I ran out to see “The Expendables 2” with an exuberance that, in recent years, has been largely kept at bay. And, much to my delight, I was not disappointed. Not even two minutes into the movie and Sylvester Stallone and his team of gloriously invincible mercenaries were rampaging through the streets of Nepal, guns blazing.
It was everything I could have hoped for and more – an endless stream of action interrupted only by scenes that are quickly working towards the next reason to create an explosion or two.
It’s not hard to understand, though, why a movie like this would give way to such anticipation and excitement. Like the icons scattered throughout “The Expendables,” the action movie itself is fast becoming a relic. The days of outrageous testosterone, bulging muscles and pure badassery fade more and more each year, swept aside for superhero franchises or tired reboots and remakes.
Never has that been more evident than this year. Consider that some of the major movies this summer have been (or were intended to be) titles like “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Avengers,” “The Bourne Legacy,” and “Total Recall” (which, of course, was an Arnold Schwarzenegger film first).
Now, “The Dark Knight Rises” and “The Avengers” were admittedly great, but they also arrived after a summer in which audiences were inundated with movies centered around Thor, Captain America, the X-Men, and Green Lantern. The superhero movie as a tentpole shows absolutely no signs of slowing down, which means the room for other action movies is getting squeezed into near extinction.
Add to that, too, Hollywood’s obsession with reboots and remakes and it’s a surefire way to annihilate creativity like it’s the Expendables blowing up a bridge full of enemy guards.
But there is one saving grace, and it comes in the form of these aging stars who protect the action genre like the characters they so often play. Sylvester Stallone has given us the Expendables, but he’s also kept Rambo alive (and will be in a movie called “Bullet to the Head” next year, which sounds perfect). Bruce Willis is slated to give John McClane another go-around, though he hasn’t stopped making other action films. The best sign, though, is the return of the quintessential action star himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Not coincidentally, the trailer for his new movie “The Last Stand” played before “The Expendables.” It’s a simple enough premise: Schwarzenegger plays a small-town sheriff who has to protect its inhabitants from a ruthless drug cartel leader and his gang.
It’s sure to feature a tremendous amount of violence and it’s evident by the first trailer that Schwarzenegger still possess everything that put him on the genre’s Mount Rushmore in the first place (hell, he created it).
Whether or not “The Last Stand” is any good is really a moot point. It’s so oddly refreshing to see Schwarzenegger doing his thing that it doesn’t matter. As long as he – and just about everyone else involved in “The Expendables” – keeps making movies, there is hope yet for the macho genre.
You can call it nostalgia, but the classic action formula is anything but a tired concept. When a movie like “The Expendables” can still thrill you on nothing but gigantic set pieces and abundant bloodshed, it means that kind of movie and its stars don’t need to be put out to pasture.
The simplicity of the good-versus-evil shoot ‘em up dynamic is as powerful as ever, and no one has ever done it better than guys like Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and even Willis.
While time isn’t exactly on their side, here’s to hoping they don’t give it up anytime soon. It turns out the movie industry is still in need of some saving itself.