How quaint it is to look back at the initial theatrical release of The Expendables 2 almost five years ago in the late summer of 2012, after all the PG-13 rumours and behind-the-scenes gossip. Many of us hoped and expected an effortless home run after the rough-around-the-edges original movie. To its credit, this follow-up succeeded about as well as could be reasonably expected, pulling in over $300 million at the global box office (against its reported $100M production budget) and even receiving a generous 66% Fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes from the discerning critics (this is to date the only Expendables movie to stay Fresh on RT). I recall seeing it a grand total of nine times at the cinema and being thoroughly joyed by almost every moment of it. And now I revisit the movie on glorious 4K UHD courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment, and I have to say that this is a worthwhile upgrade.
The Expendables 2 hits the ground running, opening with an astounding extended action sequence spanning several locations as the team rack up a huge body count and blow shit up real good. It’s a total gas, one-upping the awesome mayhem of the first movie to announce the return of these bad boys in an adrenaline-charged fashion. The Expendables 2 is mercifully lean as well, progressing at a ripping pace as it works through exposition, tough guy bonding time and bursts of top-notch action which strain believability in all the right ways. Surprisingly, character development is far better here than in the first film – this is a true ensemble piece, showing the team working together and partaking in several amusing group discussions in the downtime between all the violence. The camaraderie between these tough guys leaves little to be desired, and each character has a distinguished presence. They also seem to be more cultured and have more depth, with character quirks being introduced through the consistent bantering.
With Stallone having found The Expendables such a mentally and physically punishing endeavour as writer/director/actor, extra muscle was recruited to take some of the stress off Stallone’s shoulders for this sequel. Thus, Con Air director Simon West helmed the picture, and his filmmaking is assured and sturdy (some shonky visuals notwithstanding). Gone is the shaky-cam of the first film, replaced with a smooth routine of wide shots and coherent editing. When Expendables 2 is locked in action mode, West offers up plenty of carnage and wanton destruction, observing the muscular heroes as they use big guns, knives and even fucking rocket launchers to destroy everyone and everything in their path. The body count is well above a hundred – this is a true ’80s action film in spirit which lines up a cavalcade of nameless extras to be slaughtered by our favourite heroes.
Despite its strengths, The Expendables 2 is still not quite perfect. Apparently the film was initially intended to be PG-13, and at times it does feel like it’s pulling punches, though there are still some agreeably violent action beats (and the blood is a good mixture of practical squibs and CGI blood). Furthermore, while the cinematography is solid in terms of framing, the camera quality is at times astonishingly shoddy, as if a lot of shots were digitally zoomed in leading to a loss of resolution. West and cinematographer Shelly Johnson also bathed the picture in washed-out colours of ashen grey, and one must wonder if the film might have been superior with a more colourful look. There is only so much you can do with cheap Eastern European locations, I guess.
Free from the initial burden of expectations hovering over this sequel, and far enough removed from the hate it received (for goodness sake, the first DVDRip that went on pirate sites had terrible audio sourced from a Cam version, and people said the music sounded dreadful when they could have listened to the soundtrack on fucking YouTube and confirmed the pirate copy was just awful), I feel like we can judge The Expendables 2 a bit more evenly, and it still holds up five years on, though you are left to bemoan certain imperfections. Van Damme remains an excellent villain who consistently chews up the scenery (director Simon West has said he was hard to predict and always did something different each take), but he doesn’t do enough killing, and Scott Adkins is severely underused. The movie feels too cobbled together at times as well, with actors’ schedules meaning that Jet Li gets convenient separated from the group in the beginning before they encounter Schwarzenegger, and Statham sits out the big shootout on the NYC set. Plus, the Statham/Akins fight is still a missed opportunity. And then there’s the matter of the CGI, such as the motorbike/helicopter action beat that really should have been cut.
It’s certainly interesting in my mind that The Expendables 2 is often slammed for being too jokey and self-referential, when that’s precisely the type of movie that I seem to remember a lot of fans asking for. For the first Expendables, Sly picked his own path, opting for that dark Walter Hill-esque tone, painting the titular team as outright antiheroes and introducing a running theme of redemption to create some thematic underpinnings beneath the orgy of violence. But not everybody responded to this vision, which is why things were changed to a certain extent for The Expendables 2. Ultimately, despite its shortcomings, this sequel is a lot of fun, and the action is comprehensible and entertaining, spotlighting a still-impressive ensemble of badasses. I still wish there was more at stake, and more of a sense that these tough guys are in danger, but where else will you see Arnie, Sly and Bruno standing in a line emptying hundreds of rounds of ammunition?
Reviews The Expendables 2 By Pvt.Caboose91 From ManlyMovie.Net