A year or so ago there was a movie that threw together the greatest action stars of our time. It was soaked in testosterone and pitted the most muscle-y of musclemen against one another in the battle of the bulge that action fans like myself had spent years dreaming of.
That movie was not The Expendables. That movie was Fast Five.
If you, like me, take action movies seriously, The Expendables was a letdown. Sure it was fun to see Stallone, Lundgren, Statham and Li on screen together, but the promise of a return to the blood-soaked glory of the 1980s action heyday went largely unfulfilled.
Where Fast Five excelled — and where The Expendables came up lame — was the action scenes. It sounds obvious, but an action movie with a budget north of $100 million should prominently feature some spectacular action. But instead of steadily focusing the cameras on clear and creative explosions (or abnormally jacked men shooting big guns or kicking each other or body-slamming each other through walls), The Expendables relied on quick cuts and dark lighting.
This was presumably meant to add grit and separate Stallone’s ode to ’80s action from the summer of 2010’s other superteams (both the The Losers and The A-Team had similar concepts), but instead it ruined the whole premise. The Expendables didn’t look or feel like a big ’80s blockbuster, it just felt like every other direct-to-video action film that’s been released in the last 10 years.
It’s also worth noting that Jet Li is mostly famous for kicking stuff. And yes, kicking stuff feels kind of quaint in the face of jet fighters flown by Dolph Lundgren, but this is Jet Li we’re talking about. If you have him in your movie you should probably let him go wild with some sweet kicks.
But with all that being said, there are a lot of reasons to feel optimistic about The Expendables 2. For one thing, the trailer features what appears to be a badass jungle fight. If there’s one thing we know about Stallone, it’s that he’s not a guy you want to mess with if you happen to run into him in a jungle. Returning him to his natural murderous habitat can only be a good thing.
Also, Jason Statham utters the line “I now declare you man and knife” before stabbing a priest in the neck. By no means do I condone the murdering of priests, but if they happen to be fictional and played by anonymous stunt doubles, I totally condone it as long as Jason Statham gets to say that line. There should be one scene in every movie where that exact scenario plays itself out.
The trailer also features multiple fist bumps and Jet Li kicking at least three people. That’s still not enough Jet Li kicks to keep a guy like me happy, but it’s a start.
Ultimately, the only thing that’s going to matter is the action. And here’s where things get dicey. Director Simon West’s resumé is a mixed bag, and he hasn’t done much to suggest he’s the man for the job. He directed the Tomb Raider movie, which is mostly remembered for Angelina Jolie’s breasts. He was also at the helm for the remake of The Mechanic, which is best remembered as the film that proved that no one should remake Charles Bronson movies.
Weirdly, he also directed the pilot for the NBC superhero show The Cape. Which is best not remembered at all.
So ultimately, we’re left with a movie that action film buffs like myself really want to love. The heroes of our youth are all there, as are the ingredients for a genuinely spectacular action blockbuster. But deep down we know we’re probably going to be let down.
The ’80s are long gone, and trying to recapture the magic of that time simply isn’t going to work. At least we’ll always have Fast Five.