Monday, August 20, 2012

Movie Review: The Expendables 2 (2012)

Roughly ten years ago, when I started using the term "Post Modern Pulp", it was in reference to the new wave of action-adventure fiction exploding (pun intended) onto the scene in the wake of the Vietnam War. The popularity of this material - tough guys with guns killing other tough guys with guns while stuff exploded in the background - led to Hollywood ramping up the gratuitous nature of violence and machismo in their films, and with the "blockbuster" mentality of modern film marketing, the action superstars of the 80's were born. Men like Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Norris, Lundgren, Willis, Van Damme, and many others. These guys were iconic beings, and we went to the movies to watch them, not their characters or their movies.

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."


Ben said...

Good to see someone seeing eye to eye with me on this sort of movie. I got into this argument with the video store guy when I rented the first. He told me it was shit, that I was wasting my money. It was about seeing the action heroes I grew up with, that I shaped my perception of things from (or almost). Not to have "quality cinema". There is very little of it anyway.

Expendables 2 sounds like a lot of fun. Looking forward to it.

Hank Brown said...

Oh yeah, baby. Gotta see this one on the BIG SCREEN!

Great review, Jack--you got me pumped up. I watched a trailer and there was a quick shot of Arnie saying, "I'm back." It brought a smile to my face. Did again, just now, when your review made me remember it. I bet there are millions of English-speakers around the world who had the same reaction. Perhaps somewhere in that reaction is the gist of the movie concept's appeal.

BTW, I always loved puns, with the exception of the ones from Arnie's movies for some reason. His delivery, I guess. Comedy was not his strong suit. (Let's not confuse comedy with camp, ok?)

Just from what you mentioned about the famous lines, I want to see this flick (that is, see my old buddies again).

Chuck Norris' name is Lone Wolf????? ROFLMAO!!!!

Does Van Damme do the splits for no apparent reason at some point?

I was expecting (hoping for?) more of a parodical approach in the first one. Sounds like I'm getting my wish. I used to joke about making a movie much like this one when I was young. The cast was almost identical (though I included former tough guys like Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin). I joked about it to others, but secretly would have loved to actually do it.

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Chelsea Green said...

I’m glad to hear that you liked The Expendables 2! I’ve been looking forward to this movie for a while now. I would’ve gone to see it when it premiered this weekend but I was cooped up in my office at Dish. : ( I must admit though, your review has made me feel nostalgic towards that great era of classic action-adventure movies that you mentioned. They just don’t make them how they used to! Now I’m going to have to rent as many Stallone and Schwarzenegger movies that I can get on; that will definitely keep me busy for a while seeing as I have the Blockbuster@Home service through my Dish account, which has just about every action flick you can think of! At least it’ll give me something to do till I find time to watch The Expendables 2. Like you said, it is such a cool concept to make a movie with all the legends!

Chris said...

What a great review, Jack. I couldn't agree more. In fact, I'll probably link to it in lieu of writing my own review, if you don't mind. Heh.

Jack Badelaire said...

Chris, go for it. Glad you like.

Chelsea, I have had to go back and saturate myself with 80's action for the last couple of weeks!

I saw this movie again on Sunday, and I have to say, it was just as good if not better than the first time around. I think Ex1 was a good attempt at their goal, but Ex2 hit it square-on.

Chris said...

Do you think it's possible the sequel was better due to it being less of a hands-on effort by Stallone?

Jack Badelaire said...

I think it was better because Ex1 was essentially an 80's action movie,'s 2012. People's sensibilities are different, expectations are different, and the audience is different. It's fun to watch those classic action flicks for what they are, but copying the formula verbatim and with total seriousness just didn't give it the punch I was hoping for.

Ex2 decided that it knew it was a self-referential parody, and just embraced it in a big, beautiful bear hug. When you've got Chuck Norris' character making Chuck Norris internet jokes, Arnold declaring "I'll be back!", and asking Norris "Who's next, Rambo?", this movie knows exactly what it is, and loves every minute of it.

Pallavi Srivastava said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pallavi Srivastava said...

I like the opinion of introduceing this cast together but it demanded a powerful, more captivating story.

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