In the spirit of this gung-ho tale about a militarist old boys network, three reviewers sit down for a chat about The Expendables 2.
Conversation on The Expendables 2
Location: Tom Cribb, Piccadilly
Panel: Adam Lee Davies, Paul Fairclough, David Jenkins
David Jenkins: To start things off, I'm going to give a short plot précis of the film. So, the first thing to say is that it's a virtual remake of the first instalment of The Expendables. We start with a big action set piece in Nepal where our heroes drive into a rotten, corrupt barter town, shoot the place up then escape in an old war plane. The film then sees a baddie – who we won't name – nabbing a secret blueprint that gives the location of some hidden Soviet plutonium. Then, the Expendables essentially spend the remainder of the film meandering through eastern Europe and fending off ambushes. The grand finale is a massive shoot-out in an airport. The film is directed by Simon West, who did Con Air, to which this has many similarities.
Paul Fairclough: The Soviets, as everyone knows, would never have stored plutonium in Albania because they had an edgy relationship with them.
Adam Lee Davies: After that opener, they fly to wherever Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man was filmed.
PF: To say that the tone was uneven would be a bit of an understatement.
DJ: Yes, the film felt like it was four scenes, each one running to about 25 minutes. The scene where [Jean Claude] Van Damme walks out of the mist with his evil Slavonic quarterbacks, they talk for about 20 minutes: "Are you tough enough?", "Are YOU tough enough?"…
PF: "Are you hard enough?"
ALD: "I'm gonna man you up."
DJ: Then he takes his girdle off.
PF: It did look like it was verging on a porno at a few points.
ALD: Yes, especially at the end when he was whipping Van Damme with a chain.
PF: But that would be a cheap shot to start saying that. It's one of those films that, if you try to criticise it, people will call you a spoilsport. But they'll be...
DJ: One of the things about the first film is that it had a lot of links to real news events. So you have Somali pirates at the beginning of the film. What was really reprehensible about the first film is that it was transplanting the Expendables into these real situations and playing out this imperialist American fantasy. This one was more about a bunch of guys who go out to get some other guys.
PF: This was Action Man territory.
DJ: Unlike in the first one, at least here they're not operating in a world where women have become extinct.
PF: That's probably what they'd like.
DJ: So what other films did this remind you of?
ALD: Well McBain obviously.
PF: Act of Valor.
DJ: Is it worse than Act of Valor?
PF: Act of Valour was making more of a political statement, but it was completely sincere. It made sense within its own world. I can't believe you can run from the jungle and into a waterplane and take off within 15 seconds.
DJ: So Act of Valour works on the level of basic logistics?
PH: Yes. Even though its values were vile, it was honest about them. All of the emotional bits in The Expendables 2 where the music soars and they talk about their loss are completely unearned.
ALD: They earned laughter though.
DJ: The funniest bit of the film for me was when they bury their fallen brother on an Albanian hilltop. Under some stones.
PF: But it's Albania. They have no law or system of recording deaths.
DJ: The theme of the film relates to the archaic, and how old things are tougher and more robust than new-fangled crap. So he has his antique Harley and his battered old propeller plane. There's even a bit during the final fire fight where he's being shot at with machine guns and he's defending himself with a Magnum. Knives equate to honesty in this world. It's killing as an artisan pursuit.
ALD: It's horrible in that sense.
PF: They're harking back to an era of certainty.
DJ: I think that's how the entire film is justified.
PF: People love this and are excited by this.
DJ: So, high points and low points?
PF: The stencilling on their war vehicles was very good.
ALD: They could have been funnied up though. Combat Rock. Shit Banana. 'Objects in rear view mirror may appear more awesome than they actually are.' Something like that...
PF: There were lots of three line zingers that fell really flat. So you had the set-up, the response and then you're waiting for the punchline, and Arnie would say, "Yes" or "Okay".
ALD: Or, "I'll be back."
DJ: What did you think about the fact that there was this big explosion of blood when anyone got shot?
ALD: I thought that was amazing. Dreamlike.
PF: Me too. It's like Call of Duty.
DJ: Well, half of me thinks that they're trying to show what it would actually be like to be shot in the face, but then again, they're probably doing it because it looks so damn cool.
ALD: And then they run with it and shoot 5,000 people in Budapest airport.
PF: It's weird, because the film is so clearly a fantasy, and then they impose this realistic gore to make people connect with the material.
ALD: They should've called it Reagan's Raiders.
DJ: Not sure if even Reagan would've signed off on this one.
PF: It's like if they remade All Quiet on the Western Front and put loads of wisecracks in it.
PF: But films like The Wild Geese and The Dogs of War were films that took time to unfold and they had some character and back story. They were quite cynical movies as well. Plus, they actually had a sense of peril. Where is the peril in Expendables 2? When did you ever think that any of them were going to die?
ALD: I think we're reading too much into this. This film is not worthy of us trying to trace its DNA. Here's what it is: It's what Sly thinks is cool.
DJ: Does Sly want us to take this at face value? There was a lot of unintentionally funny dialogue.
PF: To him, it's The Hangover. It's his idea of a guys weekend. It's like that film Space Cowboys, with some old guys who can't see that the world has changed. And what's the film where a bunch of guys go back to college because they missed out on being fratboys?
ALD: Back to School. To get $10 million, Rodney Dangerfield has to finish his O-Levels.
DJ: It's old guys trying to relive their past glories through the prism of their own tattered iconography.
ALD: It's Rolodex bullshit.
DJ: Okay, let's score this up. Anticipation?
ALD: I'd go three, because you've gotta see shit like this.
PF: I'd say four, because I thought it was a sequel to The Untouchables.
DJ: I'm going to go two, because I've seen the first one and there's no way it could be any worse. Enjoyment?
ALD: Three. It was stupid, but fun-stupid.
PF: Two, for the bits where the audience helped me through the bad times.
DJ: I'm going to say two also. It was boilerplate stuff. In retrospect?
ALD: Zero. Not only do I wish they were all dead, I wish I was dead too.
PF: I think I would go for zero.
DJ: Zero would mean that you want to walk out of the cinema, sit by a fountain and cry for two days.
ALD: If I wasn't here with you, I'd be there, doing that.
DJ: Does the fact that we've had an exciting, informed conversation about the film merit at least a one?
ALD: Okay, almost a one.
PF: One, with caveats.