Everything you need to know about "The Expendables 2," the latest cinematic reunion of Sylvester Stallone and his band of '80s misfits, can be summed up by looking at the characters' names. Hale Caesar. Trench. Toll Road. Yin Yang. Series newcomer Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a devious villain ingeniously named Vilain.
If you manage to shut down your thinking parts for two hours, you'll probably find a lot to enjoy in "Expendables 2." Does it come through completely on the promise of '80s action heroes kicking butt in the name of justice and a good time? Not quite, but it's close.
The second film finds our aging heroes (Stallone, Statham, Lundgren, Crews, etc.) dragged into a search-and-recovery mission by a grumpy CIA agent named Church (Bruce Willis). They find the package, a map to some plutonium, but it's immediately stolen by Van Damme, the master of the roundhouse kick to the face. He also murders a member of Stallone's motley crew in the process.
The testosterone team chases down Vilain not only to stop him from selling the nuclear material, but also for sweet revenge. Along the way, they run into numerous old friends, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris, the walking meme.
The plot description makes it sound like there's more story than there really is. There's a few moments with a local town forced into slavery by Vilain, as well as a very minor subplot involving a new female member of the team (Nan Yu). For the most part, though, the story is just "Van Damme is bad; let's go kill him." It's just enough to give reasoning to the bloody, mindless slaughter.
Normally, I'm strongly on the side of story, but in the case of "Expendables 2," the plot can only get in the way of what audiences want from the movie. The first film made that mistake, providing a dull, uninteresting story and phony attempts at depth (most notably Mickey Rourke's tear-filled speech, which seemed to come from a different movie) instead of the fun, goofy action and adventure audiences craved.
"Con Air" director Simon West, taking the helm from Stallone, finds just the right tone for the film. It moves fast, lightly moving through the script's heavier sequences to get to the ridiculous action set pieces. The movie is at its winking best when Norris shows up, cueing Ennio Morricone to play in the background and a glorious excess of slow-motion walking.
The screenplay, written by Stallone and Richard Wenk, helps by laying off the hammy speeches and drama, and laying on the explosions and tough guy quips thick (even the crew's tank comes covered with one-liners). Statham gets some of the best moments, including a mid-movie knife fight featuring the wonderfully absurd line "I now pronounce you man and knife."
Of course, the desire for an action-heavy script comes at the price of the film's other elements, mainly the characters. While it's nice to have more Willis and Schwarzenegger, they don't add much. Arnold seems especially superfluous; after one nice quip in the beginning ("I need a weapon ... yours!"), he disappears and comes back only to say "I'm back" a lot. It'd be nice if Wenk and Stallone had written Arnold some new corny one-liners instead of forcing him to repeat the old, tired ones.
Jet Li fans will probably be disappointed that, after a cool opening fight sequence, he vanishes from the film forever. Audiences would also be forgiven if they forgot Randy Couture was in "Expendables 2." These aren't the most egregious of sins, but it does somewhat undermine the team's manly bond when members seem so, well, expendable.
West, for all of his success with the film's tone, struggles with some of "The Expendables 2"'s visuals. The action, though not as chopped up as in the first movie, can still get disorienting with all the edits. A plane crash sequence near the end could be easily confused for "Cloverfield." It's that shaky. It may have just been my particular screening as well, but the overall color palette is oppressively dark.
The content is fun, but the presentation dampens my enthusiasm. It's enough to make me wonder if the final product is less than the sum of its brawny parts. Is a movie in which Van Damme kicks a knife into a character's chest enough? I think I just answered my own question.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published May 21, 2013
According to Hollywood movies, Las Vegas is either the greatest place on Earth or the worst place on Earth and everything that's wrong with America. I've never been to Vegas so I couldn't really say from first-hand experience what I think of Sin City, but I have seen several movies featuring the legendary town. So it's almost like I've been there. Kind of. Barely. Anyways, in honor of "The Hangover Part III," here are five of the most memorable films featuring the city that truly never sleeps.
Published May 17, 2013
With all of that in place, it would seem the sequel's phasers would be all set to stun. But something's off. There's a sequence where the starship Enterprise is flying at warp speed when a big, clunky-looking vessel comes up from behind and nudges it off its exhilarating track. That's pretty much "Star Trek Into Darkness" in a nutshell, except replace the big, clumsy vessel with a big, clumsy story.
Published May 15, 2013
Michael Viers is a horror movie junkie, but his upcoming project, "Love You Still," is less boogeyman and more "Old Man and the Sea." The most shocking part, however, is that the story - a tale of an old fisherman reflecting back on his life - comes courtesy of a junior in high school. It may seem like a strange combination, but for Milwaukee Film and their Collaborative Cinema educational program, it's just another exciting year of locally-bred film and hopefully a sign of more to come.
Published May 14, 2013
After four years, several all-nighters and an embarrassing amount of ramen, Hot Pockets and Dr. Pepper for dinner, I - alongside thousands of others across the country - am finally making the triumphant walk across the graduation stage from childhood to adulthood, snagging a diploma along the way. If I ever get nostalgic for the university lifestyle, however, I can pop in one of these great college movies.
Published May 10, 2013
Now there's Baz Luhrmann's rendition of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," done up as the big, loud extravagant 3-D summer blockbuster I doubt Fitzgerald had in mind when he wrote his time-honored critique of the vapid lifestyles of the rich and the growing emptiness of the American dream. The end result feels a bit too much like one of Gatsby's parties: a whole lot of razzle dazzle with a hollow emotional core.
Published May 8, 2013
Funny or Die and Old Milwaukee are bringing stand-up comedians Matt Braunger and Johnny Pemberton to Turner Hall tomorrow night. Braunger is most known for his reoccurring role as Gene on NBC's "Up All Night" and his Comedy Central special "Shovel Fighter." Pemberton appeared in "21 Jump Street" and "The Watch," and currently stars as Mason on ABC's new sitcom "Family Tools." We got a chance to talk with the duo of comedians about the tour, memories of Milwaukee and messing with random people on the road.
Published May 7, 2013
"Moulin Rouge" director Baz Luhrmann is the latest to attempt to cash in on classic literature with his slick, shiny 3-D rendition of "The Great Gatsby," coming out Friday. Before we see how Luhrmann's second attempt at working with legendary source material goes, let's take a peek at five other films that boldly attempted to abolish the phrase, "the book is always better than the movie," out of audience's minds.
Published May 3, 2013
The first question I had walking out of "The Avengers" last summer was, "How freaking awesome was that?" The second question - a bit more difficult to answer - was, "How is any comic book superhero movie ever going to be able to compete with that?" Pretty easily, as it turns out. "Iron Man 3" may not fly as high as its star-studded combo platter predecessor, but it still makes for a great start to the summer.
Published May 2, 2013
While one of the biggest studio films of the year will be announcing the yearly stampede of other, equally massive studio features on Friday, UWM and its film department will head in the other direction with the 13th Milwaukee Underground Film Festival, starting this Friday and running through the rest of the weekend.
Published May 1, 2013
"Pain and Gain" is the Michael Bay-iest movie Michael Bay has ever made. A large portion of readers, weary of Bay's signature bloated, "explosions are awesome KABOOM!," go-big-or-go-home brand, likely just read that last sentence and shuddered in fear. But here's the twist: It turns out "Pain and Gain" is a roided-out freak-child of a film that's a lot of bizarre fun.