The Expendables, Sylvester Stallone’s attempt to round up the great action stars of the 1980s for a last hurrah, sounded fantastic on paper but fell flat in execution. With the sequel, Sly and his friends from the Beverly Hills Home for Retired Action Heroes set things right by giving us the Dirty Dozen-style ensemble action film for which we’ve hankered for years.
If you have 10-year-old boy lurking somewhere inside you, it’s hard not to be excited by a film that assembles Stallone, Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Coutre, Terry Crews and Jason Statham. They all play characters with good, manly 1980s names like Trench, Gunner, Booker, Hale Caesar and, um, Barney.
They’re a bunch of mercenaries — the expendables of the title — who are hunting down a nasty piece of work who has managed to get his hands on a bunch of plutonium. In just one of the many hints that you’re not supposed to take all this terribly seriously, Jean Claude Van Damme’s unhinged, roundhouse-kicking villain is called Vilain. That has to be the most wonderfully literal name for a character since Han Solo.
Simon West, director of similar big-name macho-actioner Con Air, takes over directing duties for The Expendables 2 from Stallone. He gives the film a sheen of big-budget polish with some fantastic action scenes — watch out for a couple of those dream hand-to-hand death matches in the last act of the film. More importantly, he shows a surer grasp on tone than we saw from Stallone in the first film.
The Expendables felt a bit nasty and dour for an exercise in nostalgia, but the sequel is comfortable poking fun at its ageing stars and the excesses of their collective oeuvre. It’s a self-conscious pastiche of the America-hell-yeah action films of the past that gives every star a chance to do his signature move.
Chuck Norris arrives to the theme of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and tells a Chuck Norris joke. Schwarzenegger, his granite visage crumbling under too many facelifts, riffs on his “I’ll be back” catchphrase. Stallone rumbles with Van Damme.
And best of all, we get to see Bruce Willis, Arnie and Sly stand in a row to gun down wave upon wave of nameless bad guys. There’s nothing particularly subtle here, but the cheesy self-awareness of the humour is disarmingly charming. To hate The Expendables 2 would like hating your childhood.
The Expendables 2 says we can’t take action movies seriously anymore; The Raid Redemption begs to differ. This no-nonsense B-movie — an Indonesian production helmed by Welsh director Gareth Evans — has a premise as simple as the mission briefing for a first-person shooter.
The Raid, recently released on DVD and Blu-ray in the US, tracks an elite squad of cops as they storm a Jakarta slum tenement ruled by gangsters and drug dealers to capture notorious gang lord Tama.
Among them are the grizzled veteran Lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno) and rookie officer and dad-to-be Rama (Iko Uwais). With their numbers thinned out in a brutal surprise attack, the only way out for the surviving cops is upwards through 30 floors of armed thugs to the final confrontation with the ruthless gang boss.
Though not the sort of film that normally plays well to film festival audiences, The Raid was a big hit on the festival circuit this year. It’s not hard to see why. Sure, The Raid is a straightforward action film shorn of subtext, deep characterisation and unnecessary plot, but is also lean, tense and tightly choreographed.
With a budget of just £1,1m — compared to the US$200 million Michael Bay needed to inflict Transformers 3 on the world — Evans has put together some of the best action scenes I’ve seen in a while. Violent and with high stakes, they have consequence and coherence.
At last, we have a contemporary action director who shows the sort of mastery of space and geometry we used to get from the likes of Sam Peckinpah, John McTiernan and Don Siegel.
He uses time and space to let the action breathe and the tension mount. In the shootouts, it’s always clear who is shooting at whom. The hand-to-hand choreography, based on Indonesian martial art pencak silat, has a bone-crunching poetry to it.
If The Expendables 2 is a like a lovable, geriatric rock band reuniting for a final tour, The Raid: Redemption is like a scrappy punk band banging out cheerfully noisy variations of that group’s classic songs. They’re a perfect Friday night pairing when you’ve parked your brain for the weekend. – (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media