The Expendables 2 (2012)

Directed by
Lots of stars, no money left for a script writer?
Reviewed by Simon on 2013-01-20

I quite enjoyed THE EXPENDABLES, in a "watched it on an aeroplane" sort of way... it's a pretty simple concept: take a bunch of aging action stars, have a bit of fun with their screen personas, throw in some kick ass action scenes to prove they've still got it. It's not going to change the world, but it'd be hard not to produce something that'll entertain fans of action movies (and that's a demographic that's proven its market value).

THE EXPENDABLES 2 promised more of the same, expanding the cast to include even more legendary action stars of yore... along with Stallone and Statham we get Arnie! Bruce Willis! Van Damme! Even Chuck f**king Norris! Pretty much foolproof, right? OK, so Jet Li's role is relegated to an extended cameo, but we have a sexy Chinese girl in his place, so...

... why is the film so crap?

That's not a rhetorical question, though I do have an answer ready to go - "because of the screenplay", basically.

When we see names like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean-Claude Van Damme we know that we shouldn't expect a work of dramatic or literary brilliance, but surely we shouldn't expect that an accumulation of such names attached to a project should lead to a progressive deterioration of the writing? It's an action movie that explicitly isn't supposed to be taking itself seriously, so the bar for the story and the dialogue really doesn't need to be set all that high... it takes some effort to fail when all you had to achieve was to provide a vaguely plausible reason for a bunch of guys to kick ass and shoot shit up. You're working in the one genre where corny dialogue is actually considered a plus point!

The script does achieve these ends - ass is kicked, shit is well and truly shot up, but somehow it manages to fill the space inbetween with drivel. The opening scene is fine - the guys are on a mission, Jet Li is earning his fee, it's light, fun, harmless ultraviolence (those big anti-vehicle weapons really should not be turned on unarmoured human bodies though... we already found out what that does in RAMBO IV, thanks). But then it all goes to hell with the ham-fisted introduction of a new character who we're supposed to take a liking to so that the villain (comically named 'Villain', pronounced 'Vil-lain') can look all nasty when he hurts him (though just in case that didn't work, he is also a satanist for some spurious reason). The later introduction of the aforementioned Chinese female only makes things worse, by dropping some truly awkward scenes of a romantic nature into what was a pretty testosterone dominated enviroment (I assume they're meant to be romantic, in somebody's vision of it, anyway), and then the film sort of shambles towards the finish line with a frivolous attitude to wholesale slaughter that's almost as careless as the approach to narative coherence or penning witty or engaging dialogue.

But it's an action movie! It's supposed to have a stupid plot! It's supposed to have paper thin characters and lousy one-liners! Fine, if that's the approach you want to take with the film - which to a certain extent it was in the first EXPENDABLES - then go with it, have fun with it... play up the stars' reputations and cameraderie as veterans of the Hollywood action movie machine... bring the audience into the gang and let us share in the fun too. Play around with genre conventions, keep it all irreverent and light. For gods sake, don't try and deliver an actual story... at least not if you're going to do such a terrible job of it.

The only times THE EXPENDABLES 2 shows promise, of the sort of film it could have been, is in the cameos. When Arnie, Bruce or Chuck turn up the film cheerfully plays up their 'action movie star' personas, with no pretense that they are anything other than larger than life movie stars making a cameo appearance in a larger than life action movie... these scenes are fun, but unfortunately too few and far between. By far the best single scene in the film has Arnie and Bruce acting up outrageously, whilst the main cast are nowhere to be seen. If they'd managed to get that vibe throughout the movie we'd be talking about a great film.

I presume it costs no small amount of money to get all these big names in your movie, even if they're only in it for five minutes. If you're going to spend that much money on your cast, shouldn't you at least put some money and/or time into paying some writers to deliver a script that doesn't make you cringe? I'm pretty sure writers are cheaper than big name action stars, even if most of them are past their prime. A $10 million indie film certainly wouldn't start shooting until they'd got a script that they could read through and not feel totally ashamed, so why is it that $100 million studio productions so regularly get all the way into our cinemas and homes without anybody involved saying "Hang on guys, it might be worth getting another draft of this... written by somebody who's not a complete fucktard, perhaps?".