There are too few surprises left in American movies so, as a rule, I try to avoid watching previews when I go to see a film. I know that the main attraction will begin about 10 minutes after the advertised start time, so I take my time in the lobby if I get there early, pondering over which overpriced snack I will buy after convincing myself that I’ll start my diet tomorrow. However, my timing was off when I went to see The Expendables 2 and I found myself sitting down just as the studio’s heavy-handed 2 -minute commercials for their upcoming wares were starting. It came as no surprise, what with what I had paid to see, that I’d be treated to a clip of the new Arnold Schwarzenegger feature and the new Sylvester Stallone actioner as well.
That I ultimately found them more entertaining than the main feature came as no surprise either. Simon West’s followup to the 2010 hit is not only predictable but lacks the wit that made the original somewhat bearable. Starring nearly every geriatric action hero you can name, the movie follows the latest escapades of Barney Ross (Stallone) and his indestructible band of mercenaries who set out to track and kill an Albanian despot named Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) who’s stumbled upon a cache of weapons-grade plutonium that he hopes to sell to the highest bidder. If that weren’t reason enough for Barney and the boys to track him down, the fact that he’s killed one of their own whets their appetite for vengeance.
There are few surprises, and it’s poorly made to a remarkable degree. While Stallone has adopted a world-weariness that suits him well and Van Damme makes a surprisingly good villain, West can’t put a coherent action scene together to save his life. The plot is laughable even by the low standards one sets for a film of this sort. Its self-referential jokes are obvious and predictable (get this, Arnold Schwarzenegger says, “I’ll be back,” not once, but twice. Such wit!) and its tone is as flat as an EKG of the recently deceased. There’s no climax here. None of the scenes build upon each other until the final battle reaches a crescendo. Every action sequence is rendered at the same tempo, with the same set of shots, with the same predictable outcome. It’s surprising that a film with so much mayhem can be so dull.
Boredom set in and my mind wandered as I sat through this numbing experience. I couldn’t help but think of the recently rekindled controversy about whether violent movies foster similar behavior in those who watch them. I have never bought into that theory. I’ve always been of the notion that those who commit violence of the sort that occurred in Colorado have issues that were caused by myriad other sources, all more powerful than a movie.
But as I witnessed Stallone and his crew parade about, their characters killing one indistinguishable extra after another, most getting their heads splattered with high-caliber rifles or one poor soul being hacked to death by a whirling helicopter rotor, I couldn’t brush it off as “just a movie” as I have in the past. Violence in films can be justified if it is in service of the plot or winds up contributing to a statement on the nature of violence itself. Unfortunately, The Expendables 2 has no such agenda. It ends up being nothing more than a gratuitous orgy of gore that drowns in its own excess, doing nothing more than adding fuel to the notion that movies of this sort bleed far beyond the confines of the screen. While I still don’t believe films are the sole cause for violence in our society, movies such as this one make it hard to defend this line of thinking.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.