(***this review discusses details of the film, so if you haven't seen it, and plan to, hold off on reading this ***)
From the opening minute until the final gun (or actually knife), The Expendables 2 is a fun, thrill ride of over-the-top explosions, fisticuffs and one-liners. In short, I loved it.
If you know me, you know I love Sly Stallone and pretty much anything he does, but I walked away from the theater (twice!) feeling like I got my moneys worth. Here are some random thoughts on the film.
Stallone's fingerprints are all over the screenplay (which he wrote with Richard Wenk). Stallone finds a way to put a rhythm into his films which goes big action, quick funny scene, more action, poignant scene, big action, etc. It's Stallone's way of trying to personalize the people who are blowing people's heads off. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I didn't buy Billy's speech about why he left the Army ("the worst part was, they killed the dog I adopted." Really, that was worse than the 6 team members who were killed?) but I enjoyed Gunner trying to get Maggie's attention on the plane, Ceasar's "Your cereal could be Earios" to Toll Road and Christmas' "I now pronounce you man and knife."
I loved the fact that Dolph Lundgren is used as the comic foil. Some of his stuff is funny, some of it dorky, but it plays both ways because in the back of my mind I'm thinking "Look at Drago the goof ball!" You can almost see him and Stallone sitting in a room saying stuff like "And then you say 'I would really love some Chinese'" and laughing a hearty laugh before agreeing, "That's great. Put that down!"
When I walked out of the theater the first time I remarked to my friend "I don't think there was one swear word in the movie." Turns out "shit" was said five or six times, but it really goes almost unnoticed. There's also not a sketch of nudity. The next day when I was taking my 13-year old to see the movie, I said to my wife "There's no swearing and there's no nudity," to which see responded, "What about the violence?" As I was quickly walking out the door with my son I replied "Oh, that's through the roof. Why do you think it's rated R?" I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but violence has really been upped in films in recent years. Pulp Fiction was way ahead of it's time. It wasn't that long ago anyone who got shot kind of spun around and fell down, now everyone literally gets their head blown off. But Stallone finds a way to make it cartoonish, highlighted by his entire squad gunning down a bad guy in a local village and Sly drops a "Rest in pieces!" on us. Pure gold.
Jean Claude Van Damme is an awesome villain. It's the first JCVD film I've ever seen in the theaters and for the most part I've only noticed his films, but never really watched one. With his Terminator shades on almost the entire film, he feels like a real threat to Sly and his team. The best part is knowing that those two guys are going to face off at some point. Boy do they. It's a fantastic fight scene which features haymakers, evil one liners "Let's wrap this up!", Rocky/Apollo-like exchanges "Coming right up," "Going back down!" and even Stallone channeling his Rocky "Hit me!! You ain't so bad!!" by screaming at JCVD "Come on Vilain! Come ON Vilain!" It was one of the more gratifying fight scenes I can recall.
Chuck Norris. I swear to God, when Chuck Norris (sight unseen) saves the day by blowing a few dozen people away who are attacking the crew, and then appears on camera, people in the theater applauded. As if seeing Chuck on the big screen with Sly wasn't cool enough, Chuck delivers a Chuck Norris joke that got the biggest laugh of the night (followed by Arnold's "I'm back!" down in the mine.) Norris's appearance and his joke perfectly illustrate what was great about this film, it never took itself too seriously. All the guys had some one-liners, with the older guys alluding to each others films. In a film where hundreds, if not thousands of people are getting slaughtered, there were dozens of laughs and fun moments. Put that on your quotable promos, Sly!
While Liam Helmsworth and Nan Yu were good in their roles, to go along with the rest of the guys, it was Sly, Bruce, Arnold and JCVD who carried the day. Stallone was smart to give Arnold and Bruce more face time in this one. It helped the enjoyment factor. When Sly, Bruce and Arnold are walking through the airport, firing their big guns, it was hard not to bask in the glow of their assault rifles.
A quick list of other thoughts:
Stallone's voice: It seems deeper and manages to drop a few more octaves when he has something important to say.
Gunner's knife: He spend all movie sharpening it, but hardly ever uses it.
Christmas' timing: He's always scrambling to get into position to fire the bombs from the plane. It's not like he didn't know they were going to. Get down there a little early for Pete's sake.
Helicopter head: When Christmas is fighting Hector, you know how the fight is going to end, but it was still enjoyable to see it end that way.
Booker's walk and shoot: I loved when Chuck Norris was walking through the airport, using a bad guy as a shield, and just picking people off. By the way, I'm guessing there were some flight delays out of that airport that day.
Yin Yang's quickie: Jet Li wasn't in the film long, but his pots and pans attack coupled with his "you'll find another minority" retort to Gunner were fantastic.
No UPS?: So they sent Billy's girlfriend the letter and a box of cash and left in on the doorstep? It looked like a stiff wind could blow the top off that box and there appeared to be at least 100k in there. I'm just saying.
Adams Family humor?: When Barney yelled at Gunner to wake up and Gunner said "You rang?" it struck me as an homage to Lurch from The Adams Family.
Having grown up with the classic action-hero films of the '80s, this film was true to that genre, while winking at it too. In short, it provided everything you would expect. Big muscles, big guns, big fights, big explosions and big stars who still know how to deliver the goods. At a time when the action hero seems to be in short supply (That's on you, Rock) Sly, Arnold, Bruce and the rest are anything but expendable.