20 August 2012

Review: The Expendables 2

(Dir: Simon West, 2012)

Let’s get this out of the way from the outset. The best “eighties revival” action film of the last few years was Rambo. It was the sequel no-one wanted coming twenty years after Rambo III, with a character you didn’t care about seeing aged. But you know what? It was absolutely fucking insane, and that was the point – once it got going it was violent and bloody as hell, with a plethora of limbs and body parts blown everywhere. This was pure eighties action film nostalgia; far more effective than any recent examples such as The Raid.

And so The Expendables followed two years later, promising something even more interesting. This time we got an action film teaming up most of our favourite old action heroes with some newer blood, which worked although it wasn’t perfect by any means. The action was good (although not the aforementioned Rambo good mind), it was pretty funny and just all round a lot of fun. Job done. The Expendables 2 therefore does what any good action sequel should – amps everything the hell up!   

There’s no point doing a plot synopsis, you don’t need one. There’s a mission, there are a lot of guns / weapons / explosions, and there are more eighties action stars than at a 'roid convention. You know all this. Did you need anything else? Oh wait, yes, here’s a key thing that’s been added. Arnold Schwarzenegger. We get a lot more of the big man now that he’s politically free and quite frankly that’s something we all wanted. One solitary scene last time made for a fun cameo, but this time we really needed to see him handling automatic weapons and he looked back at home doing so, yet he is starting to look old so I hope that's just our readjusting to seeing him on screen and he looks better in his upcoming films.

Another positive addition is Jean-Claude Van Damme. He was something missing from the first film and actually makes a really good villain here; better than Eric Roberts and David Zayas from first time round. Thing is, you know he is capable of violence and this also fits with one of the two classic eighties villain stereotypes – they’re either European or Russian. However, because we know what he is really capable of from many of his past films, and lest we forget the characters are superfulous here because really we’re watching JCVD, Arnie, Sly, Bruce etc, in the final showdown he does seem to be holding back. In a straight fight without weapons JCVD would probably dominate them all, but this is a true good guys vs bad guys film so it can only go one way and it does feel restrained.

You also can’t argue with Chuck Norris popping up playing another gun-slinging hero. How synonymous has he become to today's audience as an internet legend rather than as an action star? It's good to see him being part of this. It was also pleasantly surprising to see that the film is a little more violent and bloodier than the first one. However things in The Expendables 2 get all a little too meta for my tastes – take Chuck’s characters name (another eighties throwback) or all the stupid throwing round of famous catchphrases. The “I’ll be back” joke is really tired and unfunny now so leave it alone, please. The more modern action stars hold their own well, but do start to feel sidelined as things go on. Still, Jason Statham's in the film being totally badass and The Stath makes everything better.

Honestly you don’t need to know anymore about the film so let’s just leave it with this: The Expendables 2 is a lot of fun and it delivers exactly what it promises. If its brand of nostalgia and violence is what you want to see, then you should enjoy it. I did. It does some things better than the first film, other things not so. Don't worry about that - switch your brain and have some fun with it.

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