There are so many big action stars in The Expendables 2, it necessitated the introduction of the word 'Also' to the highly contentious world of movie star poster credits. After laboriously listing the surnames of the eight "stars" of the film, the poster reads: "Also Van Damme With Willis And Schwarzenegger."
'With' and 'And' have long been utilised to highlight a big name on a movie poster, but Van Damme will go down in history as the first star to get an 'Also'.
Poster credit insanity aside, I enjoyed The Expendables 2, which opens in NZ cinemas today. It's a definite step-up from the disappointing original. So I thought I'd go through each of the eleven stars and rate their work in the film, in the order their names appear on the poster, natch:
The new film appears to benefit greatly from Sly stepping back from the directing duties he performed on part one, although he retains a screenplay credit here. Stallone is a proven action director (2008's Rambo ruled!), but everything about the first film felt compromised. It's nice that he is able to focus solely on kicking butt and taking names this time around. His face looks more mangled and immobile than ever here, but he performs his leader of the pack role with the requisite conviction, and my enduring goodwill for the man remains steadfast. Even if he is starting to resemble Miss Piggy.
Rating: 7 Rockys out of 10
While the first film often felt like the Sly and Jason show with guest stars, part 2 is more of a genuine ensemble effort. Consequently The Stath's prominence is diminished, although he gets several cool moments ("I now pronounce you man and knife") and manages to show off plenty of his trademark martial arts quickness. I'm a big fan of Statham, who's pretty much the only real action star of the modern era (as opposed to a holdover from a previous one), but I think I enjoy him more when he's working as a lone wolf.
Rating: 6 Cranks out of 10
Apparently reticent to participate in the sequel, Li only turns up for the opening action scene, then bows out, his character mumbling about "trying something different". There's no denying Li's overall awesomeness, but his lack of a team player spirit here does not endear him to me. Although the diminutive actor always looked kinda out of place next to the hulking frames of the other Expendables.
Rating: 3 Once Upon A Time In Chinas out of 10
Thank god some last-minute reshuffling allowed Lundgren's Gunnar to survive the first film, as he's clearly having a lot of fun in the sequel, which amusingly incorporates Lundgren's real-life backstory as a master of chemical engineering. He looks pretty bedraggled, but that suits his loose-cannon character. At one point he is offhandedly, but accurately, referred to as "Frankenstein". If any of the second-tier Expendables deserves a studio career-resurgence out of the film, it's Lundgren.
Rating: 9 Red Scorpions out of 10
The aged Norris' cameo appearance in The Expendables 2 takes the form of a shamelessly wedged-in scene in which he appears out of nowhere to lay down a few quips, then disappears three minutes later. It still got a roar of approval from the crowd, and Norris gets to say one of his famous facts. It's nice he got to be involved, but his poor integration into the story harms him.
Rating: 5 Codes of Silence out of 10
Along with Lundgren, former NFL player Crews gives one of the most spirited performances in the film and laid down some of my favourite lines. Crews' finely honed comedic chops are put to good use, and he never seems like he's having anything less than the time of his life. He's the buffest of the group too, and he exploits his physicality well. Give this man a lead role!
Rating: 9 Idiocracies out of 10
Former UFC superstar Couture is unfortunately the most generic Expendable, and gets very few chances to distinguish himself. Sure, he looks the part and could handle himself in a fight in real-life, but it's hard to imagine the film suffering too much from his absence. He is truly a dispensable Expendable.
Rating: 4 Redbelts out of 10
This newly minted object of teenage girls affections (via his co-starring role in The Hunger Games) brings a little bit of freshness to the proceedings as a youthful sniper, but his character clearly only exists for one reason, which I won't spoil here. Despite sticking out like a sore thumb amongst his much older peers, he does lay down the best howler of the film. When solemnly describing a particularly bloody day he experienced during the Afghanistan War to Stallone's Barney Ross, he caps off his anecdote by saying "...and when I got back to camp, I discovered they had shot a stray dog I'd adopted".
Rating: 6 The Lucky Ones out of 10
Also Jean-Claude Van Damme
As the awesomely named villain, Jean Vilain (!?), Van Damme camps up a storm and rarely takes off his sunglasses. He's never less than an absolute hoot, taking every opportunity he can to twirl his figurative moustache and demonstrate his evilness. Van Damme gets extra points for requesting that he and Stallone have a final physical fight, which provides a fitting climax to the movie in how it recalls the end of Arnie's 1985 classic, Commando.
Rating: 8 Kickboxers out of 10
With Bruce Willis
Of the core Planet Hollywood trio, Willis is the one whose iconic status feels the most diminished by this point. He doesn't appear interested in doing anything with his character here beyond the "angry confused frown" he is so reliant upon. A late movie game of catch phrase tennis with Arnie elicited just as many groans as laughs. Willis' presence here is appropriate, but it would've been nice if they'd given him something to do.
Rating: 5 Die Hards out of 10
And Arnold Schwarzenegger
Like Willis, Arnie only shows up briefly at the beginnning (in what is clearly a last-minute insertion, albeit a crowd-pleasing one) before returning to participate in the action finale. I've repeatedly articulated my reverence for the Austrian Oak, which has resulted in me being somewhat disappointed by his relatively minor presence in The Expendables 2. Schwarzenegger also appears to have forgotten what little acting talent he had during his sojourn into politics, but it was undeniably thrilling to see him wielding a machine gun once again. Points off for pulling out the self-referencing line "I'm back", which he already used in Terminator 3. Still, it is Arnie back in an action film, and that is something to be celebrated.
Rating: 8 Commandos out of 10
Amped for The Expendables 2? Who's your favourite of these eleven dudes? Comment below!