Here's a cheap formula for profit. Cast all the pop culture relics from the '80s and '90s your budget can afford, work them into a script that's just competent enough to give them reasons to occasionally talk to each other and run from things, and then top it all off with a boatload of cheap, garish CGI. That's exactly how movies like Bigfoot or Piranhaconda get made, and it's the same mercenary, passionless type of filmmaking that applies to The Expendables 2.
Yes, The Expendables 2 is nothing more than a Syfy channel movie masquerading as a Hollywood blockbuster. The core difference between the two is that the cheapness of the production might actually be a reason to watch a Syfy channel movie; it's a crippling blow to a movie as perceptibly big as The Expendables 2. But that's all forgivable because it features Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Jean-Claude Van Damme, right?
That all depends on how much poor filmmaking you're willing to forgive in exchange for watching action movie all-stars hurl endless one-liners like, "You're terminated" and "We keep it light until it's time to get dark, then we get pitch black." If that sounds like a grand time, you might just have a ball. If, however, you're the type of fan who likes action movies that use squibs and prosthetics instead of CGI and digital blood, you'll be watching this thing on autopilot.
Director Simon West (The Mechanic, When a Stranger Calls) certainly has a flair for how to stage elaborate action sequences involving everything from motorcycles as projectiles to ziplines to planes that take off and land without any wheels, but those sequences are all marred beyond repair by astonishingly mediocre post-production work. And that would actually be forgivable if the virtual work replacing physical stunts was above Syfy-grade, but unless you're making a drinking game out of how many times a helicopter switches between digital and real during a single sequence, CGI elements that would look right at home in a Playstation 2 cutscene consistently jut out as reminders that, despite its cast and promise, The Expendables 2 is wildly inferior to the way action movies used to be made.
Inescapable cheapness of the film aside, the movie isn't a complete disaster thanks to its cast. Stallone and Statham, the two core members of a team of mercenaries doing the government's dirty business, have genuine charisma together and make the best of their banter back and forth, and most of the other team members (primarily Terry Crews and Dolph Lundgren) keep pace when they're allowed to talk. Van Damme steals all his scenes as the plutonium-craving bad guy. And when the cast are given a real set with non-green screen walls to walk around, there's some well-earned production value to the picture-- especially if those scenes also involve some hand-to-hand combat. Introduce gunfire, running or explosions, though, and it's right back to digital jail.
If only those real moments were the standard, though. One can forgive an action movie if the script doesn't make a whole lot of logical sense. It's understandable to give a pass to Schwarzenegger and Willis exchanging one-liners (even if they are as groan-inducing as just quoting franchise staples like "I'll be back" to one another). It's even reasonable that everything plays out exactly how the audience wants it to. Those are all action-movie staples and you'd be foolish to think a movie called The Expendables 2 wouldn't include them, just as you'd be foolish to think a movie called Arachnoquake wouldn't include spiders that climb out of an earthquake. But predictability in the script isn't an excuse for poor, rushed, cheap, ugly filmmaking on the big screen.
How much you enjoy the digiblood-loving shenanigans is directly proportional to how many shortcuts you're willing to put up with before you feel like the filmmakers are just taking advantage of your generosity. Like all Syfy channel movies, The Expendables 2 belongs on cable on a Saturday night -- this is simply not a big-screen effort behind the scenes no matter how many stars it shoves in front of the camera to convince audiences otherwise.
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