I didn’t see the first Expendables until it came out on DVD, and I was underwhelmed when I did. Devoid of excitement and rather grim, the film didn’t feature anything particularly memorable. With The Expendables 2, we see a marginal improvement.
Do I need bother divulging the plot? A bunch of muscly men use their biceps to kill a bunch of bad guys. Along the way, they’ll have a moral obligation foisted upon them, as well as dipping their toes into a personal quest for revenge. It’s same old, same old, but there are a couple of nifty locations that make this one slightly more interesting than the last.
As was the case with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, this film is marketed based purely upon the names of the stars gracing the poster. In Marigold, it was the British acting aristocracy; with The Expendables it’s a huge list of action heroes, both past and present. Stallone is of course front and centre, with possibly the worst case of hat hair you’ve ever seen, and Jason Statham is right behind him, having cleverly opted to go hair free. Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Scott Adkins and Randy Couture are along for the ride too, though these four don’t actually get much of a chance to astonish in the action scenes. Jet Li is, naturally, incredible in the one high-energy scene in which he features, whilst Statham has some fun with knives.
Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwartzenegger feature more prominently than last time, and the results are mixed. Willis looks a little embarrassed to be delivering such pitiful lines, yet does his best, whilst we only get the occasional glimpse of the Arnie we remember from his glory days. Here’s hoping he brings his A-game to The Last Stand and The Tomb, both of which show more promise than this film ever did. Liam Hemsworth manages to bring some charisma to the screen (something the others fail at completely) whilst Nan Yu is the token female, yet gets 30 seconds or so in which to impress with her beat-em-up skills. Speaking of Charisma, Ms Carpenter only gets one scene this time around, and her character’s only trait seems to be that she’s unfaithful.
Out of all of the featured brutes, Jean-Claude Van Damme gets to have the most fun. As the bad guy, he plays the part with relish, whilst kickboxing his way through the air with reckless abandon. With regards to the oldest action hero present, let me just say that when Chuck Norris makes a Chuck Norris joke, we know that the End Days are upon us.
The main problem with The Expendables isn’t so much the crappy story and script. That’s a given. What is problematic is the way in which these movies are made. It’s patently obvious that the film was constructed on the basis of the stars’ availability. The script was altered on the fly and it often feels like the two halves of the same conversation were shot on different days, in different locations. Though it may indeed be necessary, this patchwork approach results in a sloppily constructed film. We also get to witness one of the most uninteresting plane crashes in cinema history thanks to what must have been a miniature effects budget and post-production shakycam effects.
The other problem is that the film gets into a frustrating rhythm of action scene/downtime/action scene/downtime and each of the quieter moments is horribly dull. What we needed was a rollercoaster of a film, not one that stops and starts. By the time we get to the climax, the film does come to life with some witty banter and fun action, but the ‘good bits’ of The Expendables 2 would probably only culminate in 10 minutes of screentime.Rating: