2 Stars – Unsettling
The second chapter in The Expendables tale is a campy blend of violence and action. Bringing together the aging action heroes of the past is not missed on the writers as they have these stars poke fun at themselves while playing off their stereotypes. Directed by Simon West (Con Air) and written by Richard Wenk, David Agosto, and Ken Kaufman, the screen play is created by Wenk and Sylverster Stallone. It is perhaps this final collaboration that makes the aging Stallone out to be irresistible to the female heroine who is a fraction of his age.
As the cinematic techniques improve in their ability to portray the effects of violence on the human body, West has decided that the bloody results needs to be shown on screen. The result is a haunting portrayal with graphic decapitations, arms and legs being blown apart and twisting plunges of knives. The effect is enhanced when juxtaposed with a script that has light hearted banter among the members of the team.
The ensemble is unequaled in action films with the stars coming together in both their skills and their caricatures. The leader of the team of expendable mercenaries is Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone). His first lieutenant is Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) with Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundren), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Bill the Kid (Liam Hemsworth). Independent but interwoven are Booker (Chuck Norris) and Church (Bruce Willis). Also present with his tired line of “I’ll be back” is Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger).
As in all action films there is a damsel who is able to hold her own and who falls for the leader of the pack, Maggie (Nan Yu), and a villain worthy of being brutally killed as retribution for his heinous cruelty (Jean-Claude Van Damme).
The plot is an old one with the usual international villains and violent gangs. There is the threat of world destruction with the stash of enriched plutonium, and there are powerless villagers in need of protection. The campy formulae works, in part, because we find the themes and the characters familiar, but it also works because this isn’t the first film we’ve seen with these action stars victoriously using violence.
That this type of film uses classic styles to tell its tale reinforces the interest we have as humans in vicarious violence. It is addicting in ways that not only increase adrenalin but increase our sense of what needs to happen when evil is present. As such it is both cause and curse. It is this reality that is unsettling.
Discussion for those who have seen the film:
1. It is difficult to know how we should deal with the penchant humans have for violence. Is it better to watch it on the screen or to ignore it? On what basis do you answer as you do?
2. The ability of directors to make increasingly realistic violence often is the only question: can it be done? What do you think such realism will do to our senses? Will we be horrified or desensitized? Will we be more likely to act in this way or less likely?
3. The explanation that Ross provides Maggie about denying the violence in which they just participated until they need to go into the darkness once more, is a copying mechanism that dissects the soul from the body. When the team jokes that they are going to hell for how they lived their lives, the audience laughed. Do you think we are all in denial of the spiritual impact of such films and such lives?