Director: Simon West
Length: 1h 42m
Analysis: Forget the synopsis. Whatever you think you know about The Expendables 2 is wrong. Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham play only minor characters, with the leads actually being played by husky Italian children in Halloween costumes of Capt. Jack Sparrow and Optimus Prime. Johnny Knoxville plays the main villain, who dresses in drag and has plans to use an army of Danny DeVito look-alikes to take over Thailand’s biggest stuffed animal production company. Chuck Norris makes an appearance, but only as a regretful father who continues to put work ahead of his family. And I hate to spoil too much, but you deserve to know that every curse word is dubbed over with the name of a character from Dora the Explorer. It’s a frightful mess that simultaneously infuriates and enthralls. Indeed, not since Speed 2: Cruise Control has a more haphazard production been put to film, but as God as my witness you will not be able to look away.
Holy crap. Could you imagine if any of that were actually true? In all seriousness, The Expendables 2 is nothing if not exactly what you would expect it to be – in both good ways and bad. To start, the violence is unrestricted and profuse, with countless decapitations, blood splatters, and dismemberments to satisfy the male-centric masses. Prepare to see everything short of the cruelty of splatter film creativity. The action sequences are intense and frenetic, as well as satisfyingly inventive. Nothing will likely strike you as particularly memorable, or deserving of praise high enough to be compared to genre greatness, but your adrenaline will be pumping hard to compensate for the superfluous amount of testosterone coursing through your veins. Women, this includes you too. Characterizations are on a superficial level just as before, but this wasn’t really an area the film’s target audience thought needed addressing anyways. And for those who were actually hoping to delve into the inner layers of our heroes, consider yourselves foolish.
Things are even more straightforward here than they were before. There is no ancillary romance, no mercenary politics, and no questioning of the merits, justifiability, or global role of the heroes’ profession. Because the newest enemy is a simple terrorist (and a Satanist to boot) and not a fascist dictator who treats his people reprehensibly, the moral obligation of the Expendables is quietly assumed; allowing no room for hesitation or alternative considerations. But then why would there be? Along their journey they again face a situation where they are the only ones capable of rescuing the lives of oppressed locals in an “undeveloped” country, and like before we can see our heroes validate their lifestyle by leading such helpless people to safety. Screenwriters Richard Wenk and Stallone might rationalize this repetition by claiming that it is the best (e.g. easiest, most unambiguous) way the protagonists can vindicate their moral shortcomings and excuse their proficiency in destruction and death dealing. However, that it is yet another instance of the simple and underprivileged requiring the assistance of the technological elite (comprised of mostly white men no less) is something that will be considered unforgivable by some. Though to be fair, such people are unlikely to be the sort that producers were hoping would contribute to the film’s box office numbers.
If so far things seem a little crazy, it’s because they are. The level of pedigree in the cast list is absolutely mind-boggling. Jet Li only sticks around for a scene or two, and the number of recognizable names has actually decreased, but what we lose in variety we gain in prestige. Genre icons Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger decide that cameos just aren’t good enough for them this time around, and so play more prominent roles. And the legendary Jean-Claude Van Damme plays the villain for the first time since 2001’s Replicant (wherein he also played the hero, interestingly enough). The real bonus, however, is Chuck Norris, who especially over recent years has reached an almost God-like status, particularly amongst younger crowds discovering the prodigiousness of his filmography (no doubt the popular Chuck Norris Facts contributed to this). For those strange few who are aware of Mr. Norris only via Walker, Texas Ranger, he is also widely considered second only to Bruce Lee regarding all-time great movie action stars. And if you’re reading this and don’t know who Bruce Lee is, stop what you’re doing and watch Enter the Dragon immediately. In any case, here Mr. Norris plays a lone wolf of sorts, and so does not have much screen time. But with the amount he has he makes an indelible impression.
Not that the first Expendables took itself all too seriously, but Expendables 2 makes the wise move of going further in that direction. Though we miss out on things like character development, plot cohesiveness and originality, you’re unlikely to care because the film has so much fun with itself. Both movies verge on self-parody, falling somewhere between Clash of the Titans (2010) and The A-Team, but here we seem freer to be just a little more ridiculous. Not to the point of being silly, mind you, but certainly crazy. And it is in fact this very level of craziness that helps define the purpose of the whole production. The inclusion of so many high-profile names in the original led to its own particular inferences, but here the same type of inclusion would seem to merely suggest a desire to wallow in an unapologetic childhood fantasy of seeing as many idols of masculinity as possible kicking ass in the same movie. If I had an action figure of each hero in this film back when I was a kid and tried to play out a story involving all of them, The Expendables 2 is probably close to what I would’ve come up with. It’s a chance for guys to celebrate their love of the genre, as well as the idealized models of manliness who helped to define it. To call it a love letter would be inappropriate, so let us call it a salute to America’s collective machismo – manufactured as it may be.