Sylvester Stallone has created a new genre: Self-Camp. The Expendables 2 reunites the same over-the-hill gang of big screen hooligans as in the first installment but this time with a better, almost polished, sense of humor. (“Rest in pieces“ Stallone’s Barney Ross drawls when a villain is reduced to hamburger meat.)
Despite the slenderest thread of a plot (these shadow soldiers are sponsored by the CIA to keep nuclear weapons from a bad guy), nothing here is taken very seriously. That doesn’t mean you abandon your standards; but you don’t cheat them as at a film like The Bourne Legacy that pretends to be serious. And The Expendables 2 is easily preferable to Marvel’s The Avengers.
In order to successfully achieve Self-Camp, Stallone turned over directing duties to Simon West, a practiced hack (Con Air) who paces the action and the dialogue casually, not ineptly. (Female interest Yu Nan as Maggie the assassin speaks for West when she says “I’m combat proficient.”) It’s tribute to those 80s and 90s action movies in which Stallone, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger whupped butt with no thought of skill or art, just blunt, rowdy pleasure–or rowdy, blunt release.
Reunited, these ex-superstars display a sense of humor about their past exploits. Reconstructed, balding or just aged, they exhibit a masculine confidence unexpected from their narcissistic profession. This propels the tale of men who maintain die-hard courage. It is also a tribute to the stars’ audiences; it lets their fans know what wasn’t always clear back in the 80s and 90s: that Sylvester, Bruce and Arnold are in on the joke. (The joke being that he-man action-movie stars had nerdy names. Camp.)
When Arnold shows up and announces “This is embarrassing,” he frees himself and us from feeling credulous. His deadpan humor allows a sense of nostalgia. The Expendables 2 doesn’t announce the end of a genre’s cycle like the rousing 1974 Blaxploitation film Three the Hard Way that united Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and Jim Kelly; Arnold, Bruce and Sylvester are so past their glory days that this amounts to a reminiscence rather than a summation. And that’s where The Expendables 2 starts to feel sorta good.
This is not stylish, witty action-filmmaking such as Luc Besson produces, nor is it colorfully vapid like the recent The A-Team or The Losers. Rather, the simplicity of Stallone’s script and West’s directness goes back to a kind of innocence that action movies have lost in recent years. The skill and diabolical resoluteness of David Fincher and Christopher Nolan prevent having a good time–only a disturbed time. While contemporary action films equate realism with cynicism, Stallone knows the value of hyperbolic sentimentality.
To read the full review at City Arts click here.
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