The Expendables 2 (2012)

2014 #66
Simon West | 103 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA & Bulgaria / English | 15 / R

The Expendables 2Sylvester Stallone’s ragtag collection of former action stars (and some current ones) reassemble for another throwback fight-fest, this time upping the daftness factor, to mixed results.

The story sees Stallone’s team of mercenaries coerced into another mission by Bruce Willis, which goes askew when a gang of villains led by Jean-Claude Van Damme intervene, killing one of Stallone’s team in the process — you’ll guess who well before it happens, because the characters are so constructed from cliché that the doomed one virtually has “Will Die Later” flashing on screen during some early backstory scenes. Anyway, the guys set out for revenge, of course, and in the process seem to wind up liberating an ex-Soviet country from the rule of this evil gang. Bonus.

Whereas the first film was played straight and fairly serious, the sequel has more of the self-awareness that fans expected — and, indeed, wanted — from the franchise: the action sequences are bigger, faster and dafter; the cameos are longer and more knowing. The opening quarter-hour and climactic half-hour are what we’ve come for, a ludicrously OTT explosion of action and too-knowing fourth-wall-shattering dialogue, where the guys get to show off the skills that put them here. In between, there’s a vague kinda story that mainly links the fighting together, alongside cameos airlifted in with little regard to meaning or sense.

Granddads fightingSo is it better? Sometimes. The whole thing is inherently silly — these are (mostly) grandfather-aged chaps kicking ass with the best of ’em — and it plays up to that with sly winks to the audience and implausibly-grand combat choreography. But at times the nudge-nudge factor goes a little far, and the disregard for building a wholly plausible story, especially towards the end, is a shame.

Plus, technically speaking, it’s a mess. Apparently it cost $92 million, which must’ve all gone on salaries because it looks closer to $9.2 million. There’s the worst CGI you’ll see this side of an Asylum movie; the worst cinematography you’ll see this side of a YouTube clip. Seriously: either someone f’ed up the Blu-ray transfer or someone fluffed the technical side further back in the process, and based on comments from those who saw it in cinemas, it’s the latter. Plenty of the film actually looks fine, great even, but there are shots and scenes where the the resolution all but disappears, everything goes kinda smeary-blurry, like someone applied a paint effect… or, more likely, decided they could digitally zoom in during the edit and didn’t think how awful it would look. It’s distractingly ugly.

Time for a little sit downBut you didn’t come for that. You came for classic action stars fighting each other. In that regard, it’s pretty much the definition of brain-off brawny fun. If you don’t care for ridiculous action and cheesy dialogue, both of which are laughable in a way that’s hard to tell if it was intended or not, then this is not a film for you. If that sounds up your street, however, then The Expendables 2 is no classic, but it is a fun time.

3 out of 5

The first Expendables is on 5* tonight at 9pm. The series’ latest instalment, The Expendables 3, is in UK cinemas from today, and US theaters from tomorrow.

Hard Boiled (1992)

aka Lat sau san taam

2008 #43
John Woo | 122 mins | DVD | 18 / R

Hard BoiledThe first John Woo film I saw was Mission: Impossible II. I think. It may’ve been Face/Off, which I love, but this works better with M:I-2 because most people don’t like it. Personally, I like M:I-2. It’s not the greatest action thriller ever, but it has its moments and the plot isn’t half as complex as some like to claim. It’s certainly more fun than Brian de Palma’s Euro-thriller first film, which in retrospect looks a bit like a proto-Bourne. Of course, what M:I-2 really had going for it were its action sequences, which are occasionally a bit out there but always expertly done. Face/Off’s are even better again. Anyone with a basic understanding of structure can’t fail to see what I’m going to say about Hard Boiled.

I don’t think realism is Woo’s strong point — at least, not in his straight-up action movies. That’s not a flaw, though, but a deliberate choice — he dispenses with the realism of what a gunfight would be like (presumably, bloody scary and with fewer shots fired) and pushes the male fantasy of mindless slaughter to the limit. Which means his action sequences are pure adrenaline-pumping fun. Chow Yun-Fat single handedly slaughtering a warehouse full of heavily armed gangsters? Well, of course! Or directly hitting a small object wedged in an electrical pipe with a shaky shooting arm? Naturally! The action may have all the realism of a Dali painting, but it also has all the gleeful fun of repeating everything your sibling said when you were five — except with more choreography. It’s a cliché, but there’s something about Woo’s action that makes you want to use the word “balletic”. Not that I’ve ever really watched ballet. I expect it involves fewer guns.

These sequences seem to have been designed with one thing in mind — cool. And they are. There are a few holes in the plot and characters’ logic, but that doesn’t matter when they can leap around firing two pistols at once and always hit their target, while the bad guys — who could shoot just fine when they slaughtered some innocents a few minutes ago — keep missing them… with machine guns. If you think about it too hard then of course it’s nonsensical, but somehow, in some way, this sort of action seems to appeal to most men (not all, of course, and if you enjoy it then don’t worry, it doesn’t mean you’re a bloodthirsty braindead weirdo). One particularly astounding sequence is achieved in a single long take, as Yun-Fat and Tony Leung make their way down several corridors killing Very Bad Men literally left, right and centre. It’s both exciting and technically impressive, considering how many squibs, blood packs, weapons and extras must have been involved to pull it off in one uncut shot.

If you don’t care for people shooting at each other, especially when it pushes believability beyond the limit, then there’s not really anything for you here. There’s some male bonding stuff, and other bits about duty and honour and sacrifice, and a climactic subplot involving lots of cwute lickle baby-wabies; but Hard Boiled is most at home when the bullets are flying and things are blowing up. And what a lovely home it is.

4 out of 5