“The action movies changed radically when it became possible to Velcro your muscles on.” This is what Sylvester Stallone, co-writer and star of the new The Expendables 2 said about Keaton’s Batman a couple of years ago. It was a cry for help, a plea bargain issued for action film fans old and new. We’re the old school, he seemed to be saying, speaking on behalf of Schwarzneggar, Van Damme et al. We’re the reason today’s action heroes exist.
On the tail end of this is a sense of desperation about not being forgotten. After the 80s (and maybe up to the mid 90s) a lot of these faces faded into the background, staring in straight-to-DVD flicks that were of questionable quality (not that their mainstream success already weren’t). The only real survivor to emerge from all of this was Mr Universe himself, Arnold Schwarzneggar and even he had to suffer through starring in Junior to pay the bills. And he had the common sense to quit acting, though it was to star in politics instead and I have no idea how he fared in that arena.
When The Expendables first premiered to its B-grade glory, action fans everywhere praised it for offering what many had long dreamed of – a Hall of Fame jam of all the big names. You name them, they were in there – Stallone, Lundgren, Rourke, Willis. A few more recent stars joined the cast (Li, Austin, Crews) and it became a wet dream for a lot of cinemagoers. Even Schwarzneggar appeared, albeit briefly.
Some of the cast has returned for the second instalment The Expendables 2 and instead of being a Hall of Fame jam-off it’s started to resemble the very thing Stallone doesn’t want you to think it is – a cling to past glories. Of course the nostalgia element is present – how can it not be – but the last thing he wants is to appear like a kicked dog crawling back to its master with a hobbled knee considering the (much) younger talent that is currently taking all the box office receipts.
(For the sake of readability I’ll mention the characters names but they’re just caricatured extensions of their own personas i.e. no real personality) Stallone returns as Barney Ross, a celebrated war hero that from my understanding has put up with too much shit to deal with plebs anymore. He’s cultivating something of a mini-me through Bill The Kid, a bizarre appearance by Liam Hemsworth, and with all his friends they’re still kicking ass and taking names. There are a few by the numbers action scenes that lack any real excitement or charisma about them and it quickly boils down to a Guess Which Actor This Is farce. Stallone’s having a ball with his friends though, bad acting and mumbled enunciation of basic English galore and although it’s completely silly (admittedly what it is meant to be) I can’t help feeling that everyone is trying really really hard to make this succeed and ultimately this has led to its failure.
Van Damme appears as Villain (I’m not kidding, this is what IMDb has credited him as) and there’s a very weak link between him and Ross that leads to the remainder of the film (i.e. ridiculous revenge plot). The end fight really does look like two old guys way past their prime and finishes on such a low note I turned to my friend and asked her “What the hell just happened?”
I wanted to cheer for Stallone, I really did. I was never a fan of him from back in the day (apart from Rocky) but knowing that he’d just lost his son a month ago I wanted to send him good vibes and give positive feedback on his latest release. But I can’t. Like a lot of nostalgia works, they simply feed off what has already been done and fail to progress the current state of pop culture and instead eat it alive. The best example of this is the appearance of Chuck Norris – he’s a bona fide 80s action star but here he appears as the one thing he shouldn’t, a Chuck Norris joke. The entire film is brought to a grinding halt for the sole purpose of telling one. It’s mildly humorous but embarrassing for everyone involved.
There’s no real genuine action heroes of today on display, with perhaps the exception of Crews and to a lesser extent Statham, and it makes it hard to enjoy as a result. Lundgren does nothing except act like a creepy perve and the rest of the cast is essentially mute. There’s no scene worth revisiting either as none of them make sense – all the scenes are edited together haphazardly in such a fashion that it becomes unclear as to exactly what is happening. It’s nothing new to action cinema but always gives the impression of covering for bad angles or poor camera coverage.
I don’t want the old guys – who really have aged a lot – to be completely shunned but I don’t want them to refuse to move forward either. Dwayne Johnson is currently kicking everyone’s ass when it comes to action pieces and it’s no surprise he doesn’t make an appearance here. He’d embarrass every last one of them.
Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire
Directed by: Simon West Written by: Richard Wenk (screenplay/story), Sylvester Stallone (screenplay), Ken Kaufman (Story), David Agosto (Story) Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Liam Hemsworth, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Randy Coutoure, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris
The Expendables is out now in Australia, the U.S.A and the U.K.
Nicholas Brodie is a writer with big hopes and tiny dreams. Possessing an MA in Film he is on hand to provide opinion pieces and reviews on what's new and, hopefully, still relevant.