It was too good to resist. The movie The Expendables, released August 13, 2010, made over $100 million in the United States and over $175 million internationally. How could the team that put out this fine picture resist going to the well again?
Of course, there were artistic considerations. They had to take care that they not sully the aesthetic nuances or finely calibrated message of the original. And then, they would have to make sure there were enough explosives to last for two hours of film.
They would have to gather the old action heroes together again for yet another walk through to greatness on the way to a rich payday. The gracefully aging heroes agreed again to put the boom out for Boomers. But would there be enough ear plugs or did the approaching geriatric crew even need them.
Two years earlier, Sylvester Stallone had taken screenwriter David Callahan's original idea, rewritten that script and shepherded the project through to completion. Expendables 2 would need another of his finely tuned scripts tailored to the acting abilities of his re-aligned stars. Or they could play it by ear, which it looks for the most part they did. Of course, it must have been hard playing it by ear over the wall-to-wall pyrotechnics.
So wing it they did, quite often... mostly on a vintage Grumman HU-16 Albatross amphibious flying boat. Their mission: fight bad guys, rescue a rich Chinese businessman, liberate an Eastern European village and, of course, save the world by locating tons of plutonium.
Actually, where and why doesn't matter much. Nor does script, though Stallone gets isolated screen time to throw off a few philosophical gems that seemingly are seriously intended to show depth, but are as funny as any Judd Apatow set piece. Our assembled cast of over the hill action characters also gets their crack at humor or philosophy, as well. Each has one or two carefully scripted quotes or references to their action movie better days. What's listening to an oldie without a good refrain.
The most memorable quotes, however, are the ones that seem to sum up the actors attitude toward the picture or their audience. In a fleeting moment of self-awareness, one says, "This is embarrassing." Later another asks, "Got any ideas," before another memorably observes "You can be someone who you don't even have to talk to know what they are thinking." Unfortunately the answers to both those snippets seems to be in the negative.
Some of it actually works. Schwarzenegger repeats "I'll be back" over and over ad nauseam, until Stallone finally chides him, "enough of that I'll be back... just go already!"
But more often, Stallone has a bit of a problem making himself understood. The film is badly in need of subtitles whenever he emotes. He may never be allowed in Arizona or any of the other English-only states.
Furthermore, he looks quite a bit worse for wear. It seems like all the botox, lifts and procedures have taken their toll. He appeared to be so creaky and walked so painfully stiffly that I was praying he wouldn't fall over. Luckily, there were enough action figures and hardware assembled to get him back upright.
While Stallone walked through the movie like he needed a hip replacement, Jason Statham distanced himself, Chuck Norris parodied himself and Dolph Lungren pretended to be someone else altogether. Claude Van Damme, on the other hand, infused his villain with the dignity of fighting these would be movie stars. It is notable that when offered a role in the first Expendables movie, Van Damme initially refused it. He told Stallone that instead of that project Stallone should be "trying to save people in South Central (the large Los Angeles ghetto)." Apparently Van Damme later saw the errors of his humanism and capitulated to join Expendables 2.
But petty social and artistic considerations aside, so successful is this second Expendables movie that we may indeed see a third version of this budding franchise on the horizon. In its first week out, the Ex-2 topped the box office charts making $28.6 million. It seems like old action heroes never die... they just become Expendables.