Film Reviews


By • Aug 20th, 2012 •

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The first installment of this quirky franchise was so unsuccessful that not only did I not recommend it to fans of ROCKY BALBOA, RAMBO, and other superhero exploitation flicks, I never even added it to my DVD collection. It was clumsily imbalanced in terms of the ensemble cast (see THE AVENGERS for perfect integration of several major characters), the plot unfolded in a gruesomely haphazard manner, and the inner conflicts – even given its comic book/video game format – were unrealistic. Jet vs. Dolph! Really…! I’m surprised Jet consented to come back after that humiliating brouhaha.

But Part 2 has solved the problems of the first. About the only thing that worked in an unqualified manner in the original were the reflexive references, so that element of the script has been punched up a hundred fold, and the audience I was at roared at each winking evocation of the actors’ past roles, their real life difficulties, etc. Terrific fun.

And while the cast all displayed smirking, preening beauty shots of themselves, looking Olympian even though moderately-to-well-past-their-prime, the one cast member who delivered a non-mocking, serious, and highly effective performance was Jean-Claude Van Damme. He not only interpreted every line effectively, but his physical nuances, which had to be his own and not the result of direction, were terrific. It’s one of the best performances of the year, ranking alongside Ariel Gade in SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE, Keira Knightly and Martin Sheen in SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD, the entire cast of KILLER JOE, and Imelda Staunton in THE AWAKENING.

Remember how Leonard Cohen’s voice grew deeper and more gravelly as the years and albums went by, to the point where it was referred to in the press as ‘sepulchral.’ It felt to me that not only were the characters in this film dubbed, but electronically altered – lowered into the bass range as some sort of overriding, further macho effect…which achieved its goal. The film has some of the best sound work of 2012, and much of that is in its manipulation of voice tones.

The action is exhilarating, with military machinery galore, blood and body parts torn asunder (courtesy of that-type-of-effects guru Scott Coulter), and gourmet explosions. Absurdity is mixed with head-on destruction: the image of Schwarzenegger and Willis crammed into a mini-car the size of a child’s tricycle is a riot, and despite the clown-like evocation of the vehicle, they manage to wipe out a platoon’s worth of enemies.

Stallone, in act three, has a scene where he employs thick metal chains as a weapon. I was happy to see this, as it was a rather obscure but definite nod to 1959’s HERCULES, wherein Steve Reeves used such an improvised weapon to crush his foes, and even pulled down a temple with them. Reeves was unquestionably responsible for this entire testosterone-fueled genre – all the muscle-bound stars such as Arnold and Sly were the progeny of his ground-breaking efforts to legitimize body builders in the film medium.

I once asked Reeves what movie character inspired him when he was young, and he immediately replied “Johnny Weissmuller” (TARZAN). Which makes sense, but it also means there really was no one like him on celluloid before him. The last time I saw Reeves, aged 73, he was in great shape, and though he would have felt a bit like a fish out of water, since he never used steroids, he otherwise could easily have joined these guys for some ribbing and killing.

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