Thursday, 23 August 2012

The Expendables 2; back to the Indiana Jones Mines

While we're waiting for the fifth Indiana Jones movie to wipe out what's left of the goodwill from the first one, Sly Stallone took pity on us and did a sneaky remake of the second one. This probably isn't the most unnecessary thing about Expendables 2, but it's certainly the most surprising. 

I sort of had fun at the first Expendables movie, inasmuch as there's always something entertaining about ridiculous amounts of explosions, but the main reason I bothered with the second one was the hope that it would be enjoyably terrible enough that I could say mean things about it here. And, yes, on that score, Sly and the boys delivered. The dialogue is dependably terrible, with the weird exception of the back and forth between Sly and the Stath. Chuck Norris, Arnie and Bruce Willis all sound as though ageing impersonators have been dragged in to read catchphrases to a room full of stuffed toys. The action's more of a mixed bag; the big setpiece at the beginning is huge pointless fun, but after that we're back to the murky incoherence of the first movie's climax. 

The movie opens with a hostage rescue in Nepal of unlikely places (the movie was mainly shot in Bulgaria but I think this was the bit they did in China) with the Expendables using three armoured Landrover WMIKs to wreak havoc all over the terrorist compound before making a getaway that involves speedboats, jetskis, zip lines and the infamous Grumann amphibian from the last movie. Sly may have heard my grumble about the fixed mount .50 cals on the Grumann, because they've been replaced by a flexible MAG and a short barrelled 75 mm, which somehow the Stath has to load manually while Sly fires it (with each blaming the other whenever the gun misses). The Grumann is something of a TARDIS these days, since the interior and the exterior don't seem to have any relationship to each other; at one point the team are able to ride jetskis up a ramp into the back of the plane, but there's no sign of any opening on the outside big enough for a ramp. It's almost churlish to grumble about any of it, because everything is being done for pure flash rather than because it makes a button of sense. The Landrovers get attacked by a helicopter just seconds after Sly and the Stath get out of theirs; they gawp it at if for a moment, as if they've both forgotten that ten seconds ago the Stath was manning a perfectly workable flex mount .50 cal which would seem to be the perfect weapon to deal with a helicopter if he could just stir himself to get back behind it. And then Sly grabs the dirt bike which was strapped to the bumpers - for no apparent reason - revs it up and launches it at the helicopter. Which very decently crashes, as if it was carrying some race memory of Bruce Willis shooting down a chopper with a police car in Die Hard 4. Well, it's a movie, you don't want to over think these things.

Having established that they're a) in a movie and b) up for all kinds of havoc, the team adjourns to New Orleans, where they get dragooned into their new mission. What we've seen up to now is more or less the Obiwan nightclub scene and Ford Trimotor getaway in Temple of Doom; what comes next is the wandering across the landscape to stumble into the real quest. So off they go to find the maguffin in mysterious explodey safe in a crashed plane in a misty part of Bulgaria which is supposed to be standing in for Albania. They no sooner find the maguffin than they're bushwhacked by Jean Claude Van Damme, in the role of Bellocq's pervy uncle (if I can borrow in elements from Raiders). Because subtlety is anathema to movies like this, JCVD's character is actually CALLED Vilain, a useful timesaver. So Bellocq, sorry, Vilain, without actually saying "SO, what was once briefly yours is now mine once again" relieves them of the maguffin, and in a move which would have hugely improved Temple of Doom, schwacks the Short Round analogue being played by Liam Hemsworth. He dies horribly for the crime of being visibly younger, cuter and nicer than the rest of the cast, and also because it's important that Sly have something to be all vengeful about.

The action then transitions to another part of Bulgaria, standing in for some forsaken bit of the Transcaucasus, where Vilain uses the maguffin to figure out the location of five tons of plutonium in an abandoned mine (apparently Vilain has access to lunatic mercenaries, helicopters and heavy weapons, but not geiger counters). This was when it hit me that I was watching a remake of Temple of Doom, because there we were in a devastated once prosperous landscape with obsessed culty lunatics kidnapping people from surrounding villages to work in mines. Nothing will do but for Sly and the lads to rescue the prisoners from the mine, though they reckon without Vilain's boundless evil and wind up getting stuck in the mine with all the rescuees when Vilain blows it up. Relax, says Dolph Lundgren; I'm a qualified chemical engineer and I reckon the rock in this mine has a high enough phosphate content that I can blow it up with an improvised pipe bomb. "Dear Lord" I whispered to John "The whole mine is MADE of explodium." Turns out in real life Dolph Lundgren actually was a chemical engineer before he turned to beating people up in front of a camera, which makes it even funnier when the cunning plan fizzles out completely. Instead they get rescued by Arnie and Bruce, and race off after Vilain and the plutonium, and a big messy gunfight breaks out in the local airport. Bullets fly, catchphrases fall flat, and Sly lets himself get goaded into a fist fight with JVCD, probably so that they can prove this isn't an Indiana Jones movie, since Indy would have had the sense to shoot JVCD and go home.

Anyhow, it's all quite thoroughly ridiculous, and in a way if you walked out of the movie just as the team sets up the first round of drinks in New Orleans, you would already have seen all the best bits. And anyone who has the slightest involvement with 21st century wargaming will be hammering down the doors of the figure companies demanding that they make copies of the three Landrovers; cheesy messages ("KNOCK KNOCK" on the folding ram….) and all, they're too cool for words. 

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