Everyone likes to have a go at fan-fiction: where you pit two or more icons against one another to see who’d win. It’s like an elaborate, imaginary form of Top Trumps. Who’d win in a fight between a polar bear and a great white shark? Who’d win in a battle between Batman and Iron Man? Who’d win if my dad fought your dad? It’s true that most of these revolve around the “fight” premise, and many of them will never come to realisation; unless you have a particularly violent dad who just likes fighting. But 2012 is thus far shaping up to be the year that fan-fiction comes to realisation. We’ve had The Avengers, and seen Thor, Captain America and Iron Man fight one another on-screen, and now we bring in the Last Action Heroes, The Demolition Men, The Universal Soldiers… The Expendables.
If you’ve been living under a rock, or if you’ve spent the past few years trying to wrestle a polar bear towards Cape Town for the epic bear vs. shark fight, then The Expendables united some of the 1980’s and 1990’s biggest action heroes into one big gunfight back in 2010. You had Stallone and Lundgren combined with some of the genre’s biggest modern stars like Jet Li, Jason Statham and… erm… Randy Couture? The first outing for The Expendables was fun, but about as deep as a puddle. It had its moments but you sensed it was missing something. It had its big names, and its cameos from Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but it was lacking.
The Expandables 2 adds new names to the roster, such as Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme, as well as expanding on the roles for Willis and Schwarzenegger, to almost provide the quintessential who’s who of action heroes. But does it deliver where its predecessor tripped over itself? Most certainly.
Make no mistakes, this film is never going to be nominated for an Oscar, nor is it going to receive any awards from any magazine, but it’s a lot of fun. I’ll lay it down here that I was never an avid watcher of the 1980’s action classics; I know of them and their premise, but I in no way attest to having watched all of them. Therefore I’m in no way, shape or form a “fan-boy” of the 80’s. I was more a fan of every-man John McClane than the one man army that is John Rambo and his ilk. But I still really enjoyed this.
The premise of the film essentially revolves around Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his motley crew of mercenaries being tasked with recovering some data for US Government bod Mr. Church (Bruce Willis). Clearly, things don’t go as planned and the data falls into the hands of the villain with the inspired name Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), then boots are put to asses. The plot is nothing special, but I don’t think it’s intending to be that either. It’s a straight up action film – true popcorn fodder, and at this it excels. However, I take umbrage with critics saying that this is “excusable” because “it’s only an action movie”. Why can’t a film like this have a riveting plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat? Die Hard: With A Vengeance for instance had a great plot that played out as a thriller as much as an action movie. I don’t accept that cop-out excuse.
What you do have is a fun, self-referential, action-heavy movie sure to please fans of the genre. There are so many nods to the stars’ previous films, from Van Damme‘s roundhouse kicks to Chuck Norris‘ accompanying intro music that plays every time he appears. Hell, there’s even a reference to the played out Chuck Norris jokes we’re all familiar with. It’s all very tongue-in-cheek and genuinely fun to behold. Much like The Avengers I’d actually argue that some of the most entertaining parts are when the guns aren’t firing – it’s the back-and-forth and banter between the guys that is most engaging. It really looks like they’re all having fun with the script and relishing those wisecracks. Well, except for Statham who is given a number of “one liners”, but none of them hit the mark. Better luck next time Jason.
Although on paper the cast list appears to be too full, it’s good to see that not everyone is on the screen at all times, as this’d make for a horribly messy film. Some of the big names are reduced to cameos: Jet Li especially, who has about two minutes on-screen overall. However, I still don’t see the need for Randy Couture in the team. He’s a brilliant MMA fighter, but an actor he is not. And despite being part of the “core” group, he probably has five lines in the whole runtime. He’s probably the most expendable of The Expendables.
If you’re unaware of the rumblings in Hollywood, then know that The Expendables 3 is a very real proposition and I’d anticipate it landing amidst explosions and gunfire sometime in 2014. Here’s hoping that Stallone can bring in some of the last remaining action players, such as Wesley Snipes and Steven Seagal, as well as other less obvious choices like Liam Neeson, Nic Cage and even Mel Gibson… Now that’s a film I’d love to see.
The Expendables 2 fires into cinemas with the expected combination of testosterone and guns. What was less expected was the self-referential humour and light-hearted quips that really made the film feel much more fluid and complete than its predecessor. Its only weakness is that the franchise is still lacking something in the way of cohesive story. I’m not looking for Memento with action heroes… just something a little different to spice things up. I know the franchise is capable of ratcheting it up that last notch.
Thankfully the film turns out more like Time Cop than Kindergarten Cop and I’m already baying for the announcement of the role-call for the inevitable third entry in the series.Then the fan-boys will get some more of their all time most wanted duels up on screen, which may not solve any of the “versus” arguments, but will no doubt entertain once again. And for the record Iron Man would hammer Batman… and my dad would also kick your dad’s ass. Fact.