God damn, if anyone is supposed to understand what made the ’80s awesome, it should be Stallone, Arnold, and Willis. Or not, I guess. The thing is, I know Stallone gets it on some level. His last Rambo and Rocky movies are absolute proof of that. Neither of those movies are self-aware, but they still both have the ’80s basically tattooed all over themselves. So I guess I just don’t see why almost every single thing that happens in The Expendables 2 has to include giant winks, nods, awkward pauses and laughs, more winks, nods, and then more winks at the camera. I GET IT, DUDES WERE DUDES IN THE ’80S, AND LOOK AT ALL THESE DUDES DOING DUDE THINGS, ISN’T IT HILARIOUS? *wink wink*
I won’t lie; coming out of the theater, I was talking up the stuff I liked. I was trying to justify the bad stuff by saying how much I loved Van Damme’s character, for example. I still love Van Damme in the movie, but everything else is shit. Just shit. And as it happens, one of the things I was looking forward to most ended up being one of my biggest disappointments. I was all pumped to see Arnold get a bigger part. Well, he got a bigger part, alright, but it was playing himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. I mean, let’s be honest; he wasn’t even pretending to be anyone else. He had a character name in the movie, but who cares what it is? Whether or not this is literally the case, it seemed like everything out of his mouth was a reference to another one of his movies from days of yore.
At least back when he was making cheese-fests like Commando, Eraser, The Running Man, True Lies, etc., he had good enough sense to take the fact that there was any fiction – at all – seriously. Inside the fictions were all the ridiculous things that I’ve come to love about those kinds of action movies: Saying “I lied” before dropping a man off a cliff even though he promised to kill him last; saying “Screw you” before literally drilling someone to death; telling his wife “But they were all bad” when she asked if he’d ever killed anyone before. All of those situations are from Arnold movies, but they are also all born from actual characters doing things to other characters. In The Expendables 2, he just shows up as himself whenever there’s nowhere else for the plot to go. Also, how many times can he say “I’m back” or “I’ll be back”? Oh, wait. Sorry, I was being thick. See, Arnold was in The Terminator, where his most iconic line came from. Hahahahahaha! It’s only funny once you learn the origin of the phrase! Bahahaha! Ohhh, now that other part where Terry Crews threatened to have him “terminated” makes so much more sense! Context is everything!
Let’s not forget about Chuck Norris, though. They had to work in good ol’ Lone Wolf McQuade somehow. I only know he was Lone Wolf McQuade because they called him a lone wolf like eighty times. Because he works alone. Except for helping them out more than once, but okay. Whoever wrote the scenario directly preceding Chuck’s entrance should be forced to explain themselves to a panel with Joseph McCarthy at the head.
So, the Expendables are off in Europe somewhere looking for Van Damme and his deadly crew of terrorists, when they happen upon a seemingly deserted mock-up town that was used, I guess, as a training ground during the Cold War. What do they do when they get there? Hide out and take turns on watch until daybreak? Pfffff. How about lighting up as many lanterns as possible, cranking up the jukebox, and taking turns describing what their last meals would be. Then, the next morning, they’re all surprised when a bunch of soldiers and tanks are heading right for them. Good job, guys. But then, out of nowhere, rockets and bullets and blood start flying everywhere. Yea, yea. Chuck to the rescue. One of the first things out of his mouth – I shit you not – is the Chuck Norris joke about a rattlesnake biting him. After three agonizing days in the desert, the snake finally died. I know; I heard that one in middle school, Chuck. It’s not exactly new material. Of course, I don’t think he’s made a movie in fifteen years, so I suppose I should cut him some slack. I’m not going to, but maybe I should.
It’s just maddening to see such a monumental fuck-up of something so easy for the people involved to achieve. Those catch-phrases and one-liners from back in the day weren’t created in a vacuum. They were part of entire experiences. The Expendables 2 doesn’t realize that, so there’s nothing to fall back on when the awful dialogue doesn’t work. When I say awful dialogue, I’m not just talking about the stupid one-liners uttered by non-characters. Whenever the Expendables are in scenes where there’s “bonding” going on, you should just start checking your phone for text messages. Go ahead and be that guy/girl, because I guarantee you that however annoyed other people get at you, it will be less annoyed than they would have been by watching those parts of the movie. Prime example: I can’t remember a single thing any of them said when they were talking about their last meals. Dolph wanted baby seal and whale ass, which was oddly funny, but everyone else? No idea. The only thing I remember is the extremely awkward pause after the last piece of the conversation followed by forced group laughter. I’m pretty sure the filmmakers were hoping the audience would be genuinely laughing during the silent part, but nope. No one in the theater was uttering a sound, so a full five seconds of Randy Couture waiting for me to stop the laughing I never started was pretty weird. That’s basically how all of the jokes played.
Speaking of Randy Couture, why was he in this again? I think he kicked one guy through a door at the beginning of the movie. How about Terry Crews? What was his job, to sit around and yell a lot? If that was his entire role, then I guess he did it well. I would have been a lot happier if both of those guys were gone instead of keeping them and unceremoniously dumping Jet Li. He was in the opening action sequence, and then he was never heard from again. I have no idea why this happened, but it doesn’t really matter; he would have made it a better movie regardless of why he didn’t get the chance to. His back-and-forth with Dolph was one of the highlights of the first Expandables and culminated in a sweet fight, so I was pretty livid when I realized Li’s exit was the last time I was going to see him. Here’s how my version of The Expendables 2 would have gone in this context: Jet Li would have been in about half or 2/3 of the movie, and then he would be killed off in a blaze of glory. Dolph would get super, roid-rage pissed, thereby fueling the last section with awesome scenes of him calling people cockroaches while graphically stomping their faces in with his boot. To recap: less of an ensemble of people whom I don’t care about/don’t do anything in the movie and more Jet Li.
Another missed opportunity is the amount of screen time given to Van Damme. Whatever the numbers are, it isn’t enough. He plays a scene-chewing, mustache-twirling, evil-for-the-sake-of-being-evil asshole, and it’s hilariously awesome. His master plan involves putting men, women, and children to work in a mine to unearth plutonium to sell to whoever. That’s a pretty evil plan. His entire performance is weird and maniacal, which is exactly what the role called for. There just wasn’t enough of him. Too much of the movie centered around the Expendables bumbling around Europe like idiots. Want another example of their stupidity? The only plan Barney (Stallone) could come up with for infiltrating Van Damme’s evil mine lair was to fly his plane directly into it, which obviously took away any possibility of getting out of there once they did whatever they were doing. Oh, and then Van Damme blows up all the exits while driving away in a Jeep, twirling his non-existent mustache. Like that wasn’t a probability the whole time. See, it all worked out from a screenwriting standpoint, because then Arnold gets the chance to plow through the mine in a drilling machine and yell “I’m back!” Wait, where are you back from, and what were you doing there? How did you even know where this mine was and that everyone was in trouble? And how di…whatever.
I really don’t know why anyone thinks this movie is awesome. I’ve seen a bunch of reactions along the lines of “This was bad ass!” or “So much better than the first one! Fuck yea!” Well, I’ve seen the first one, and it actually holds up better than when I saw it in the theater. I appreciate what they were going for in both, but the difference between the two movies is that they actually executed some of their intentions well the first time around. For example, the original opens with Dolph shooting a person in half and then trying to hang a pirate under Barney’s constant protest. That was funny. The sequel has a long sequence of the whole crew storming a stronghold to rescue someone, which is fine. It wasn’t the most interesting action sequence ever, but it did include Jet Li hitting people with pots and pans. Still not as good or hilarious as Dolph ripping people in two while being uber shitty about it. The humor mostly fell flat in both movies, but Li and Dolph were great together. Also, it felt like more of an actual movie instead of just the pretense of a story and characters. What happened to Mickey Rourke? He had some great heavy scenes in the first one which grounded all the craziness just enough for me to mentally regroup and continue on. This time around, we have Liam Hemsworth trying to muster up the same gravitas. Um, no. All things being equal, Mickey Rourke will apparently act circles around that guy.
What a bunch of garbage. I’m getting more and more irritated the longer I write. Overall, the action is kind of generic. It’s a little bloodier than what I’ve been used to seeing lately, but there’s nothing over-the-top enough to be funny and nothing choreographed well enough to be shocked or amazed by it. The action was just…action-y, and I expect better from Stallone. In his holy grail-esque quest to rekindle my love for the ’80s, all he did was make me remember the bad parts full of lame jokes and empty action. If you want to see an awesome action movie parody, go watch Shoot ‘Em Up. Honestly, the only thing I still like about this one is Van Damme. I’m actually looking forward to Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, because he’s playing a baddie, and he has weird face paint on the whole time. More Van Damme method acting it is! What happened, The Expendables 2? You probably just got outdone by Universal Soldier 6. BURN.