To give you an idea of what kind of film The Expendables 2 is, let me tell you a true story from my cinema viewing. About a third of the way into the film, for reasons I still don’t understand, my phone started playing Rage Against the Machine at full volume. And I didn’t realise. And this was during the five minutes of the film where no one was getting punched or blown up.
I’m about to turn 29, which means I grew up in the golden age of action movies: the 80s/90s straddle. I was nurtured by Schwarzenegger, breast-fed by Willis and … Stallone was also there. The film Commando was the ultimate movie of that generation; it packed mindless destruction, creative deathsplosions and pithy one-liners in as purely and as tightly as Innocent blend their smoothies. Nowadays we are in a slightly more cerebral era of action movies where, if we aren’t being treatied to a dark and brooding hero, we’re watching explosions between a complex plot of new technology, twisting betrayals and political tension. While I don’t begrudge this era and enjoy watching Jason Bourne fight against the CIA using his brains/brawn/double-punch to embarrass some seriously shady – but frighteningly realistic – government agents, there was something wonderful about the good old days of man vs. gun.
Luckily, we now have to Expendables series to enjoy an age now past, and we appreciate it in a way that fine gentlemen sip wine at a country club and whisper, ‘you know… I really miss crack cocaine’. You take it with your tongue shoved as hard into your cheek as your muscles will allow, but that just makes it better. Some classic action films can be described with the phrase, ‘Oh the one where Character X [punches/kicks] Character Y [into/through] a [thing].’ This film punches, shoots and kicks almost all of its characters into and through so many, many deadly objects that you forget how fragile the human body is. Roundhouse kick a knife into a guy? Check. Punched through a plane propeller? Check. Beaten to death with a vial of incense? Check. Whoever made this film took one look at the scene in Predator where Carl Weathers’s arm gets blown off, but still keeps firing its gun at the alien and thought, ‘Yaaaaaawn!’.
And what of the plot, I hear you not bother to ask? Well, Jean Claude Van Damme has stolen a MacGuffin from some place and Bruce Willis wants Stallone’s team to get it back. Now, I don’t want to give too much away but let’s just say that the fate of a young hotshot, ex-army dude named Billy who’s pulling his one last mission so he can settle down with his girlfriend has a big effect on Stallone’s motivations. If you have any working knowledge in the theory of actionfilmology you’ll probably have an idea of what happens to Billy in the first act. The plot isn’t confusing in the slightest, because all you need to know is who needs to get exploded. You don’t even need to know why; just that some of the guys need to be exploded. I would suggest that Commando‘s plot, which was, in its entirety – “Jennnnyyyyyy!” – was more complicated than this.
The one-liners come thick, fast and ridiculous. I won’t spoil the fun, because I’d love you to sit in the cinema giggling as much as I was at the incredulity of it all, but I will say that Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger all have a chance to take the piss out of each other’s fabulous repertoire. When Chuck Norris joins the battle, Arnie sighs and moans, ‘Who’s next… Rambo?’. At one point, Dolph Lungren throws a live chicken in disgust, for no particular reason. In the climactic fight between Stallone and Van Damme, Sly taunts his opponent with the line, ‘I’ll man you up!’. Every character speaks in the Batman voice all the time. It’s stupid, it’s brash and it’s wonderful. The only people missing were Steven Seagal and, in a bizarre twist of my own logic, Tommy Wiseau. They need to bring Wiseau in to play the antagonist in the final part of the trilogy.
At one point in the film, Arnie turns to Bruce and Sly and says, ‘we belong in a museum’. In a way, he’s right. This is the last gasp of this type of film and perhaps the perfect homage to a golden age.
Review Score: 13 punches to the face / 15.