Monday, August 20, 2012
Movie Review: The Expendables 2 (2012)
As time went on, the nature of the movie market changed, and while these sorts of movies haven't gone away, they have become less common and - more importantly - less financially successful. However, those of us who always stop whatever it is we're doing and turn up the volume when we see Commando or Invasion U.S.A. on TV remember the halcyon days of the macho action movie, and we want to see those days return. Sadly, I feel the demands of a smarter, savvier, more jaded 21st century movie-going audience mean these sorts of movies aren't likely to return to their old popularity any time soon.
When the first Expendables came out, I loved it. Was it a great movie? Yes and no. It isn't any better than any of the original 80's action movies it emulated, but the concept was what drew me to the film. The desire to relive, even in an imperfect form, those old action movie days was, in my mind, what made The Expendables so great. It was the filmic equivalent of meeting a bunch of old friends, hanging out in a corner bar, having beers, playing darts, grab-assing and shooting the shit for a few hours, and saying to each other, "man, it's good to see you guys again."
Well, if that was the feeling I got from the first Expendables, the best analogy for The Expendables 2 is a full-blown high-velocity keg party that ends with the backyard on fire, the cops showing up, and not an intact window in sight. This movie takes the idea of an old home days for action movie heroes and turns it into a half-homage, half-parody, full-auto spectacle. Many of the one-liners in this movie are references to each other's movies and careers, and while in other circumstances that breach of the fourth wall might be annoying, I found it worked just as it should have here. The Expendables II isn't an action movie, it is a self-referential dedication to a slumbering genre, a simpler time when every movie had one-liners you'd be quoting for years - maybe decades - afterward.
While the first film brought together some of the old-timers of action moviedom with some of the newer faces, this film really focused on the veteran stars. Statham, Couture, and Crews take a bit of a step back in this film, and the older actors definitely take the front stage. Watching them play off against each other, everyone chewing the scenery for all they are worth, it struck me that most of these guys never found themselves in movies together back in the day. When you saw a Stallone movie or a Norris movie, they were the stars, and everyone else was at best a B+ level sidekick or villain. In the world of comic books, it is very common for you to have titles that pull characters together as a team, such as the X-Men or the Justice League, but with the most prominent members of those teams still having their own solo titles. In the world of action movies that was pretty rare, especially during the 80's and 90's, in part because the price tags for many of these stars was so weighty that you'd be spending the majority of your budget just on the salaries of the headlining actors alone.
Now, especially with The Expendables 2, we can see everyone in action together, fighting with each other or against, and the chemistry is a ton of fun. As Chuck Norris' character "Lone Wolf" Booker says at one point, "Sometimes it's fun to run with a pack."