Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Expendables 2 Review

I quite enjoyed the first Expendables film.  Yes, it was over-the-top in many respects: the set-pieces, explosions, and even the character's names (Hale Caesar, Toll Road), and lacked a strong narrative to bring everything together.  And let's be honest - no one's going to see The Expendables for a strong story.  They're plunking down their cash to see icons of action films blow stuff up.  If you're not into that sort of thing, then perhaps The Expendables 2 isn't for you.  It is very much for me.  Don't get me wrong, I love a good drama (Moneyball, Drive, and The Artist were some of my favorite films from last year), but sometimes I just want to sit down and turn off my brain and forget about the world.  I was very much able to do that with The Expendables 2.

The first thing you'll notice about EX2 is that everything is turned up to 11.  The opening scene is something akin to something out of a James Bond film - we are thrown into the middle of the action, with the returning crew (Sylvester Stallone, Randy Couture, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, and Terry Crews) creating utter havoc in a bad-guy stronghold, with newcomer Liam Hemsworth providing .50-cal sniper support.  This scene is a visual and auditory blitz of your senses; its incredibly loud, fast, and gory.  And glorious.  It effectively sets the tone for the rest of film; the action is better, explosions bigger, and deaths gorier (than the original).

The plot is relatively straightforward: Church (Bruce Willis) hasn't been paid the $5 million he was owed from the events of the first film.  He sends the team to a remote forest near the border of China to retrieve something from a safe that was traveling in a shot-down plane.  They retrieve the item (with help from Nan Yu's Maggie) and the debt is paid...or else the entire team face serious jail time.  Without spoiling too much, things don't necessarily go according to plan when they run into the film's antagonist, Vilain (the deliciously evil Jean-Claude Van Damme).  Vilain is a relatively conventional action-film villain, but what sets him apart is JCVD.  Van Damme basks in the glory of being an evil SOB.  He's ruthless, determined, and just plain fun to watch.  The only downside with his character is that he's so good that I wanted more; he just doesn't have that much screen time (and in fact, the final showdown between Stallone/Van Damme was disappointingly short). 

While the narrative is more intriguing and engaging than the first film, its not without myriad issues.  Leaps in logic, time, and location are taken many a time throughout the brisk run time.  We aren't given an explanation about where they got that truck or where that gear came from.  You just have to sit back and suspend that disbelief that's trying to push its way to the surface.

The returning cast is as great as they've ever been.  Bruce Willis' Church and Arnold Schwarzenegger's Trench actually get into the action this time around, along with internet sensation Chuck Norris.  I won't spoil any of the glorious moments that these guys had or the incredibly-cheesy-yet-amazingly-awesome one-liners thrown around like nobody's business (I will say that there's a "Chuck Norris" joke...and it's awesome).  Some of this dialogue is incredibly campy and eye-roll-enducing, but I just didn't care.  I loved it.  I basked in the glory of its ridiculousness.  Stallone, Statham, Couture, Lundgren, and Crews continue to dominate as The Expendables, but ultimately it's still the Stallone/Statham show; they get some of the best fights of the film.

There really isn't all that much more to say about The Expendables 2  At this point you all should know pretty much what you're getting yourselves into.  Shootouts, explosions, blood, decapitations, over-the-top action, cheesy get the point.  If that's not your thing, I completely understand.  I just loved the hell out of this movie.

The Expendables 2 tops its predecessor in almost every way; its up to you if that's a good or a bad thing.

The Bearded Bullet.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Bourne Legacy Review

I have quite the soft spot in my heart for the Bourne franchise.  After a semi-forced hiatus from the world of films in the first half of the 2000s, The Bourne Ultimatum was the first film that I saw multiple times in the theater; to this day Ultimatum and the Bourne series as a whole are some of my favorite films.  Needless to say, I was quite excited when I first learned about The Bourne Legacy; a film that wouldn't feature the titular hero, but another agent whose adventure takes place congruently with Ultimatum. I enjoy Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, and Edward Norton quite a bit, so let's just say that things were lining up to make the first non-Matt Damon Bourne film live up to its namesake.  Unfortunately, The Bourne Legacy doesn't quite reach the same heights as the previous entries in the saga.

**Minor spoilers ahead**

Right off the bat, I'd like to say that I enjoyed Legacy regardless of the myriad issues it has.  Its still part of the Bourne saga, and that pretty much allows me to give it a pass.  That said, Legacy can get pretty rough at times, and I'm not talking about the shaky-cam fighting (more on that in a bit).  The pacing and structure of the film's narrative is all over the place.  The first act is a jumbled mess of scenes that exist for probably less than sixty seconds and cover more locations than I can remember.  We jump from Alaska, where our new protagonist, Aaron Cross (Renner) is jumping around trees and mountains, to New York, Virgina, back to Alaska, DC, back to get the point.  The goal of the first act is to establish that what's happening in Legacy is occurring congruently with the third act of The Bourne Ultimatum; Jason Bourne is in New York and all hell is breaking loose for the CIA and the projects of Treadstone, Blackbriar, Outcome, and LARX (a Treadstone upgrade, "without the inconsistencies").  And boy does it achieve its goals.  The audience is constantly bombarded with references to the previous film in not-so-subtle ways.  I like the concept in theory but not in execution.

Legacy mainly follows the fall-out of Bourne's rogue-edness, with Norton's Eric Byer leading the clean-up and shut-down of aforementioned projects.  This is where Cross comes into play.  And he really doesn't come into play until the second act of the film, but he does come in with quite a bang.  The second act gets a bit sciency...perhaps to its detriment.  Weisz's Dr. Marta Shearing worked at a lab that performed tests (taking blood etc.) on Outcome agents.  As a result, she knows everything that's been done to Cross and fills our hero in on what's really going on with him.  Her explanation is interesting and intriguing, but borders on Midichlorians from Star Wars: Episode I.  There is quite a struggle raging inside me, because the genetic alterations done to Cross make him incredibly badass, but at the same time knowing everything about them (and the fact that he isn't a mere human) waters down the mystery for me.  Jason Bourne was a rogue agent with incredible skills; skills that he obtained through Treadstone.  Yes, Cross ostensibly received similar training, but considering his altered genetic structure, the things he does have maybe a lesser impact than if Bourne was doing them.

The action begins to ramp up as our tag-team travels across the globe to find a way to "chem" Cross off of little pills he's forced to take (one for physicality, one for mentality; they keep him running, so to speak), climaxing in a stunning foot-and-car chase through Manila.  I must now bring up the accursed "shaky cam."  I am an apologist for the shaky-cam used by Paul Greengrass in the previous two Bourne films; however, plenty of films have borrowed and abused it in the years since.  I am not a apologist for those films; Battle: LA comes to mind immediately as a hardcore abuser.  Writer/Director Tony Gilroy (who also wrote the previous three films) continued Greengrass' trend with Legacy, and for some reason I can't excuse it as I did the other films.  Perhaps years of shaky-cam fights (of which Quantum of Solace is another offender) have forced me to build up an immunity, but I just wished the camera would stop shaking and the quick cuts and fast editing would just slow down so I could actually see what was happening.  That's not to say I couldn't follow what was happening - I could - its just that it wears you down over the course of the lengthy run-time.

The finale of The Bourne Legacy is like running up a pretty awesome mountain that ends in a cliff.  The chase through Manila is exhilarating, with Cross and Shearing being pursued by LARX-03 (an unnamed agent, just like the other films) at breakneck speeds.  Then we get some stuff back in the States, with a bit of Noah Vosen's Senate hearing, then back to Cross and Shearing, safe on a Filipino fishing boat.  Then Moby's "Extreme Ways" kicks in just as it did with the other films, and that was it.  I was both excited and disappointed; the first notes of the song gave me goosebumps, conjuring up images of the original trilogy, followed immediately by "oh, that's it?"  For me, one of my favorite aspects of seeing a film is figuring out what the crux of the film will be.  Usually its given away in trailers, but with Legacy, I really had no idea where the narrative would take me.  By the end of it, I was a bit shocked at how small in scope the film actually is, despite globe-hopping quite a bit.  As the credits began rolling it suddenly became clear to me - The Bourne Legacy serves as little more than a set-up for a new series of films with Cross instead of/with Jason Bourne.

That concept in and of itself doesn't bother me.  What does bother me is that Legacy feels a bit un-fleshed-out.  I came into the film assuming that Edward Norton's Byer would be the main antagonist, the one to chase down Cross.  That isn't the case whatsoever.  He's essentially fulfilling the Noah Vosen/Pamela Landy role from Ultimatum; he's in a room filled with computers, digitally tracking Cross' whereabouts.  I guess that's fine...someone needs to do that.  For some reason I just assumed we'd see The Hulk fight Hawkeye - which is something I really wanted to see play out.  And it doesn't.  That I was disappointed in that aspect isn't the films fault; well, perhaps its the trailer-cutter's fault.

At the end of the day I still enjoyed Legacy despite its numerous shortcomings.  Jeremy Renner is pretty badass as Aaron Cross, and I would love to see him team up with Damon's Bourne in a future film.  The cast is fairly solid and how this film integrates with the rest is pretty cool, but essentially everything else exists at various levels of disappointment.  Here's to hoping that it pulls down enough cash to warrant another Cross adventure (which it probably will).

The Bourne Legacy is the weakest of the franchise, but is still a fairly competent action film.

The Bearded Bullet.