We live in an age that prizes irony and self-deprecation, so we shouldn't be surprised when films like The Expendables happen. Here is a group of (mostly) fading action stars pooling their remaining star-power to fuel a return to cinema screens in lieu of straight-to-DVD ignominy. In principle, it could be a winning tactic - and in principle, it's an idea that I am behind, because I liked many of the films the core cast have made, and I'm always up for some OTT action. But somehow, particularly in the case of The Expendables 2, it feels less like a last hurrah and more like self-penned fan-fic.
The Expendables 2 is admittedly funny on occasion, sometimes on purpose. These are, after all, seasoned pros in the entertainment industry and men aware that part of their appeal lies in their own ludicrousness. But everyone is in on the joke, poking fun at themselves and playing to the crowd. And the result just feels weird; this is a story it's impossible to get involved in because that's barely the point of the film at all. The point, apparently, is trying to conceive of every hi-larious thing the fans would want to see, and deliver it. When you have Chuck Norris himself delivering a Chuck Norris fact; when you have everyone and his wife in the film aware that Arnold Schwarzenegger always says "I'll be back"; when you have references to Rambo in a Sylvester Stallone film - this isn't an occasional wink to the crowd; it's a trick eyelid that won't stop fluttering. We're hammered over the head with reminders that HEY THESE GUYS ARE POPULAR AND FAMOUS.
For me, it's an object lesson that, ultimately, there's a limit to the advisability of giving the people what they want. What looks good on paper isn't necessarily the best possible course of action for a film. A joke that cracks people up in the writer's room may die on the screen, and a joke that feels like it was inserted by contractual obligation after the cast's lawyers had all collaborated on the script (to ensure that everyone is given equal weight and presented in an appropriately positive / badass light) will always die onscreen (and deservedly so).
And thinking about this a little more widely: aren't the most disappointing movies of recent years the ones that tried too hard to please you? Many of Prometheus' faults came from too-close echoes of bits we liked in the other Alien movies; Snow White And The Huntsman felt like it was trying so hard to appeal to every demographic that it didn't quite land with anyone; the last Pirates film felt focus-grouped out of all recognition. Aren't the best films - and the biggest stars - the ones who go ahead and do whatever the hell works for them and then invite us to take it or GTFO? You're far more likely to get something genuinely surprising and engaging that way: consider Johnny Depp's defiantly oddball antics in the first Pirates film, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, or the entirety of The Artist or Up.
I know that egos have always been with us, that stars are always going to be concerned about how they appear onscreen and whether they get enough lines relative to their co-stars (especially where they are all old rivals; see also The Towering Inferno), and that studios are always going to try to tailor films to what they think the audience wants, but really, at least try to be more subtle about it, eh?
RyanShanks Posted on Wednesday August 22, 2012, 13:10
there's nothing inherently funny about an in-joke. there's very little that's funny about a poorly-kept in-joke. the laziest of in-joke attempts is a mere straight ahead quote. with the exception of Sheen sr and jr riffing on 2 of their own films at once and deliberately spoofing themselves "don't call me shirley"-style in Hot Shots (part deux, i believe?), merely parading a (ropey) legacy and expecting people to swallow it is top four of the Michael Bay Intelligence Insult Premier League. Fan-quoting should be left to the fans. After all, it's only 'cool' in one's own head before they actually say it.
witters Posted on Wednesday August 22, 2012, 14:08
I think you people are taking this film far too seriously. This is meant to be nothing more than a mindless action fest and for me it delivers, so stop over analysing things and just bloody enjoy the sight of Arnie, Sly and Bruce taking out an Airport with the help of Chuck Norris!!!
The Jackal Posted on Wednesday August 22, 2012, 14:48
Absolutely agreed., Ms O'Hara.
I like the idea of The Expendables, but the "nudge nudge, wink wink" factor has gone off the charts in the second film. There has to be a coherent and involving story, no matter how many folks you try to cram into it. Stallone should stop writing these films and get a top scripter to handle it., someone who knows how to juggle multiple characters, but not at the expense of the story.
And they need to lose all the lame-ass in-jokes. The odd one is ok, if it's subtle. But The Expendables is taking the piss.
BatSpider Posted on Wednesday August 22, 2012, 17:19
The bigger stars in the Expendables got famous on account of being in movies at their prime made by exceptional movie directors at the top of their game: Cameron, McTierman, Verhoeven, Woo. Irony and humour worked in those movies as the trimming, not as the main selling point, and hardly any of it was lame ass in-jokery. None of that's the case with the Expendables, so I'm not spending time/cash watching former action icons embarrass themselves in pursuit of geek $$$. I'm declaring myself out.
Cameron1975Williams Posted on Wednesday August 22, 2012, 22:34
I agree with most of the points above, but consider this; the first 10 mins of Expendables 2 has better choreographed action than anything in The Dark Knight Rises. Clearly cinema has peaked, and we're on the down-slope. Same with music. It makes me wonder what's next. From cave painting to music, then literature, theatre, radio, cinema and then probably interactive virtual-reality gaming.
durelius Posted on Wednesday August 22, 2012, 22:39
I loved Expendables both of them, but I did feel the in jokes in this one they gave to Arnie were completely out of context in delivery so didn't work. If he'd of shot someone then delivered Bruce's line and Bruce gives him a look that would have made more sense. An personally I think Sly should have delivered the Rambo line to Chuck on his entrance.
J_BUltimatum Posted on Thursday August 23, 2012, 07:13
Sly Stallone and Schwarzenegger have had in-jokes taking the piss out of each others films for decades now and the appeal of this film for fans is the fact that the stars get to pull out there one liners and signature moves. If you aren't wanting this in a movie then it's simple. Don't go and watch it! I for one was more than happy with Expendables 2 because it delivered the OTT action and ludicrous one liners that I loved in the 80s/ early 90s. I would be more than happy if there were more films like this than the likes of Potter and Twilight were released!
tallaght24 Posted on Thursday August 23, 2012, 10:06
I have to agree with everything said...as much as I hate to admit it. I was someone that flipped when I saw the 2 star review. Turns out I was wrong and Empire was right. There's a saying that too many cooks spoil the broth or words to that effecf. Never was that more apparent in The Expendables 2 case. Good jesus. Stop giving us what we ask for...we no not what we speak. Just because you can doesn't mean you should. I'm scared to see what EX3 has in store.
tallaght24 Posted on Thursday August 23, 2012, 10:36
I meant *know not what we speak. God rookie mistake there.
sipi Posted on Thursday August 23, 2012, 11:21
Expendables 3 should just be a low-budget youtube video with all of these stars running amok. If you want self-deprecating, then go all out.
BenTramer Posted on Thursday August 23, 2012, 11:25
As in the first Expendables movie, the dialogue between Stallone and Statham was forced and unfunny in the sequel. They really should hire a top comedy writer to give the dialogue a polish next time. Having the whole cast grinning madly at the camera doesn't make a joke funny. Chuck Norris and Schwarzenegger were really pointless in the film and showed up for two or three scenes that had nothing to do with the rest of the movie and that was a waste.
BenTramer Posted on Thursday August 23, 2012, 11:28
And Stallone was referencing Rambo in his other movies as far back as Tango & Cash in 1989: "He thinks he's Rambo." Stallone's reply: "Rambo is a pussy." Hope Kurt Russell changes his mind and agrees to be in Expendables 3, get all the biggies in for one last time and, for God's sake, get the script right this time!
Trautman Posted on Thursday August 23, 2012, 14:34
Newsflash! This is the Expendables, not The Shawshank Redemption. I saw it last night and the terrible puns and in-jokes got rounds of applause from the audience. Stop criticising a dumb movie for being dumb. It's like criticising South Park for bad animation, it's the whole point! And FYI, this isn't the first movie that's pointed out that Arnie says "I'll be back". It's also not the first Stallone film to reference Rambo, the third actually, by my count. Cheer up and take your thinking cap off once in a while!
Helen OHara Posted on Thursday August 23, 2012, 17:33
Those who think I should give it a break because it's dumb, may I refer you to my past blog "Why Defensive Fans Are Bad For The Movies", which explains why I think that's a rotten argument. (for some reason I can't link to another blog here)
And I'm not criticising it for being dumb. I'm criticising it for being shoddy. I like big dumb movies. Fast 5 was in my top 5 of last year.
olirog Posted on Thursday August 23, 2012, 18:09
I tend to agree with Trautman: Expendables 2 delivered what it promised, more so than the first. When I saw it Tuesday, the audience got the jokes – and were PUMMELLED by the action. The gaping plot holes were shot and blown out of existence. Great fun for under two hours of mental relaxation! Bring on the next one…
randomcage Posted on Friday August 24, 2012, 14:33
On the flipside shameless fan service can be fun sometimes and this film delivered in spades. I don't think this film had the female demographic involved. Expendables 2 is 'Twilight' for men
simjamlmx Posted on Saturday August 25, 2012, 00:42
ive seen interviews where the stars of this film talk about who they want in the third installment. the name "clint eastwood" comes up alot. Well i'm here to break the bad news to sly, arnie, and the others. clint eastwood will NEVER have anything to do with this nonsense. He's 82 and still has a more interesting career than any of you clowns who appeared in this rubbish. in fact he made a film about old guys doing the job of younger men years ago called space cowboys which was much more watchable than these two turds sly has made and starred actors who could actually act, donald sutherland, james garner, and tommy lee jones and eastwood obviously. nah eastwood won't appear in your stupid little movie.
cerebusboy Posted on Saturday August 25, 2012, 10:51
In fairness to the Chuck Norris fact scene, I think a lot of older people (who don't have much knowledge of 2006's leading internet memes) would just have thought it was a funny line. Which it is. And they did have the whole subplot of the younger expendable who died (yes, I'll concede that the fact that I cant' remember the names of characters in Expendables perhaps says something!), to try and give the story some weight and get Sly to act paternal.
Not that I'm disputing your thesis itself Helen, but isn't Rocky Balboa a good, relevant example of a movie that gave the people what they wanted?
As for Fast Five, "add The Rock" is surely an obvious people pleasing tactic with excellent results!
captainrentboy Posted on Saturday August 25, 2012, 11:23
I thought Expendables 2 was a steaming bowl of excrement. Ohh look Arnie's riffing on lines that he used to say, 48 years ago, but now he delivers them with even less enthusiasm, but 100% more hanging OAP jowls. LOL!! BRILLIANT! There were mildly funny parts in the film, mainly at Lundgren's expense, but the cast referring to, or simply saying lines they used to say, is pretty much the lowest form of 'comedy' I've ever witnessed. And I've seen the trailer for Superhero Movie. Couple that zinger of a script with some averagely shot action sequences, and yeah, not impressed.
AndyKirk Posted on Saturday August 25, 2012, 12:02
Make Expendables 3, get Joss Whedon to script and direct and add a role for Nathan Fillion. Recipe for the perfect action movie.
derek 74 Posted on Sunday August 26, 2012, 08:18
When I think of of the expendables I think of the anti ansamble cast, the oppisite of say a wes anderson or a robert altman film, films which show the cream of the crop (think of The Player, lots of in jokes self parody and haming it up and ultimatly selling out a seemingly earnest script to give the public what they want,) But I have to admit I feel a certain amount of sympathy for the majority of the cast of the expendables,, the joining of Arnold and Sly was hardly the the cup of coffee between de niro and Pachino in Heat and I write this with all due respect to the pleasure that Sly and Arnold have given me down through the years, but unfortunatly the type of of action film the actors worked in are long since dead, the concept of the muscle bound gun toting one man army is resigned to the history book and they have one of there own cast to blame for that, Die Hard was the death nell for the big muscle hero, John Maclane was inovative clever witty and had to pretty much get his own ass kicked before winning a fight, and not just with the urber baddy, think Karl in Die Hard, he had a fair fight with his brother before he broke his neck. (tiny footed underuber fucker) Die hard changed everything, audiences looked at first blood and commando and knew this sort of caracter was somewhat fantasticle, these guys were huge and dangerous, John Mclane was a reluctant hero, albit a cop he was avrage hight and build, glass hurt his feet and there was a very real possibility of him dying. far more reachable as a caracter for audience members who secretly said to themslves"that could be me". I do believe that these actors are under no illusions about there careers, they are action men and despite the occasional floray into drama(copland)(the sixth sence being Govenor of California......that was more of a comedy) action is what they will be rembered for. they know the clock is ticking, why not go out with a bang.
DustyOR Posted on Monday August 27, 2012, 21:02
Looks like geriatrics are us in this film...............the first one was such a bomb that I shut it down half hour into it and regretted I had waited so long for it through the library...........but at least I did not pay any $$$$ for it to rent or God forbid pay at the box office
TheSomnambulist Posted on Tuesday August 28, 2012, 15:18
Not another cautionary tale from a film critic about what will happen to the film industry if a cinematic trend continues!
It's a trend and it will pass just like all trends. People will tire of it just as they have with the dialogue heavy movies of the 40's and 50's. Or the ridiculous Rom-coms of Curtis and Grant. Things move on and in the end all the hysteria and histrionics are for naught.
I havent seen Expendables and I don't expect to go see this sequel, because I know it's not for me, but really it's a sequel. Of course it'll be more of the same with even more nods to camera. Obviously this is what was in the first one. And really the nerve of you guys. Months ago Empire were squealing with girlie delight when you had a first look at a trailer for Expendables2, and now here you are telling us that it's not quite the irony you'd like? Are you serious? It's an ironic sequel to an ironic film! What the hell were you expecting?!
Frankly Arnie, Stallone et al have been riding the crest of this wave since the 80's what's new?! They were as aware of their own limitations then and they're just as aware now, as are we. But the great thing about the world as it stand at the moment is; you can decide whether to go see it or not, they can make their straight to DVD features to their hearts content but you/I don't have to see it.
So what's the fuss? Just don't watch this crap? Or at the very least how about wait for a film to be released first before getting all excited about it. That way EMPIRE WONT GENERATE THE BUZZ AND HYSTERIA BEFORE-HAND THAT LEADS PEOPLE INTO WANTING TO GO SEE IT!!!! WHICH IN TURN WILL MAKE STALLONE AND THE REST THINK THERE IS APPETITE FOR A THIRD INSTALMENT!!!