‘Last of the Summer Wine’ With Explosions – Stallone & Co. return in ‘The Expendables 2’

28 Jun

Sylvester Stallone’s face is fascinating. Oh, he’s always had unconventional looks, owing to the paralysis of his lower face, but he’s now entering the realm of the sideshow. I first noticed this when he rocked up in one of his two recent-ish comeback movies, 2008’s Rambo. 

"Wait... Shouldn't Rambo 3 have been called Rambo 2: First Blood Part 3. And how come the 4th film's called just 'Rambo'?"

Wait… Shouldn’t Rambo 3 have been called Rambo 2: First Blood Part 3? And how come the 4th film is just called ‘Rambo’?

In Rambo we were meant to believe that Stallone’s character, the eponymous, troubled Vietnam vet, had spent the last 20 years of his life living in the backwoods of Thailand. What made this curious wasn’t Stallone’s Hollywood tan (I believe they have sunlight in Thailand, and Rambo is meant to be an outdoorsy type), but the fact that he was dying his hair and had clearly had “work done” since fighting alongside the brave men of the Taliban in Rambo III.

"You can ride a horse, American. But can you fly a plane?"

“You can ride a horse, American. But can you fly a plane?”

Let’s be clear here, I’m not having a go at anyone who wishes to look their best, even as they stumble into their mid-to-late sixties. Stallone has an impressive physique for a man who, if he were British, could have collected his bus pass in 2006, and I’m sure it’s in no way augmented by regular injections of monkey serum or yak’s testicles or any other weird, untested freakishness. But still… Sylvester Stallone’s face is fascinating. 

There are times, early on in The Expendables 2, when it seems to have been given a little CGI airbrushing to remove some of its more leathery creases, but elsewhere it looks like a mixed grill, twitching and mumbling its way towards sentience.

A mixed grill dressed as Magnum PI.

A mixed grill dressed as Magnum PI.

Fortunately, in the Expendables franchise Stallone is able to offset the visible signs of ageing by surrounding himself with a cast of action stars of a similar vintage. In the first film we had (a surprisingly good) Dolph Lundgren, looking like what would happen if the Easter Island heads were given a makeover by Tom of Finland, and Mickey Rourke looking like an educational film designed to warn children about the dangers of being Mickey Rourke. There were blink-and-you’ll-miss-them-cameos from then-Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger and his and Stallone’s fellow Planet Hollywood restaurateur Bruce Willis.

This time around, as well as the return of Jason Statham, Jet Li, the aforementioned Lundgren, Terry Crews, and MMA star Randy Couture we get repeat cameos from Schwarzenegger and Willis, a new one from Chuck Norris (prompting a toe-curling scene referencing “Chuck Norris facts”), and – as the film’s Euro-villain, Vilain (that’s his actual name) – Breakinstar Jean Claude Van Damme. All these 1980s action stars and – miraculously – hardly a grey hair in sight. Norris’s beard, in particular, is a significantly darker hue than it ever was in the mid-1970s, while Van Damme’s hair looks like it’s been treated with Cuprinol. Half an hour into the film I began wondering why the film’s producers hadn’t struck a lucrative sponsorship deal with Just For Men.


And the thing is, that last sentence isn’t even a wisecrack, because I don’t think I have ever seen a film that so cynically squeezes money from its paying audience as Expendables 2. 

Here is a film whose stars, with the exception of young pup Statham, stopped being bankable a good 15-20 years ago. As if to hammer that point home, both Schwarzenegger and Stallone’s most recent “solo” efforts, The Last Stand and Bullet to the Head tanked at the box office. Put ’em all together, however, and a paying audience will queue around the block. After that point, the filmmakers don’t quite know what to do. This was a problem with the first film, which I think had Eric Roberts in it, and a plane that was also a big, flying gun, and… uh… some explosions… but of which I remember absolutely nothing else. And this is a film I watched earlier this year

Already, vast chunks of Expendables 2 are slipping from my memory. I’m having to resort to notes to remember what happened, because the main thing I remember, the main thing the film is about, is, “Hey… It’s Schwarzenegger. And Terry Crews just told him he’d be terminated if he didn’t take care of his gun. Ha! Do you get it! He said he’d be terminated. And Arnold Schwarzenegger played the Terminator.”

"And then you can 'Jingle all the Way' home, motherf**ker."

“And then you can ‘Jingle all the Way’ home, motherf**ker.”

What I can remember of the film’s plot (rather than its raison d’êtreinvolves some dodgy Eastern European types, headed by Van Damme, who are mining uranium in some dodgy part of Eastern Europe (Bulkrainia?) to make some sort of weapon. If it’s ever stated what JCVD intends to do with his weapon (oo-er) I missed it in among all the things going bang.

Pictured: Things going bang.

Pictured: Things going bang.

The last act, which takes place in one of those airports where they don’t have any police or security because it’s Eastern Europe, is a series of in-jokes for action fans, including about half a dozen riffs on “I’ll be back” and one baffling, doesn’t-make-the-slightest-bit-of-sense nod to “Yippee ki-yay!” There are also no fewer than three occasions when Stallone, Schwarzenegger or Willis comments on their age, as if to say to the audience, “Yeah… We know we’re getting on a bit, but you liked our movies when you were a kid and probably too young to watch them, so humour us, okay?”

Look at this, but think of this.

Look at this, but think of this.

I can’t deny there is some fun to be had, watching three 1980s action heroes charge into battle (even if it does leave Statham, Crews, Lundgren et al standing on the sidelines twiddling their thumbs), but the minute the end credits roll the film disappears as swiftly as the poorly rendered CGI smoke from one of its many, many explosions (see above). Expendables 2 isn’t so much a film with a coherent plot and characters as it is a nostalgic box-ticking exercise, and that’s a shame, because as well as getting older and wrinklier its retro stars are infinitely more comfortable in front of the camera. Jean Claude Van Damme makes a very good villain, especially in his final showdown with Stallone, and Schwarzenegger seems to have used his political career to hone a sense of comic timing (I particularly liked the scene with him and Willis driving through the airport-cum-warzone in a Smart car).

Given a decent script, by somebody like Shane Black, Expendables 2 could have been so much more than a big screen fan convention, or an episode of ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ with more explosions. It could have been to action movies what The Wild Bunch was to Westerns. Looking at IMDB I see a third film is scheduled for 2014, so perhaps this time they’ll get it right.

Then my eyes scan down the page and I see they’ve cast Nicholas Cage.

Ah, well.

Pictured: Academy Award®-winner Nicholas Cage's last 5 movies.

Pictured: Academy Award®-winner Nicholas Cage’s last 5 movies.

PS: As a side-note, Van Damme’s character’s name is pronounced ‘Verlaine’, like the bisexual French poet and lover of Rimbaud (pronounced ‘Rambo’), after whom First Blood author David Morrell named his most famous character. Maybe screenwriter Richard Wenk isn’t so dumb, after all.


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