Being both fond of movies and entertainment, I was looking forward to The Expendables (2010). It promised to be a send-up of those old 80’s action movies like Commando (1985), Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), and Predator (1987). That could be fun. Like The Cheap Detective (1978) for action movies. Then I guess it turned into a send up of 80’s and 90’s action movies (which don’t have anything in common). What we got was the cast of an 80’s or 00’s action movie where everyone complains about how old they are and are heavily armed mercenaries with MMA skills. That is to say, it sucked. Well, here we go. The Expendables 2 (2012). Round two. Ding ding.
Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and company—in order of importance, Christmas (Jason Statham) (knives), Gunner (Dolph Lundgren) (guns), Caesar (Terry Crews) (large guns), Toll Road (Randy Couture) (throwing people against things), Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) (sniper), and Yin Yang (Jet Li) (legs)—blast their way into a Nepalese (warlord?) camp to rescue a Chinese hostage and rescue rival merc Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) at the same time. He takes Caesar’s large weapon (explicitly acknowledged as a representation of his junk), an automatic shotgun, and goes his own way. Over China, Yang jumps out with the hostage because they didn’t get the landing permits, and that’s the last we see of either of them. Back at home, where we briefly meet Christmas’s cheating fiancé Lacy (Charisma Carpenter) and the team drinks a beer. Barney goes back to the plane after Billy says he’s going to leave the crew at the end of the month and there’s Church (Bruce Willis), of the CIA, who requires the team to go get a package from a downed plane in Albania—though I could have sworn he had said China—and he’s not allowed to know what it is. Apparently, Barney has no choice because he (Barney) stole $5 million from Church at some time in the past. I don’t remember that, but I guess that’s not too important. So, we’re off to Albania. We get the package. Oh no, they’ve got Billy! They killed Billy and they’ve got the package! What’s the plan? “We track them down, we find them, we kill them.”
Narratively, I understand why Billy had to die–to create desperately needed stakes–but they killed the only guy who seemed to be taking this acting gig seriously at all. He was actually doing really well. They even made him get upset about the military killing this stray dog he adopted in Afghanistan—and that’s about as much development as the story gets—and he almost pulled it off. He didn’t actually pull it off because it was too badly written, but it was a near thing. I may prefer Liam to Chris in time. What’s really strange is that Dolph Lundgren was pretty good in this one as a silly creepy guy. Everyone else was pretty weak.
That may be the last good thing I have to say about the movie—and even that is really a criticism. The movie takes the gore up a notch in quick time. People lose their heads and most every gunshot results in a ribbon of blood flying out of the target like paint flung off a brush. For those who don’t approve of violence would go so far as to call some of this movie immoral. Near the end, there’s only one baddie left and someone calls out “There’s one more!” (or some such thing) and they all, predictably, unload on him. If it were done realistically, he would have turned into a slurry, but instead it was like he got show with high-powered paintballs about two dozen times. A worse moment occurs a bit earlier when Caesar (I think) knocks a guy out and then fires about six shots into his chest in utter glee. They vary the theme two more times with knock-down/pistol shot and then a knock-down/shotgun shot. Even I found that pretty despicable and I liked Commando.
There were two major problems with the movie. First, a fundamental one. Stallone’s over-the-top action movies of the 80’s are urban—like Cobra (1986) or Tango & Cash (1989). By the same token, action movies of the 80’s (and in general) are about one man against many foes. Here, instead, we’ve got a team against many foes in foreign lands. This maybe the plot line of Navy Seals (1990), but I can’t think of another. The second problem with the movie is that it’s just too stupid. It’s like a parody of a parody. Which is the say it’s just a bad copy of a bad movie that never existed. The cars had one-liners written on them—“Knock knock” on a battering ram which doesn’t look near big enough to take out a wall—and a motorcycle takes down a helicopter. Ludicrous. Those old movies had one-liners that were funny and contextual. They also benefitted from a single voice for a single voice and passed for personality.
And the characters, other than Billy, are just nothing. Why are these guys named what their named? Toll Road? What the hell does that even mean? “You can’t pass til I kick your ass” might have been floating around in the background, perhaps. Yin Yang has a lot of meaning, but it doesn’t reflect anything in his character other than being from East Asia. They’re empty vessels for lines that could be written by 14 year olds playing Modern Warfare 3 online. Other than the three or four jumbled allusions to each other’s 80’s movies. Schwarzenneger promises to return so often that Willis tells him “You’ve been back enough.” It would have been funny if it wasn’t so damn true.
The only thing those exchanges did was assure me that if the writers (Richard Wenk and Stallone on script, Wenk, Ken Kaufman, and David Agosto on story) were more reverential of their would-be inspiration, they might have put together something worth watching. Another example. Chuck Norris (as the deus ex machine, Booker) has lines inspired by seven year old memes. Since I mentioned deus ex machine, which means a unexpected and unexplainable rescue from an unescapable difficulty by a foreign agent, I’ll add that this device is used at least twice and is rightly understood as a cheap cop-out by hack writers. And I’ll just say it, the direction (Simon West) was on the bad side of functional.
Oh, and the villain’s name—played by Jean-Claude Van Damme—is Vilain. If this were a better parody, that would be a nice touch. As it is, it’s the unoriginal cherry on a vanilla sundae. Sure, it tastes okay most of the time while I’m eating it, but inside I just can’t digest it. Give it a miss, fellas. Check out the originals. They weren’t expendable, that was their charm.