And now, we’ve come to the end of my
bone-breaking groundbreaking, critical condition critically-acclaimed “Expendables” project. Though it was intended to conclude on August 17th (i.e. the release date of “The Expendables 2”), the project was held back by a number of priorities that I was forced to handle during the past week (bills to pay, kids to feed, wife to spend time with – all of which I did in “The Sims 3”). Just kidding, guys! Anyways, without further ado, here’s the long-awaited finale of ‘”Expendable” Movies’.
According to film critic Michael Jeck, “Seven Samurai” (1954) (arguably the greatest Japanese film ever made, in case you were wondering) was the first movie in which a team was assembled to carry out a mission. After Akira Kurosawa’s magnum opus was remade by Hollywood into the brilliant 1960 western “The Magnificent Seven”, numerous action, war and heist films were fashioned around the revolutionary concept of a team of main characters. Come to think of it, every decade gave birth to at least one movie ensemble. The 1960s had “The Dirty Dozen” (a war film that your dad is guaranteed to know about); the 1970s, “The Wild Geese” (a war film that your dad may have heard of), the 1980s, the Marines from “Aliens”, the 1990s, the ill-fated bank robbers from “Reservoir Dogs”; the 2000s, the star-studded cast of “Ocean’s Eleven” (and its were-they-really-needed sequels “Ocean’s Twelve” and “Ocean’s Thirteen”). The list goes on and on.
And now in this decade, this age-old trend continues with “The Expendables” and “The Expendables 2”, two films dedicated to the glory days of early 1980s to mid-90s action films (before they got all “twisty” and “turny” like “Mission: Impossible”, “tear-jerky” like “Saving Private Ryan” and “brainy” like “The Matrix”) , where muscular action stars (primarily American) used brawn, blades and bullets instead of brains to
kill defeat their enemies (primarily rich, military-oriented and/or non-American), always making sure to say at least one memorable one-liner before or after they do so (“You’re a disease, and I’m the cure”; “SCREW YOUUUUUU!!”; “Why couldn’t you put the bunny back in the box?”), and of course, leaving a path of property damage, dead bodies and single-parent households (“My daddy got shot by Steven Seagal. He’s dead now.”) in their wake.
What? You weren’t expecting something more profound in a review about “The Expendables”, now were you?
“THE EXPENDABLES” (2010)
In 2010, when men around the world were being dragged by their girlfriends to watch “Sex and the City 2” on the big screen, they prayed earnestly to the heavens for one movie:- one movie that will answer their burning questions: “Why am I here? Why am I still alive? Why am I watching ‘Sex and the City 2’ when I could be looking at Friday Night Smackdown instead? Wrestling’s not really fake, is it?”. When “The Expendables” finally hit theaters, those questions weren’t answered, but the male-oriented dream of seeing the best action superstars together in one film finally became a reality. And at long last, those same men were able to drag their girlfriends to see a movie they wanted to see. Karma’s a bitch, ain’t it? Anyhoo, “The Expendables”, directed and co-written by Sylvester Stallone, focuses on a team of mercenaries (Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture and Terry Crews) led by Stallone (“Barney Ross”). When they’re not blowing shit up and killing nameless extras, they ride their motorbikes through the streets of New Orleans and hang out at a tattoo parlour owned by the mission coordinator of the Expendables: Tool (Mickey Rourke). One day, a CIA agent called Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) hires Barney and a rival mercenary leader named Trench Mauser (Arnold Schwarzenegger) for a mission: go to the island of Vilena and overthrow the dictator General Garza (David Zayas). It’s later revealed that Garza is financially supported by James Munroe (Eric Roberts), an ex-CIA agent who uses Garza’s army to protect his drug-running operation. After a brief (and quite funny) scene of shit-talking between the three action movie legends, Barney is given the job. With the assistance of Garza’s daughter Sandra (Gisele Itie), Barney and his rag-tag team of ex-soldiers proceed to blow shit up and kill nameless extras, all for the cause of saving the people of Vilena from the corrupt men controlling their island home.
From the film’s opening action sequence, you’re given a taste of what to expect with “The Expendables” – over-the-top violence done in cartoonish gleefulness, dialogue laced with machismo, and ever-increasing levels of testosterone. The action set pieces in the film are viscerally exciting and fucking AWESOME – especially the final shootout which, judging by the amount of firepower, explosions and crumbling buildings shown onscreen, must have cost half the film’s budget to execute. The performances are good by action-movie standards – which actually works for a film like this. Eric Roberts plays a mean S.O.B. of a villain who comes equipped with a batch of witty comeback lines. Ex-WWE wrestler Steve Austin and kickboxing action star Gary Daniels (who play the henchmen of Eric’s character) play their roles well enough (all they do is look tough, say a couple of threatening lines and beat people up- that’s it). Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham (who plays knife expert Lee Christmas – side note for those wishing to write an action film: when coming up with main characters, think of names that are easy to remember: Barney Ross, Lee Christmas, Tool – who can forget a name like Tool?) get the most screen-time as they play the unofficial “buddy-team” in “The Expendables”. They laugh, bicker, shoot and stab their way out of a number of scenarios throughout the film. Mickey Rourke (“Tool”) delivers the most profound performance in the film, as his conversation with Stallone in the second act brings a sense of unexpected depth to the film’s admittedly thin plot. Though he appears only a few times, he stands tall as the best actor in the whole movie. The other Expendables get their moments to shine. Jet Li (“Yin Yang”) proves once again why he’s one of the best Asian action stars in the movie business and Dolph Lundgren (“Gunnar Jensen”) plays the same hulking, remorseless character from “Rocky IV”, except with guns and bad dialogue (in one scene, he tells Jet Li: “What do you wear, size 3? Bring it, Happy Feet”). WTF?! Randy Couture was aight as the “intelligent” Toll Road, who’s always shown reading a book in his spare time (when was the last time you saw the star of an action movie READ A BOOK?!), but try as he did, he just wasn’t that memorable. But the stand-out character, believe it or not, is Terry Crews (GASP!). His character of Hale Caesar is as cocky as you’d expect from a guy named HALE CAESAR, but it’s his appearance in the final shootout where he walks in with an AA-12 combat shotgun, BLASTING THE SHIT out of anyone getting within a 2-mile radius of him, that has already cemented him in the annals of action movie history. The ear-splitting sound of the rounds going off will make your jaw hit the floor instantly! Ultimately, though the film takes itself a little too seriously at times, “The Expendables” is everything it sets out to be – mindless, wholesome action entertainment- and nothing more. Recommended like subtitles for Sylvester Stallone’s dialogue.
“THE EXPENDABLES 2” (2012)
In 2012, when men around the world were satisfied that they lived long enough to see a movie like “The Expendables”…. and “The Avengers” … and “The Dark Knight Rises” as a matter of fact, they prayed earnestly to the heavens for one movie:- one movie that will answer one burning question: “When is “Expendables 2″ coming out?”. Last Friday, that question was answered, and those same men ran to the nearest movie theater to see “The Expendables 2”. Their girlfriends, having suffered through “The Expendables”, chose to stay home and watch a 24-hour “Sex and the City” marathon on E! That was not a true story. And I swear, this will be the last time I mention “Sex and the City” in this post. Pinkie swear. Directed by Simon West, director of “masterpieces” like “Con Air” (“Why couldn’t you put the bunny back in the box?”), “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” and “The Mechanic”, and co-written once again by Sylvester Stallone, “The Expendables 2” follows the continuing exploits of everyone’s favourite team of mercenaries. Much has changed during the past two years. Barney Ross’ amphibious seaplane has a built-in cannon, Gunnar Jensen is revealed to be knowledgeable in chemical engineering (a slight nod to Dolph Lundgren’s actual master’s degree in the same course), and there’s a new member in the team – former military sniper “Billy the Kid” (Liam Hemsworth). As before, Barney is hired by Mr. Church to do a job – in this case, the retrieval of an item from a safe located in a downed airplane in Albania. Assisting the Expendables is a Chinese technical expert named Maggie (Yu Nan). But the relatively simple retrieval job turns difficult when the vicious Jean Vilian (where the fuck do they come up with these names?) – played by Jean-Claude Van Damme – steps into the scene. With the assistance of his mercenary group (the Sangs), Vilian escapes with the item. Maggie confesses that the item is actually a computer which contains a blueprint of the location of five tons of abandoned plutonium. The Expendables must now prevent this plutonium from getting into the wrong hands, and they’ll do whatever it takes to stop Vilian – provided, of course, that they don’t run out of ammunition.
Similar to the previous film, “The Expendables 2” opens with a fast-paced, gorily violent and mindless action sequence that literally prepares you for the rest of the film. The story is better written than the original and the performances, yet again, are good by action-movie standards. Even though it’s still a bit cheesy (which is okay, since the film is a tribute to 80s action movies), the dialogue has been improved greatly from the first film. This is evident with Dolph Lundgren (GASP!) who’s actually given (GASSSSPP!) pretty good dialogue. Matter of fact, he delivers some of the film’s funniest lines. And this is where “The Expendables 2” excels. Simon West acknowledges the fact that the film was never meant to be taken seriously, and as a result, he’s added moments of laugh-out-loud moments that lighten the film’s grim tone. There’s no Oscar-worthy performances here, as Mickey Rourke is virtually non-existent, but we do get a couple of brief “character depth” moments – the main one involving Stallone and Liam Hemsworth. Speaking of which, Liam pulled off an okay performance, but with the amount of 40-plus year old actors getting in his way, it’s obvious that he’s only there to please the 18-35 female demographic. Randy Couture stands out a little more here, but is still overshadowed by Terry Crews and his AA-12 combat shotgun (spoiler alert – he gives away the gun to someone -who that someone is, I won’t say – but I will say, he deserved it!). Arnold Schwarzenegger returns in “The Expendables 2”, and along with Bruce Willis, he finally gets the chance to return to his native action movie roots, complete with distinguishable one-liners (“I’m back!”) and heavy artillery. Jean-Claude Van Damme delivers a great (ASTONISHING!) performance as the main villain with his sunglasses, big knife, trademark roundhouse kicks and overall bad-guy swagger. But the stand-out performer here is….you guessed it…. CHUCK NORRIS! When he appears for the first time in the film, you’ll either be cheering in praise that the mythical Chuck Norris has
resurrected resurfaced into the world of Hollywood, or laughing at the fact that a 72-year old man is walking in cliched slow motion – or both. Playing a retired military operative (and “lone wolf”) named Booker, Chuck has the penchant of appearing when the Expendables need him the most. His appearances, his dialogue….fuck it, his PRESENCE is reason enough to go see this film! If you don’t go apeshit when he shows up, then the patrons sitting in front of you certainly will! In the end, “The Expendables 2” is a high-octane shoot-em-up/stab-em-up/blow-em-up that’s just as entertaining as the original but a lot more fun. Recommended like a 24-hour marathon of “Sex and”….oops, I mean “Walker, Texas Ranger”.
“THE EXPENDABLES” & “THE EXPENDABLES 2” – 3 1/2 out of 5 stars (both are “worth a look”, and both are DEFINITELY worth seeing back-to-back)