It's rare that a sequel trumps the original but The Expendables 2 manages to do just that with a steady stream of one-liners and welcome weathered faces as well as a few new ingredients. E2 seems even more self-aware of its own silliness especially with Jean-Claude Van Damme as the villain (named Vilain of course) and Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger popping up in smaller roles alongside previous Expendables Sylvester Stallone Jason Statham Jet Li Dolph Lundgren Bruce Willis Terry Crews and Randy Couture.
Then again The Expendables wasn't any sort of action classic; it was like writer/director/star Stallone threw a whole bunch of ideas at the wall to see which would stick then added massive amounts of weapons and the occasional hand-to-hand combat. It was popular but it definitely not the kind of awesome actioner that the stars were able to make 10 or 20 years ago. There's the rub actually; like women actors who have written or directed their own projects because nothing else was available or satisfactory Stallone created The Expendables because Hollywood didn't seem to know what to do with him and his fellow action stars as they got older. It's easy to criticize Stallone et al for not doing the same amount of stunt work or hand-to-hand fighting that for example Statham is capable of but the whole thrust of the movie is that they're expendable -- to themselves to the world and until Stallone kickstarted these movies to Hollywood.
E2 is still clumsy but it's a little more adventurous and a little more introspective. Two new additions to the crew seem to throw everyone for a loop in one way or another. Liam Hemsworth shows up as Bill the Kid a sniper who left the military after a raid in Afghanistan went horribly wrong; his age and hopefulness not to mention physical prowess is a foil the Sylvester Stallone's Barney Ross and one that Barney is well aware of. Nan Yu joins the team as Maggie who is apparently the only person who can disarm the safe that holds whatever secret thing Church (Willis) has sent them to retrieve. And if the Expendables don't get her back alive Church will make them pay because even though Maggie is some sort of multilingual computer genius with a vicious roundhouse she's a lady. On one hand perhaps we're supposed to gather that this group of old dogs is learning new tricks by having to deal with a smart capable woman in their midst; the attempts Gunner (Lundgren) makes to flirt with her are clunky and goofy and she's obviously way too smart for fall for that claptrap. On the other when she whips out some instruments of torture Barney cracks "What are you going to do give them a pedicure?" And of course her role also devolves into an incredibly stilted and unbelievable romantic interest for Barney. One point for trying but two points deducted for falling into the romantic interest trap.
At times it's hard to tell whether or not we're laughing with the crew or at them. Plus because of how jam-packed the cast is some actors get the short end of the stick. Statham is the most charismatic of the bunch and he also has the most impressive hand-to-hand fight scenes but the emphasis in E2 is sheer firepower so he doesn't get nearly enough screen time. Couture is fairly forgettable while Lundgren plays the lunkiest of lunkheads; the running joke is that he has a chemical engineering degree from MIT and was a Fulbright Scholar which is supposed to be funny... except it's also true. (We're to assume he's mended his evil ways between the first Expendables and the second.) Is Lundgren agreeably poking fun at himself the same way Schwarzenegger hams it up at every turn? Or does E2 have shades of JCVD which stars Van Damme was a washed-up action star? Are the emotional moments supposed to fall so hilariously flat on purpose? For some reason it seems important to tease out which parts of these movies are earnest and which are tongue-in-cheek.
There's a weird melancholy about watching this group of aging action stars that has the same tang as watching someone you love grow older especially as they try so very hard to fight the ravages of time. If you dig a little deeper maybe deeper than E2 warrants you could find a well of sadness below the back-slapping antics. The world has changed and even though Stallone and his crew have muscles so hard and juicy they could pop out of their skin like grapes they can't compete with Bill the Kid and Maggie and others like them. They know it and we know it and while it's good fun to see old friends or onscreen enemies kill scores of bad guys (led by JCVD sporting a truly horrible fake Baphomet-style neck tattoo) there are better smarter more exciting and more interesting action films on the horizon.
And there's also The Expendables 3.
With the unveiling of the official competition and Un Certain Regard lineups for the Cannes Film Festival Thursday morning in Paris came the news that Mel Gibson will be striding up the red carpet next month.
The actor will be out to support Jodie Foster’s The Beaver which has an out-of-competition berth. That news, which was imparted by the festival’s general delegate Thierry Fremaux ahead of announcing the films in official competition, was just one bit of info which appeared to get the assembled journalists all a-Twitter.
The rest of the announcements, while somewhat anticipated, make for a Cannes festival that will be heavy on art house bigwigs and newcomers alike.
The roster of returning talent includes such powerhouse auteurs as Lars von Trier with Melancholia, Pedro Almodovar with The Skin I Live In, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne with Le Gamin au Velo, Aki Kaurismaki with Le Havre, Radu Milhaileanu with La Source des Femmes, Nanni Moretti with We Have a Pope, Paolo Sorrentino with This Must Be the Place and, of course, Terrence Malick with Tree of Life. That film had actually been expected to be in competition last year but was not ready in time. Malick won the directing prize for Days of Heaven when he was last in competition in 1979.
Sean Penn stars in the English-language Sorrentino film and in Tree of Life which also has Brad Pitt – a near-certain bet to make an appearance in Cannes – and Jessica Chastain. Other stars potentially gracing the red carpet in support of their films include Kirsten Dunst and Kiefer Sutherland who star in Melancholia while Pitt’s partner Angelina Jolie is a likely attendee for the Kung Fu Panda sequel, although that film is not among the official selections.
The cast of Woody Allen’s opening night film, Midnight in Paris includes Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams and model/singer-turned-first-lady Carla Bruni Sarkozy while Rob Marshall’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is screening out of competition which can only mean that Johnny Depp and French partner Vanessa Paradis will be on hand on the Riviera.
But, while a major element of Cannes is the glitz and glamour, the most important component is the films.
Along with the big name auteurs this year will be new talent like Australian Julia Leigh whose first film Sleeping Beauty has scored a competition berth. There are 19 films in competition and 19 in the complementary Un Certain Regard sidebar. All told, there are six female directors with films across the two sections which marks a first for the festival.
Austrian Markus Schleinzer is no stranger to Cannes having acted as casting director for many of the films of Palme d’Or winner Michael Haneke, but this time he’ll be on the Croisette with his directorial debut, Michael.
Making his first trip to Cannes is cult favorite Nicolas Winding Refn. The Pusher director will be on hand with competition entry Drive which stars Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan.
Other English-language titles include Sean Durkin’s feature debut, Martha Marcy May Marlene which originally premiered in Sundance and stars Elizabeth Olsen. That film will run in Un Certain Regard. Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin with Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly is in competition.
In introducing the selection, which has some notable absences (Dominik Moll’s The Monk and David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method among them), Fremaux remarked that although he and his committees chose 49 films for the official selection, “there were a lot more than 49 films that we liked.”
Cannes runs from May 11-22 with Robert De Niro overseeing the main jury as president. Keep an eye out for Hollywood.com’s Cannes blog which will run down the daily festivities direct from the Riviera and the red carpet.
Full list of official selection films:
Midnight in Paris - Woody Allen
The Skin I Live In - Pedro Almodovar
House of Tolerance - Bertrand Bonello
Pater - Alain Cavalier
Footnote - Joseph Cedar
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia - Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Le Gamin au Velo - Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Le Havre - Aki Kaurismaki
Hanezu No Tsuki - Naomi Kawase
Sleeping Beauty - Julia Leigh
Poliss - Maiwenn
The Tree of Life - Terrence Malick
La Source des Femmes - Radu Mihaileanu
Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai - Takashi Miike
We Have a Pope - Nanni Moretti
We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lynne Ramsay
Michael - Markus Schleinzer
This Must Be the Place - Paolo Sorrentino
Melancholia - Lars Von Trier
Drive - Nicolas Winding Refn
Out of Competition
The Conquest - Xavier Durringer
The Beaver - Jodie Foster
The Artist - Michel Hazanavicius
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - Rob Marshall
Un Certain Regard
Restless - Gus Van Sant (opening film)
The Hunter “ Bakur Bakuradeze
Halt auf freier Strecke - Andreas Dresen
Hors Satan - Bruno Dumont
Martha Marcy May Marlene - Sean Durkin
The Snows of Kilamanjaro - Robert Guedeguian
Skoonheid - Oliver Hermanus
The Day He Arrives - Hong Sang-soo
Bonsai - Cristian Jimenez
Tatsumi - Eric Koo
Arirang - Kim Ki-duk
Where Do We Go Now? - Nadine Labaki
Loverboy - Catalin Mitulescu
Yellow Sea - Na Hong-jin
Miss Bala – Gerardo Naranjo
Trabalhar Cansa - Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra
L’Exercice de l’Etat - Pierre Schoeller
Toomelah - Ivan Sen
Oslo, August 31 - Joachim Trier
Wu Xia - Chan Peter Ho-Sun
Dias de Gracia - dir. Tekla Taidelli
Labrador - Frederikke Aspock
Le Maitre des Forges de l’Enfer - Rithy Panh
Michel Petrucciani - Michael Radford
Tous Au Larzac - Christian Rouaud