action director Simon West who really does a great job at kicking things up a notch here though given that this is the same guy who gave audiences a perennial 90s action gem in the form of the Nicolas Cage action flick Con Air I can hardly say that I am that surprised by this. Indeed West does a wonderful job at creating a stage for this second round of old school movie action by first beginning the film with a wonderfully 80s-style shoot’em up that for all intents and purposes annihilates an entire military unit to say nothing of a whole village in Nepal and from that point on keeps things both engaging and lively with particular regard to the final big action scene set in an Albanian airport and courtesy of a wonderful and loving familiarity of the check list of items that movie-going audiences have come to expect from movies of this ilk and, with winks and nods aplenty, then proceeding to give them exactly what they want whilst doing a wonderful job of ensuring that the movie plays things completely straight and not once in any way like this is a parody of those larger than life action movies from the 80s instead of the real thing.

Now the other big component that makes this film as successful as it turns out to be is the phenomenal cast that has been assembled here. Indeed this is perhaps one of the most testosterone-fueled casts I have seen in a film in the past 20 years easily and yet each and every one of them does a wonderful job with the part that they are playing all while giving the audience a collection of moments that are all winks and nods that is an equal blend of cinematic allusions, roasting each other, genuine facts that even this reviewer was surprised by (I mean I had no idea Dolph Lundgren was a Fulbright scholar who went to MIT, but hey the more you know), and in one especially delightful case, poking fun at how the Internet has created a whole bunch of amusingly nonsensical “facts” about one of the stars (I’m sure you know exactly which one I’m talking about). Suffice it to say that I can’t honestly begin to tell you which if any of the cast in this were genuine standouts, but that is because more than anything there isn’t really one member in particular who does stand out more than the others and I mean that in a good way. Rather everyone going from Stallone to Statham to Norris (whose role I will tell you is more an extended cameo of sorts and is only in I’d say about 30 minutes of the movie max, but makes every minute count) to Van Damme (who is a true delight as the main antagonist) and Willis and Schwarzenegger who are given quite a bit more to do with their brief roles from the first one in this one takes their respective parts and plays them exactly the way that you would think that respective actor would play that part and the result is an ensemble cast that makes this winning throwback to the action films of yesteryear even more of a treat for fans of the genre to behold.

All in all in quite a few respects, I think it can be said that The Expendables 2 is not only a significantly more enjoyable cinematic outing than the first film from 2010, but also a significantly better film than its predecessor from 2010 period. Indeed, unlike the first film, this one doesn’t have nearly if any of the unnecessary internal debating that severely crippled quite a bit of the first movie as well as the fact that this slice of cinematic pie also makes the smart decision to not immerse itself in the kind of woe is me melancholy that was part and parcel of the first movie either.  Suffice it to say that yes The Expendables 2 is far and away by no stretch of the imagination a slice of cinematic pie that anyone in their right mind would dare to look at and call “perfect”, but at the same time this slice of cinematic pie does at least have one thing going for it. Namely that this film has the positive of knowing exactly what kind of movie it is aspiring to be which is no more and no less than an old school action extravaganza featuring a group of muscle-bound heroes carving out a path of wanton destruction whilst also blowing stuff up and brutally dispatching with hundreds of bad guys. It is that regard therefore that I can safely say that this slice of cinematic pie really truly is an unmitigated success. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Expendables 2 a solid 3.5 out of 5.