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Monday, 3 September 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Expendables 2

Directed by: Simon West

Produced by: Avi Lerner
Danny Lerner
Kevin King Templeton
Les Weldon

Screenplay by: Richard Wenk
Sylvester Stallone

Story by: Ken Kaufman
David Agosto
Richard Wenk

Based on: Character created by David Callahan

Starring: Sylvester Stallone
Jason Statham
Jet Li
Dolph Lundgren
Chuck Norris
Terry Crews
Randy Couture
Liam Hemsworth
Jean-Claude Van Damme
Bruce Willis
Arnold Schwarzenegger

Music by: Brian Tyler

Cinematography by: Shelly Johnson

Editing by: Todd E. Miller

Studio(s): Nu Image
Millenium Films

Distributed by: Lionsgate

Release date(s): August 16, 2012 (United Kingdom)
August 17, 2012 (United States)

Running time: 103 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $100 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $135, 059, 000

Right folks, ears ringing like a mawfo after last night's great gig at The Warzone Centre in Bruce Street: nothing like three hours of hardcore punk to get all that excess energy out of your system, I slept like a baby when I got home. The Lobotomies, Droppin Bombs, Skeleton Crew, Runnin Riot and 1000 Drunken Nights gave us a cracking night. So, if I sound like I'm digressing or don't seem to be interested in this review, it's because my head is here, there and elsewhere. Still, keep an eye out for my upcoming reviews. Posted! Comprende? (Damn no accent English thing bringing out the grammar bitch in me!)

Today's film up for review in the viewing gallery is The Expendables 2. In the past, I have accused (quite rightly) of being easy on Sylvester Stallone, and I have no qualms about the fact that I am an unashamed, completely biased fan of the big, brash, live-action stunt-filled and borderline homo-erotic action movies of the 1980s/early 1990s. To me, these are action movies with balls and testosterone, and even the bad ones put most of todays action films, full of CGI and self-important pomp and circumstance, to shame. I like my action movies to be morally suspect and in your face, they're so much more fun when it comes to political arguments. I say most, but then I remember we still have Christopher Nolan. So, Stallone, he of Rocky, one of the greatest dramas ever made, he of First Blood, one of the best action movies ever made, he of The Special one of the..... scratch that one while I admire the gathering tumbleweed. I like Stallone, but after seeing the first Expendables, even with the benefit of a helping of Budweiser and Pringles, I was rather disappointed. Yes, the meeting between Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger was cool, yes, Mickey Rourke's monologue was a standout moment, but goddam is it a poor movie, and not even an entertainingly poor movie like Norbit or something. With Simon 'CON AIR!' West at the helm, I was willing to give The Expendables crew a fresh start to impress me. This time round, after a mission goes wrong, resulting in the death of one of their own, the returning Expendables embark on a revenge mission against Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), a rival mercenary who is threatening the world with deadly weapons. Nuff said about the plot!

Shooting from the hip about the good of The Expendables 2, the tonal shift of the film from the first is a welcome move. The original was a film that reeked of self-importance and completely contradicted the aesthetic set out by Stallone as a director. Here, I get the bald, shameless and morally suspect action movie that I wanted. I mean, it is absolutely ludicrous how much these guys love each other. Every line by Schwarzenegger seems to be in some way a Terminator reference, and Chuck Norris' appearance even makes reference to the Chuck Norris facts, for goodness sake. Me and my good friend at Danland Movies were very vocal in our opinions, even while were in the cinema, because there are just so many 'Oh My God! They Aren't Going To? Are They? Yep they did!' moments throughout. However, even if they are slapping each other on the back and licking each other's backsides, that's the way I like it. Simon West's change in tonal direction is more than welcome. Technically the film is well-made. I know I'm a luddite, but I respect the fact that they have opted to film the stunts live-action, and the action scenes are hard-hitting and brutal. You really do feel the impact of the punches, kicks, gunshots and explosions, and the stunt team and production designers/demolishers have done a great job here. Also, Shelly Johnson's cinematography is strong, and I like the fact that you can see everything that's going on and appreciate the clear, crisp tones of the locations and the stiffness of the action. Editor Todd E. Miller works on the same aesthetic as Johnson, (wisely) not going for the way overused 'Bourne' style of editing. No crazy and excessive use of fast cuts, the editing instead appropriately reflects what we are seeing onscreen. On the final parts of the good, this is no acting masterclass, but I'd like to flag up a few of the performances that I liked. Jason Statham is my personal favourite of The Expendables crew, and he reeks of charisma in every scene that he's on. Also, you realise just how damn good Bruce Willis is when he's given a good part. It reminds me of Clint Eastwood the way his voice makes this rather cumbersome dialogue sound like poetry. Willis is one of the most underrated actors in film history, and he stood out here. Schwarzenegger's part is absurd but amusing, and I think Jean-Claude Van Damme ate up the opportunity to play an antagonist for a change. Aside from the character's terrible name (Jean Vilain. A 'villain' played by JCVD. Great pun there guys!), he's an engaging and philosophical bad guy who at the end of the day is still in great shape and throw a roundhouse kick or two.

So, look, there was a lot I liked about The Expendables 2, and while I have to confess that I rather enjoyed the film, there were a lot of problems with it. For instance, I know it ain't chopped liver, and I don't expect chopped liver, but some of the script is absolutely terrible. The dialogue seems to be a never-ending rally between Basil Exposition plot explanation and various action-movie/star references. A certain amount of back-slapping is alright, but when you're devoting whole scenes of the film to it, with the actors trading their respective famous lines, it becomes beyond funny. Also, characters pop up for the sake of giving a bit of screen time to Chuck Norris, Arnie et al, and it serves no purpose to the story whatsoever. Furthermore, while I think the movie is less serious this time round, once again it features Stallone's propagandistic portrayal of the poor peasants struggling against evil bad guys out for money and blood lust. I mean, he's been doing this 'Poor Peasant' stuff for years, but every film he has wrote since Rambo in 2008 features the Poor Peasant routine, and it's just getting old. Sergei Eisenstein got away with it because the first time round he made Strike! and followed it with The Battleship Potemkin, two very different movies. There isn't much of a difference between the latest Rambo instalment and the two Expendables features, and I want to see something fresh! On another note, I am not a fan of Brian Tyler's music here, much less in many of the other films he has scored over the years.  In fairness, at the start of his career he did good work on films like Frailty, Bubba Ho-Tep and Bug, but for the past six years, I've had to review movies with his scores in them, and they are nearly always uniformly rubbish. They are the epitome of the Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra aesthetic, and you feel like he is reading a Film Composition For Dummies manual while he is writing this stuff. It is just lazy, banal, murder-by-numbers stuff that would be parodic if it wasn't so tragic that he thought of this stuff as acceptable to put on film. It is soul-destroying for someone who really appreciates the sonic landscape of a film to hear work so poor. Please, Brian, make some good music in the future, so I can take back what I just said. I like a challenge and someone who puts up a fight in a bid to prove me wrong!

The Expendables 2 is another of cinema's great Jekyll and Hyde's. On the one hand, I know it is absolutely pants, politically incorrect, morally suspect, has a shoddy script, a terrible score, and (I've just remembered) normally my ears are fine with Stallone, but I couldn't understand much of what he, Jet Li or Dolph Lundgren said (though Lundgren was pretty funny). However, I rather shamelessly enjoyed the movie, for all it's bald honesty and crazy 'Republicans-R-Us' attitude. It's a technically sound film, with some great stunts and design, solid parts for Statham, Van Damme, Willis, Schwarzenegger, and features a welcome change in tone. Director Simon West can be thanked for this, and I look forward to what they can do in future instalments. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - A-ok (whether or not you're happy to know is another matter!)

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