“Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.”
Tyrion Lannister’s quote applies not only to dwarves and bastards, but big stupid action movies as well. The Expendables, and now its sequel, aren’t pretending they’re anything other than a big stupid action movie, and as a result, it’s a criticism that can’t be used to hurt them.
Of course, there are plenty of ways to do the concept poorly. I imagine the same film under Michael Bay or Bret Ratner’s direction would manage to screw it up somehow. But the fact is, if your movie has a scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone are all in a row firing automatic weapons at the screen, it’s pretty damn hard to go wrong.
And this motherf***er.
In a way, The Expendables serve as our real-life Avengers. They’re an assembly of Earth’s mightiest action heroes, all thrust into a film together. In case you forgot, in addition to the three mentioned above, there’s also Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Jason Statham and Randy Couture as part of the crew. They all have character names, for some reason, but there’s really no point in remembering them. These characters ARE their actors, and that’s exactly how the film wants it to be.
Li takes off early this time around after the gang rescues a kidnapped billionaire, but a few new faces are added to the roster this time around. There’s not-yet action star Liam Hemsworth as Billy, the new sniper member. Jean Claude Van Damme is actually the villain of the story this time around, despite turning down an appearance in the first film much to Stallone’s dismay. And there’s Chuck Norris, who appears regardless of his initial insistence that the film be PG-13 if he was to be a part of it. Thankfully, common sense won out over family values and both he and the rest of the cast are drenched in blood for the duration of the film.
The plot could have been about a manical Russian who wants to steal the world’s kittens and it wouldn’t have mattered so long as Sly and his gang got to shoot people. Instead Van Damme’s mercenary leader recovers a map that shows the location of five tons(!) worth of Cold War era plutonium in an abandoned Russian mine. Sounds like a job for
The Avengers, The A-Team, James Bond, The Expendables.
“No Mr. Stallone, I expect you to die!”
The film is just too goofy not to like. It’s incredibly self-aware, with Schwarzenegger and Willis’s appearances almost entirely made up of catch-phrases from their past films and cracks about getting old. And when Norris shows up? They couldn’t resist giving him one of his own famous “facts” to recite. It’s all incredibly ham-handed in the most charming of ways.
As for the action? It’s top notch, as ever, and probably surpasses even the first film in terms of audience satisfaction as Arnold and Bruce actually end up in the mix rather than sticking to quiet dialogue scenes. And of course you have Norris and Van Damme kicking ass, tangling with the rest of the still impressive crew. The final airport shootout might be one of the best in action movie history, and what this series lacks in style, it makes up for in brute force.
The Expendables knows its target audience. After all, its various actors have been entertaining the same group for years. They deliver exactly what the bloodthirsty crowd wants to see, and it’s made even more epic by the fact that it’s an all-star cast that has no equal across any action series in history. It’s getting hard to even think about which actors they’re leaving out at this point. The Rock? Jackie Chan? Tony Jaa? I’m sure they’ll be around for the next one. And I can’t wait for that.
4 out of 5 stars