Tag Archives: Arnold Schwarzenegger

Escape Plan (2013)

Escape Plan (2013)

When The Expendables (2010) was released, there was much trumpeting of how both Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, stalwarts of 1980s action movies, would come together on screen. It was going to be big; it was going to be iconic. The result, however, was a single scene in a very disappointing film. They appeared together once more in The Expendables 2 (2012), garnering plenty of screen time, but Schwarzenegger was still mostly incidental. Now, in Escape Plan (2003, 115 mins) the double billing actually sees the two both play main characters in an action movie. This could have been that iconic meeting that The Expendables promised. Alas, it’s just another meeting.

Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a man who, for his own hokey reasons, makes his money by being imprisoned and then escaping in order to point out security flaws. He has literally written the book on the subject. When the movie opens we see his skill in this domain, first breaking out from a high security prison and then recounting his escape (for the audience’s benefit) to the prison’s warden in all its convoluted, improbable glory. After that, an offer comes in that would see him enter another prison, this one off the grid, and in an unknown location. His fee is double the going rate, and he accepts.

Of course, this is a trap. Someone somewhere actually wants Breslin imprisoned. And the prison, we learn, has its design (all glass cells and no natural light) in the flaws pointed out by Breslin’s book; it should therefore be impossible to escape from. Thus Escape Plan has its premise, and Stallone quickly finds an ally in Schwarzenegger’s Emil Rottmayer. If these two are aligned, antagonism comes by way of Warden Hobbes (Jim Caviezel) and sadistic prison guard Drake (Vinnie Jones). What follows is a series of prison riots and reconnaissance missions as Breslin gets the measure of his new prison and works out how to escape, making use of the objects, skills, and flaws in the system that he uncovers.

With names like Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Jones attached, expectations aren’t high but the movie is paced well enough and the majority of scenes come across as functional. Certainly, for all the hyperbole on the film’s two stars, the direction isn’t in awe of them. While this can be good, as story should ultimately go before the cast, it somehow feels as if more could have been made of the pairing. Not so much in the characterisation (that was always going to be thin) but in the imagination around how they are filmed. What action there was felt unmemorable. Certainly Schwarzenegger’s most memorable moment would be a scene where he rants, insanely, in his native language. Beyond that, it’s a string of limp one-liners and crazy smiles.

For all the plot and action it would at least appear as if the film has its basis in matters more philosophical. The notion of the panopticon, a prison where all captives are under permanent supervision (or at least have no way of knowing if Big Brother’s eye is on them) is a direct lift from the work of Jeremy Bentham, albeit modernised to suit contemporary technology. But a warden called Hobbes brings to mind Thomas Hobbes, who in his Leviathan wrote of the social contract. Breslin, in Escape Plan, willingly secedes from civil society and therefore finds himself in a prison that bears much in relation to a world outside the Hobbesian notion of civilised society:

…no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

But, given the content of the movie, it’s probably best not to read too deep into any message it may wish to deliver. It’s a foregone conclusion that Breslin is going to escape this inescapable prison and therefore consideration need only be given to how he plans to do it. Some elements are logical, based on observation and timings; while others, although not stretching credulity, are convenient. Sometimes, instead of knowledge, escape can be about relationships and, in that respect, crucial support comes from Dr. Kyrie (Sam Neill) and some of the inmates who riot to create distractions or take on particular favours.

At the end of the day, a movie like Escape Plan is never going to be anything other than sheer escapism and its two hours whizz by without ever seeming to drag. It has its questionable moments (e.g. Hobbes shooting a prisoner when keeping him alive is the profitable option) but works well enough as a vehicle for two movie tough guys, once standalone action heroes, to work together under a double billing. Given their advancing years, it had to happen at some point, although it doesn’t quite carry the hype that, say, Heat (1995) did in pairing Al Pacino and Robert De Niro on screen for the first time. Perhaps because in Heat, the two stars worked against each other and the question was which would come out on top. Or perhaps because Stallone and Schwarzenegger  are no longer the draw they once were. Either way, while it’s fun to see them work together, it’s hard not to think a better movie could have packed more of a punch.

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The Expendables 2 (2012)

The Expendables 2 (2012)

If The Expendables (2010) left the burning question of why it even existed, what further reason is there for The Expendables 2 (2012, 103 mins) to exist? Well, apart from making studio shareholders enough cash to roll around in, the only possible reason (wishful thinking, here) must be to correct the wrongs of the first. The most notable difference is that Sylvester Stallone is no longer behind the camera (that duty now with Simon West, of 1997’s Con-Air) and this is immediately an improvement. Where Stallone’s The Expendables, in all its ridiculousness, still wanted to play itself straight this sequel is much more knowing in its sending up of the genre and is better for it.

Excepting Mickey Rourke, the old crew are reunited here. Stallone returns as Barney Ross with main banter buddy Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) by his side. Dolph Lundgren‘s crazy Gunner Jensen is as mad as ever and Jet Li‘s Yin Yang (making only a brief appearance before bailing out) is still the butt of jokes. Surplus to requirements, Randy Couture and Terry Crews both resume their minor roles to round out the original squad. But there’s more, this time, as we also meet Billy The Kid (Liam Hemsworth) and get some female representation from Maggie (Nan Yu).

Part of the problem with the The Expendables was that we never got to know much about the characters. They were muscular guys with guns; what else did you need to know? However, the lack of background plays to the detriment of this movie’s set-up, namely expecting the audience to care for a character that they have been introduced to only a few scenes before. What misfortune befalls this character leads to a revenge story being spun out of some nonsense about Soviet plutonium barrels buried in a Bulgarian mine, with Jean-Claude Van Damme (as Vilain) as villain.

The story drifts from one shoot-out to the next, but The Expendables 2 feels as if it’s less about the action than it is the cameos. Whereas in the first we got a brief scene between Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, here they rack up more screen time, happily trading each other’s catchphrases, no doubt to the delight of the action audience, and getting down and dirty with some weaponry. Charisma Carpenter returns briefly, providing some home life continuity. But the big appearance here — and given recent press releases about who has and hasn’t signed up for the third, big appearances are no doubt the reason that future films in the franchise will exist — is Chuck Norris‘s lone wolf, Booker.

Compared to the gravel-voiced meatheads that comprise the main team, Norris, softly spoken and with a thinner build, seems a far cry from the typical action hero, but he’s a dab hand with a gun and, if the Chuck Norris Facts internet meme is to be believed, the hardest badass in the universe. Therefore it’s fun to see the man himself acknowledge these in the movie’s world. The humour in seeing him deliver one of his own facts is arguably one of the highlights here, especially as much humour still comes from that age old action movie staple: the corny quip (i.e. “Rest in pieces!”).

While there’s not much for most of the cast to do (this is still very much about Stallone and Statham) the action scenes do come across better. Fight scenes no longer consist of the split second shots that marred the first, and therefore we see here actual physical endeavours being undertaken. Jet Li, whose martial arts were ridiculously underused previously are here given a chance to shine. But, think action movie, and it’s less about the action than it is the crazy weaponry, and that is bountiful too.

While guns, explosions, and prolonged fisticuffs are par for the course in such movies, there’s no reason why it should be presented at a cartoonish level. Yes, The Expendables 2 knows it’s aping its cinematic lineage, but in a world where serious things happen (Vilain enslaves a village to retrieve the plutonium from a mine) can’t there be any consequences (for anyone) other than the villain’s eventual death? Is the world at large blind to such goings on? Where has this Vilain guy appeared from or are we just expected to accept he’s bad and go with it? And, once the Expendables roll into town, who’s going to clean up their mess?

These may just be the questions of a mind meandering, uninspired with death after death of unnamed goons. And that may be the issue here — that the movie is not interested in being more than it can be. Why would it, when the story is secondary to the cast and the audience is assured? But the questions keep on coming because the mind, in trying to disengage, needs something to do and The Expendables provides no viable food for thought. Mantras of must kill bad guys and must get revenge leave little to mentally chew on.

If there was a way of blocking sentient thoughts while watching this then maybe it could be enjoyable. There’s some laughs from the occasional meta-humour and it loves a big all-guns-blazing set-piece, but overall it feels like a revolving door where actors come and go based on other commitments, with the storyline dictated more by availability than coherence. If this continues into the next instalment (which is more than likely) then we have a franchise that maintains interest by increasing its stable of flat characters rather than developing what it already has.

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The Expendables (2010)

The Expendables (2010)

Into a prolonged hostage situation in the Gulf of Aden come a team of mercenaries. While this opening hostage rescue in The Expendables (2010, 103 mins) appears tense, any expectation of gritty, thoughtful action is soon dispelled when a single shot comically cuts a Somali pirate in half. But that single shot isn’t enough to solve the problem at hand. Therefore, after a hail of bullets, knives, and kung fu kicks rains down on the remaining pirates, all that’s left are the hostages and the eponymous Expendables. As manifestos go, it certainly gives warning of what little to expect of the movie.

That preliminary shootout introduces us to the characters. There’s Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone, acting and directing), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), and Yin Yang (Jet Li). If they are the A Team, then the B Team support are Toll Road (Randy Couture), Hail Caesar (Terry Crews), and Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren). None of these men has a back story, although there’s a plot strand following Christmas, his lover (Charisma Carpenter), and her other man that seeks to give viewers something different to focus on, but it’s dispensed in two scenes and impacts the story not a jot.

The movie’s main plot revolves around killing General Garza (David Zayas), the puppet dictator of a Latin American island state. The job comes in a scene whereby Stallone gets together with Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Willis is Mr Church, the man with the job. Schwarzenegger is, like Stallone, a mercenary, only he knows the situation on Garza’s island and rejects outright the opportunity. A scene like this must be the action fan’s wet dream, putting together three action movie legends for the first time. In its short duration, we get sly knowing jibes at each other with some cute banter thrown in (“You guys aren’t gonna start sucking each other’s dicks, are ya?” asks Church).

With the exception of Tool (Mickey Rourke), one liners are the only dialogue the guys in this film trade. It’s macho-to-the-max, empty and with little substance. Although many of the cast made their name in eighties action flicks, and this movie is a tribute to those days, there is little to suggest in the serious delivery that much has moved on since. The movie overall may not be serious — explosions, gun porn, and hyperbolic fisticuffs — but the way it’s played certainly is, even if done in a knowing way. It’s a give-the-people-what-they-want sort of film, and in this Stallone comes up with the goods as regards pulling an action movie together from a range of men who would typically take the lead in their own vehicles.

But if Stallone is giving the people what they want in The Expendables, the question must surely be why do people want this? Pyromaniacs aside, who’s eyes light up at the thought of meaningless explosions? Who punches the air when a bad guy dies? Who cheers on the good guys? Who doesn’t demand more from a film? Because in a film like this it’s never a question of if the protagonists will survive an encounter, but purely when they will. The audience knows that, whatever the story, the outcome is assured. Who wants to go into a movie and know how it ends?

While a man can stand around firing an unlimited barrage of bullets all day, much of the actors here have seen better days. Most of the physical action is delivered in quick succession of cuts that are too frenzied and make it difficult to recognise any athleticism. In this, perhaps the eighties action hero has had his day and, with the likes of Jason Bourne and James Bond‘s continued appeal,  Stallone and contemporaries are a few brain cells short. There’s no emotional connection with any characters, nor any underpinning motivation. There’s no thrills in the big budget set pieces nor any real danger in anything that happens on screen.  Ultimately there’s no rhyme or reason for this movie to exist.

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