What’s up, Contenders? Terry Malloy here reporting live from the Waterfront.
As I’ve been writing the You. Not. Expendable. Column here at AICN, I’ve been saturating myself in testosterone in order to properly prepare for THE EXPENDABLES 2. Was all that immersion worth it? Well, of course it was, because watching dozens of action films all summer is really a vision of heaven for this guy. Not only that, but I also got to see THE EXPENDABLES 2 in the greatest way imaginable: In a packed theater at The Alamo Drafthouse following a trilogy of Van Damme films at an event dubbed Van Dammage.
So how was the film ultimately? Well, I dig it. And I dig it more than the first film, which I’ll get to in a moment. But I detect a serious flaw in the foundation of THE EXPENDABLES franchise. Both of THE EXPENDABLES films have such an enormous cast of characters, that they suffer quite a bit in the “making sense” department. Characters in THE EXPENDABLES 2 drop in and out of the storyline with abandon. There is so much winking going on here that some characters almost need an eyepatch. And by “some characters” I mean Arnold Schwarzenegger. But I’m down with winking. How much you love or hate THE EXPENDABLES 2 is directly proportional to how much audience pandering you can handle.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that we’re all going to see THE EXPENDABLES 2 in order to see the massive cast do damage together on the same screen. We want the heroes of old to unite, assemble, kick ass, and chew bubble gum. But getting them all there takes so much maneuvering and shoehorning that a streamlined and killer screenplay becomes an impossibility. THE EXPENDABLES 2 is a far cry from the lean and mean THE RAID: REDEMPTION. But it sacrifices the ability to claim any kind of leanness by its premise alone. THE EXPENDABLES is literally founded upon excess.
So we really aren’t even discussing whether THE EXPENDABLES 2 is a good film on any legitimate level, because it’s bloated cast essentially precludes that possibility. We really just want to know if it delivers on its premise, and I’m going to have to say ABSOLUTELY! There are enough set pieces, one liners, and action beats to keep any self respecting 1980s action junkie engaged. Let me highlight a few of the moments that really worked for me.
The Opening Sequence: Dear God! Bad use of CGI blood and helicopters aside, the opening sequence of THE EXPENDABLES 2 alone has more mayhem and gore than all of THE EXPENDABLES’ runtime. If you think I’m exaggerating, go see this thing before you judge. My favorite aspect of this opening sequence was the use of a little vehicular manslaughter. The team put together some George Miller-esque kinds of battering ram trucks and it added a completely fresh element to the standard run and gun raids we see in so many mercenary films. I was on the edge of my seat and ready to forgive every instance of bad CGI because of the sheer audacity of what I was seeing before my eyes. If the film had kept up a pace like that, we’d be talking about THE EXPENDABLES 2 in the same breath as some of its 1980s ancestors. But the pace does slow.
The Money Shot: At the start of the third act, there is a moment where a frosted pane of glass is shattered by gunfire. It crumbles to reveal Arnold, Stallone, and Bruce Willis. Together. Guns blazing. It is the moment we’ve all been waiting for and it is an image that pretty much makes the entire experiment that is THE EXPENDABLES franchise worthwhile. It is almost Biblical: When Arnold, Sly and Bruce are for you, who can stand against you? Well, let me get to that.
Jean-Claude Van Damme: Crappy love story and and heavy-handed exposition plagued THE EXPENDABLES. Those things I can live with! But my only legitimate gripe that killed some of the fun of the first film was its lack of a good villain. I guess setting up so many heroes left little time for a creative threat in the first film. Lay those concerns aside, friends, because JCVD is here to show us how it is done. Van Damme glides through this movie like some kind of spirit of cockiness. I loved him. The character is so one dimensional that his name is literally Vilain. But Van Damme inhabits this guy and poses a wonderful threat to our heroes, even if there is never any doubt who will win the day. This film owes much to its brilliant use of Van Damme and between this role and his breakout performance in JCVD, I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t be treated to a new rebirth in Jean-Claude’s career.
So all told, THE EXPENDABLES 2 might win over the hearts of people who really wanted to like the first film but just couldn’t. But it certainly won’t convince anyone that it is a legitimately good film if they aren’t already excited about the much vaunted assembly of heroes. I’ll revisit the movie several times and will most likely find increasing rewards for doing so. I tend to like my action films on the edgier side, so THE RAID: REDEMPTION will remain the greatest action film of 2012 without any serious challengers. But THE EXPENDABLES 2 delivers you what it promised it would. And I’d be happy to see Barney Ross and Lee Christmas continue to battle it out against any number of other titans of action cinema for many more installments to come. And if this is the film that finally gets a few new JCVD films back onto the big screen here in the US, then I’ll forever owe the movie a profound debt of gratitude.
And I’m Out.
Terry Malloy AKA Ed Travis