If the Expendables crew hadn't gotten into mercenary work, perhaps they could've found nice careers in pest control.
The Exterminals, they might've called themselves. Hire them, and they'd roar over to your house in their gas-guzzling H2s with biceps bulging, brandishing massive insect-related weapons designed to take down the most fearsome of praying mantises. They would run through the hallways, spraying everything that crawls and shouting catchphrases.
"You're really starting to bug me!" Barney Ross might holler, obliterating a nest of termites.
"Bet your antennae don't feel so hot now, do they?" Lee Christmas would say, slitting the exoskeleton of a pesky cockroach.
"Here's where we separate the man from the mandibles!" Hale Caesar would yawp at Toll Road as they mow down a stray caterpillar.
Who knows? Someone might even make a comment about "insectarian violence"—assuming he could master all the syllables.
Once they were done, you'd never have to worry about another insect daring to step foot inside your house again. Nothing, absolutely nothing would be alive to flap a feeble wing or raise a tentative leg. Even the ladybugs in the yard would keel over in sheer terror. Oh, sure, the Exterminals might accidentally kill a stray goldfish or gerbil here or there, but ya gotta expect a few casualties in the war on bugs.
Alas, Barney and friends turned their backs on a lucrative career in the suburbs and turned their extermination skills on the human race instead. Not the good people, of course: These guys are heroes, you know. No, they only kill bad people—terrorists, megalomaniac dictators, handicap parking violators, those sorts of folks. And thankfully, for their gainful employment, there seem to be an awful lot of those people out there.
In Expendables 2, the baddie du jour is some hotshot guy named Vilain. (Apparently his mother knew he'd be a stock evildoer someday and named him Villain in preparation for his life's work, but someone messed up on the birth certificate.) He's in the mountains of Eastern Europe, trying to dig up a few tons of leftover Soviet plutonium with the help of scads of innocent, and apparently disposable, villagers. He plans to sell the plutonium. Why? Because that's what villainous villains named Vilain do.
And the Expendables hope to stop him.
Yeah, that's it—the whole plot right there. Now you see why I took so long talking about insects.
If the Expendables guys did go into pest control, we'd have loads of nice things to say here—how seriously they take their job, how efficiently they do it, what good team players they are, how well they watch one another's backs. Or if we framed The Expendables 2 in more metaphorical terms, wherein the evildoers represented, say, self-doubt, we'd be pleased as punch with how effectively Barney and Co.'s bullets of Encouraging Happiness obliterated misgivings from the face of this—well, whatever the earth would be a metaphor for in this strange scenario.
I guess we could applaud this crew for preventing some nefarious agency from getting its hands on several tons of nuclear boom-juice. But considering that the Expendables kill about as many people here as a small warhead in a large marketplace might, I don't know if we're comfortable going there.
In the most profound moment of the movie, Barney ponders the justice of God or cosmic karma or something when he buries one of his compatriots—a guy known as Billy the Kid. He wanted to live, Barney says, and yet he's dead. "And the ones who deserve to die keep on living. What's the message in that?"
Moving on: We know Vilain is villainous in part because of the tattoo of a stylized goat's head he has on his neck. The goat, Vilain says, is "the pet of Satan."
The team meets with a number of harried villagers in an old church. They set an ambush for the bad guys in the very same church, with Lee Christmas disguising himself as a incense-carrying priest. When the bad guys are inside, he hisses, "I now pronounce you men and knife!" before killing all of them with his whirling blades.
Lee is engaged to a woman whom Barney believes has a "world-class cheating gene." Lee doesn't necessarily deny it, but he's clearly determined to marry the girl anyway, and we see her sit on his lap and kiss him. Maggie flirts with Barney a bit, and Gunner tries to flirt with Maggie (to no avail).
When the Expendables arrive in a village filled with gun-toting women—some of whom are quite old—someone cracks that even the most undesirable members of the team "could get lucky here." We briefly see women wear midriff-baring tops and men carry struggling women away. Some double entendres fly alongside the bullets.
Near the tail end of the film, Barney turns to a fellow mercenary and asks why he's leaving the area. "You killed all my business," he says.
It's not a joke: Hundreds of people die before they can read their names in the credits. There is not a terrorist, quasi-terrorist or semi-innocent henchman still breathing in Albania by the time this team's done, and we see most of those casualties drop in crisp, reddish detail.
Bullets pour through the air like lethal sideways hailstorms, killing countless bad 'uns. Often we see blood spurt from the bullet's impact. At other times, the mayhem grows even more gratuitous: We see one henchmen get plugged with a dozen bullets. Just a minute later, the Expendables take aim at a remaining bad guy and plug him with about 50 slugs. "Rest in pieces!" Barney roars. Others are killed with grenades and explosives. Yin Yang, the team's martial arts expert, dispatches several with frying pans and his bare hands (audibly breaking bones along the way). Seemingly hundreds of folks are blown up while standing on bridges or walkways—their bodies joining the spray of debris. In one chaotic shoot out in an airport terminal, hundreds of civilians scream in panic … but a blink of an eye later they're either all gone or have magically transformed into evil henchmen (which might explain why Vilain has so many).
I should note that Vilain and his crew don't kill nearly the number of folks the Expendables do—but it's not for lack of trying. Vilain's right hand man, Hector, shoots a couple of workers in cold blood, and the two together conspire to trap hundreds, perhaps thousands of people inside a mine.
We see a man whacked in the head several times (leaving his face bruised). Someone's head is annihilated by the back rotor of a helicopter—recalling a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. ("Can't beat a classic," Lee says in a knowing nod.) Two combatants nearly beat each other to death with their bare hands and some hefty chains. A good guy carts back the head of a bad guy in a blood-soaked bag.
"Nice," someone says. "A little extreme, but nice."
The team downs a helicopter by crashing a motorcycle into it. Someone is apparently killed (out of eyeshot) by boat propellers. We see wolves pick at a corpse. After Lee and Barney beat up a couple of people in a bar, Maggie whips open a satchel with surgical instruments and tortures them. Her victims grunt in pain and we hear some disturbing, squelching sounds.
For all the viciousness, the audience is only supposed to feel the death of one person—young gun Billy the Kid—with any more depth than a video game casualty. The soldier is captured by the bad guys (we see from his face that he's been beaten), who carve a bloody wound across his chest. Vilain eventually ends the ordeal by driving the blade in with a needlessly showy roundhouse kick.
Crude or Profane Language
About a dozen s-words. Another dozen vulgarities include "a‑‑," "h‑‑‑," "d‑‑n" and "p‑‑‑." There are two misuses of God's name. We hear folks get called "retards" and "b‑‑tards."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Barney constantly puffs on a cigar. He and other team members quaff beer and other alcoholic beverages, including toasting and drinking to their fallen comrade while flying a plane. Gunner often drinks something from a flask.
Other Negative Elements
Gunner laments the fact that Yin is temporarily leaving the Expendables. "Who will I pick on?" he says. "You will find another minority," Yin tells him.
The Norsemen of the European north believed in a place called Valhalla. It was their version of heaven—a land wherein old warriors could spend their days fighting and nights drinking for all eternity.
It's a myth, of course … or is it? After all, old action heroes have found a similar place in which to while away their time—though they don't have to die to get there. Neither do they call it Valhalla: They call it The Expendables movie franchise.
Seemingly every action star from the 1980s has found his way into The Expendables 2: Sly Stallone, Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren … they're all here, brandishing weapons and flexing muscles and hurling in-the-know catchphrases just like the old days. I'll admit that as a child of the '80s myself, watching Van Damme swing a roundhouse kick and Bruce Willis smirk is kinda fun, as far as it goes.
But in no universe is The Expendables 2 a "good" movie. In fact, it's horrible, and almost willfully, gleefully so. There is no reason for this movie to exist other than to serve up explosions, rack up a sky-high body count and allow a gaggle of aging movie stars to collect another paycheck. There's no heart here, no soul, not even any thought. This is, almost literally, mindless violence.
The title, then, says it all—and the fact that there's a 2 after it says even more.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Drama, Action/Adventure, War
Sylvester Stallone as Barney Ross; Jason Statham as Lee Christmas; Jet Li as Yin Yang; Dolph Lundgren as Gunner Jensen; Nan Yu as Maggie; Chuck Norris as Booker; Bruce Willis as Church; Arnold Schwarzenegger as Trench; Jean-Claude Van Damme as Jean Vilain; Terry Crews as Hale Caesar; Randy Couture as Toll Road; Liam Hemsworth as Billy the Kid; Scott Adkins as Hector
Simon West (The Mechanic, When a Stranger Calls, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, The General's Daughter)
August 17, 2012
Paul Asay Paul Asay