Monday Morning Critic – The Expendables 2 (Review, Spoilers and Deep Thoughts)

Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.

You know this was a great weekend for me individually. Strikeforce last night was a great MMA card that was mainly just copious amounts of mismatches. I took second in a grappling tournament, which was fun, and the night before hung out with an old friend of mine with some pizza and beer from the South Side of Chicago’s best pizzeria in Roseangela’s. It may have been thin crust but it was still pretty good. And it started off with the perhaps the best action film of the summer in The Expendables 2.

You can read my review right here, if you want, but from this point it’s going to get into spoiler territory. And here’s my review of the DVD for the first one, as well, if you want to get your Expendable on before you keep reading. And while you’re reading, here’s some opera music for you. Yeah, get cultured and shit before we talk about some action movies!

Thou have been warned, though, as it’s time to delve into the franchise a bit deeper.

One of the things I have enjoyed about the franchise so far, outside of the awesome homage to ‘80s action films while also being a kick ass action film, is that I’m enjoying the grand story arc Sylvester Stallone has written for himself as Barney Ross. Ross isn’t the deepest character he’s played, as that’d probably have to go to Rocky Balboa (for which he was Oscar nominated), but it’s perhaps the most intriguing. His three main franchise characters have all had wildly differing arcs.

My “From the Shelf” on Rocky is right here if you’re inclined

Rocky Balboa is a guy who just wanted to prove he belonged; Rocky was all about taking the champ the distance. The sequels may have declined in quality, of course, but the one thing Balboa never stopped being was a unique character. Rocky Balboa was always trying to come to peace with himself as deserving of what he had. Rocky was about deserving to be in there, that he wasn’t just another bum. Rocky 2 was about proving that it wasn’t a fluke. Rocky 3 was about deserving to be the champion. Rocky 4 was that he still had it, that the newest challenger with all his advantages couldn’t overcome the heart of the champ. Rocky 5 may have been horrible but it was Balboa proving to himself that fame and fortune hadn’t changed his character; Rocky Balboa was about proving that he still had something.

Rambo on DVD? Don’t Mind If You Do

John Rambo is all about trying to escape his past but never quite able to; the Rambo franchise is about a man who has to come to terms with his past as a killing machine in a world that won’t let him. He wants to be left alone, to let the world pass him by. The warrior inside was always who he was, no matter what he tried to do, and coming home and accepting who he is was a big reason why Rambo worked. John Rambo can’t escape his past, like he had tried, and him walking home to his family’s ranch at the end of Rambo was a great moment in the series.

Forgot to read my review of The Expendables 2? Right here, in case you missed it

Barney Ross is an entirely different character than the two more famous ones he’s created if only because this is a man who does bad things for a living and has no qualms with it. He’s not conflicted with who he is as a man on a professional level, for lack of a better word. He’s a hired hand, a killer who heads an elite band of mercs that exist for the discretion of the highest bidder. But what Stallone is doing with the character is really nuanced, despite neither Expendables film being any sort of cultural touchstone or brilliant metaphor, because the film franchise is about the redemption of Ross as a character. A big moment from each of the films so far has touched on this.

In the first film it’s the speech that Tool (Mickey Rourke) gives to him about the nature of a man’s soul. Tool was a man who had seen the blackest of men’s hearts and done bad things but couldn’t quite bring himself to save someone. After all the killing the one person whose life he could’ve saved he let go as a woman jumped to her death; it’s the part of his soul that could be saved that wasn’t. In a way he’s telling Barney that doing the right thing can save you from being completely black inside, that even men like them can earn some sort of redemption by doing something right to save someone else.

In the second film it’s in a conversation between Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) and Ross; Billy isn’t sure about the life and Ross cautions him that it’s not for everyone. Eventually everyone succumbs to the life, losing that little part of your soul that remains after all the killing they’ve done, and Ross doesn’t want Billy to end up like him. Ross is damaged inside and he knows it; he doesn’t acknowledge it but he cautions people about the life because he can’t leave it. The life hasn’t gotten to him in the way it has to others but he’s right on that edge. When Billy is dispatched it is a similar moment to his leaving Sandra (Gisele Itié) behind in the first film; he could easily give up and go “oh well, not my job” but his first thoughts are to kill Jean Villain and stop him.

It’s a slow redemption and ultimately the franchise is going to end with him walking away to do some good in the world, with Jason Statham’s character leading the team. Barney Ross is on a slow path to redemption and walking away from it all and I really like how Stallone is exploring that particular aspect of the character.

It’s not Stallone playing the Stallone action character, which is who he winds up playing instead of Rambo or Rocky for films like Over the Top and Cobra; Barney Ross is the old, grizzled veteran who still has something left but his best days are behind him. He’s the character that Rambo would’ve become over the years if he hadn’t been wandering through the streets dealing with PTSD and embraced his warrior status. Ross has spent decades as a hired gun, doing good deeds but not altruistically. Sam Childers he is not; he’s a warrior who parlays his trade for money.

I’m curious to where Stallone takes the franchise next; The Expendables 3 is almost a given based on a solid opening weekend.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – Full Contact

You know how you make a week better? Like one of those awful ass weeks where everything has come down on you like a bad country song, that kind of bad. There’s only a handful of things that can really cure one of those weeks, usually it involves either loose women or alcohol (or both), but the one thing that has usually helped raise my spirits after a bad week is one man who occupies the air underneath Schwarzenegger as far as I’m concerned: Chow Yun-fat. Thus I tackle something of a labor of love this week withFull Contact on DVD.

It’s a simple premise. Chow is a thief who is set up for a big job by his cousin. He gets screwed over and left for dead; the film focuses on him getting healthy and then going on his own little tour of revenge. And boy does he do so in spectacular and awesome fashion.

When it comes to Chow Yun-Fat his career seems to come down to Hard Boiled and The Killer as the two elite films he’s done and everything else can’t quite compare because … well … they’re serviceable action films and enjoyable but they don’t quite make you want to go “oh my god that was awesome!” either. It’s perfectly acceptable action film work but it’s not Fat’s best, not by a long shot. It’s right up there with A Better Tomorrow sequel but it’s not quite in the top five (for my money Hard Boiled, The Killer, < I>A Better Tomorrow, City on Fire and Once a Thief) . If Chow Yun-fat isn’t an Expendable soon, the world isn’t right.

Slightly recommended.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

The Apparition – Some dumbass kids think a deadly spirit into existence. Once you believe it kills you.

Skip It – It’s a PG-13 horror film. Nuff said.

Hit & Run – Dax Shephard is in hiding with Sarah Marshall when his old gang comes back to get some money they did. Bradley Cooper has dreadlocks, too. Released on Wednesday

See It – It’s an R-rated action film that is also really filthy on a comic level, apparently; I like the cast a lot and it looks like the best material can’t be put in the trailer. Usually that’s a good sign and worthy of a ticket purchase.

Premium Rush – Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a bike messenger who gets a package to deliver. Wrong package, dude, as Michael Shannon wants it and will try and kill him (and everyone he knows) to get it.

See It – Bike messaging isn’t the best of setups for an action film, one imagines, but this has a fairly solid setup and enough talent to make it worth it.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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