- Friday, 17 August 2012
It’s become a standard feature in films that any character over 55 is probably there to fall ill or die as a plot point, with instances of sudden heart attacks and dementia being so common, we’ve come to expect them. So if the double-entendre title doesn’t tip you off, the fact that the only male star under 44 is killed off early on, should make it clear that Expendables 2 isn’t your ordinary American film.
It is in fact a superior sequel to Director Sylvester Stallone’s 2010 The Expendables, and reunites many members of that motley team of highly-skilled moral mercenaries who operate outside the armed forces or CIA, and won’t be missed if they are killed in action. The title also refers to all those who, by reason of age, are considered expendable in the media, the workplace, and in the average casting department and movie studio.
There are four reasons why the Expendables 2 is superior to The Expendables and the first is that it couldn’t be much worse. The second is that Simon West (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Con Air) has replaced Sylvester Stallone as director and he knows how to direct an action movie. Thirdly, Arnold Schwarzenegger (65) and Bruce Willis (57) have marginally expanded roles and 51-year-old Jean Claude Van Damme (Kick Boxer, Universal Soldier, Time Cop) is the new villain. Chuck Norris (72) also makes an appearance as a gun- toting mercenary who works alone and never misses a target. Last, but not least, the filmmakers learned something from Reds – the other action film of 2010 where the star-studded cast ranged from 45 to 85 –and they’ve lightened up the dialogue.
Some of the jokes refer to the actors’ past roles and as such, break through the fourth wall to include a wink at the audience. Arnie shouts to Bruce: ‘I’ll be back,’ repeating his famous line from The Terminator. Bruce responds, ‘You’ve been back enough; I’ll be back,’ before dashing off on his heroic mission. Though Mr Church (Willis) is the bad guy in both films for getting the Expendables team involved in suicide missions and withholding information from them, in Expendables 2, he joins them to combat their common enemy, the aptly named villain, Jean Vilain (Van Damme). There’s a joke here, too, in that ‘vilain’ means ‘ugly’ and ‘nasty’ in the Belgium actor Van Damme’s native language.
Some jokes refer to the team’s age, again showing the audience that the film doesn’t take itself too seriously. When Chuck Norris appears to save the day, he’s met with the line, ‘I heard a rumour you were dead’, to which Norris replies, ‘I heard that, too.’ At the end, Mr Church (Willis) presents the team with an antique plane for transport home as their hi-tech craft has been totalled. When someone complains that it belongs in a museum, Arnie retorts, ‘I think we all do.’
But the tongue-in-cheek tone is not an excuse to ditch plausibility. Where the script, by Stallone, the respected writer Richard Wenk (16 Blocks, the Mechanic) and West go wrong is in failing to tell a story where the constraints are clear enough for the audience to feel suspense when danger is near and wonder how obstacles will be overcome. Forget about the borderless country hopping, the team seem indestructible as they survive in tact deadly assaults and collisions. There always seems to be a convenient means of transport materialising out of nowhere and characters appear out of thin air to extricate them from tight corners. Ammunition is never a problem, and the various national governments or local police never seem to get wind of the carnage.
Continuity doesn’t fare any better. Toward the end, the team go in to a village to help the women and children who are being forced, like their husbands and fathers, to work for nothing in the mines where Jean Vilain is hording weapon’s-grade plutonium. Curiously, this scene occurs as Vilain directs his men to close the mines and start transporting the plutonium to the airport.
The cast are all old-school actors who started out as wrestlers (Randy Couture, 49), martial arts experts, (Van Damme 51, Chuck Norris, 72, Dolph Lundgren, 54, Jet Li, 49 and Yu Nan 33; divers Jason Stratham 44; NFL footballers (Terry Crews, 44), or Mr Universes (Schwarzenegger, 65). The rest are actors known as boxing champions, (Stallone), detectives and cops (Bruce Willis) or, in the case of the newest Expendable, as a survivor of the brutal Hunger Games (Liam Hemsworth). There are some good action sequences that play to the cast’s respective strengths, but the filmmakers seem more preoccupied by the body count than by showing off the team’s clever strategy and technique.
Older audiences might find the gratuitous carnage a turn-off which is a shame, as The Expendables 2 is, above all, a display of old-fashioned action heroes, unwilling to retire, inviting older audiences back into the cinemas.