Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Unseen #57: Rambo First Blood Part II Vs. The Expendables



Why’d I Buy It?: Came in the Rambo Boxset, which if I recall was actually five dollars less then the single disc Rambo.

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: I’m kind of at a loss on this one. I like most of the kids who grew up in the VHS boom am very well versed in this particular brand of OOTP 80’s action. And yet I’ve never gotten around to watching what is arguably the apex (or nadir depending on your point of view) of the genre. The film that embodied every meathead cliché the subgenre had to offer, whose very name has become a synonym for Hyper Testosterone driven mayhem. It’s not like I was unaware of the Rambo series either, First Blood is a great grungy thriller, and if you’re avoiding it for its association with the franchise you’re missing out on one of the greatest B-Movies ever made. I even have a good deal of affection for Rambo, whose final third is a bloodbath of such staggering proportions that I can’t help but shake my head in awe at it.

So why avoid Rambo First Blood Part II? Like I said it’s tough to put my finger on, it’s not Just the risible “Do we get to win this time?” politics of it, stomaching conservative politick is part and parcel of watching 80’s action movies. It’s just that Rambo II always seemed just too much. Let’s put it this way I love Rock but I don’t listen to a lot of Ted Nugent or David Lee Roth either.


How Was It?: Bizarre. For a movie reputed to be one of the most over the top action films of all time Rambo II gets off to a surprisingly sleepy start. The first half hour is almost pure exposition, involving Rambo being released from Prison to go on a mission to find American POWs. Betrayed by the evil CIA Rambo does what he’s best at. Killun’.

But really up until the forty five minute mark Rambo First Blood Part II is a surprisingly compact little action movie. There are a few sequences, particularly a shootout on a boat that makes good use of the enclosed spaces and lethal speed of a gun battle, that are just first rate action filmmaking. I began to compose the revisionist review in my head. And then we hit that halfway mark…

…Oh my.

Suffice to say, almost like clockwork Rambo II becomes exactly the movie you’ve heard it is. There’s a good ten minutes of straight torture that would make Mel Gibson roll his eyes. There are spurious Russian Villians who make Ivan Drago look like a sympathetic fully rounded character. There is Rambo shooting wave after wave of a seemingly inexhaustible supply of baddies. There are exploding arrows shot into torsos and large pieces of machinery. There is speechifying. Oh lordy there is speechifying. And Stallone gets to deliver his trademark fuming “I Hate You So Bad. I’m Going To Kill You So Hard!” Glare whilst hyperventilating.

Is it good? Is it bad? It is tough to quantify. Let us suffice to say that it is very, very Nugent.


The Expendables on the other hand is not very Nugent at all.

Warning here there be spoilers…

Ahem…

You Can’t Have A Movie Called The Expendables In Which Nobody Dies.

That’s Stupid.

Furthermore You Can’t Have A Movie Named After A Team And Not Have The Team Show Up For A Good 2/3rds Of The Movie.

That’s Also Stupid.

The Movie Was Not Called Jason Statham And Sylvester Stallone Fuck Around.

It Was Called The Expendables.

As In A Team Of Expendable People In Which Nobody Is.

Now look, I’m sure there’ll those who argue that I’m missing the point here. But I haven’t seen a movie this tonally confused since The Wolfman. Is it a movie that is seriously trying to follow the consequences of a life of violence. Mickey Rourke’s monologue about The horrors of war, made hilarious by Sylvester Stallone’s baffled reaction shots certainly seems to think so. Is it a fun gore cartoon ultimate action movie? If it is it sure plays it close to its chest.

The Expendables is at the end of the day just another film that hedges its bets. It wants to have its cake and eat it too in almost every element. It won’t commit either to over the top spectacle or serious Peckinpah style last stand. It wants to be a team movie but it doesn’t feature a team. It features one of the most insulting final scenes I’ve ever seen in a film. It is a movie called The Expendables in which no one dies.

On the plus side my friends and I will now occasionally turn to each other and gravely intone “It is good to hang pirates.”

So it has that going for it.
.

7 comments:

Anthony Rogers said...

What? Plenty of people die in the Expendables...just not on the team. Whatever.

I'm honestly more worried that you seem to be complaining that Jason Statham And Sylvester Stallone fucking around is a bad thing. Yes, WORRIED.

First Blood Part II is fun for what it is, though. I should really rewatch that.

Bryce Wilson said...

Yes none of the people called Expendable died.

That's like calling a movie The Killers, and then having them maim for two hours.

Statham and Stallone fucking about is not bad in and of itself, but the movie wasn't billed as a buddy movie, it was billed as a team movie and those are two different formats.

Chris David Richards said...

Even their friend that turned bad and had a fight with Jet Li turned up at the end, all buddies again. Despite being bad AND dead.

Gore-Gore Girl said...

"There’s a good ten minutes of straight torture that would make Mel Gibson roll his eyes."

Yes...

"There is Rambo shooting wave after wave of a seemingly inexhaustible supply of baddies."

Yes!

"There are exploding arrows shot into torsos and large pieces of machinery."

Yes indeed!

"There is speechifying. Oh lordy there is speechifying. And Stallone gets to deliver his trademark fuming “I Hate You So Bad. I’m Going To Kill You So Hard!” Glare whilst hyperventilating."

Exactly!! I fucking love this movie and all its homoerotic glory. Wunderbar! But you forgot the awesome "What mean expendable?" scene. Holy cringe! Amazing!

P.S. Two things that made The Expendables not great: a) shaky cam and b) extreme close-ups of faces. :( (I liked it ok though).

Now go watch Avenging Angelo!

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Chris: That was really the moment where it hit home for me that the movie did not give a shit. And thus neither should I.

@ GG Girl: Thanks a million. As for Avenging Angelo, I'm afraid I don't get hazard pay ; )

The Film Connoisseur said...

I need to re-watch Rambo II, havent seen it since I was a kid. The first one is so solid, and surprisingly serious. You can tell the movie came out even before the character was turned into a comic book superhero. Still, I think I would enjoy seeing parts 2 and 3 back to back.

The new RAMBO was way more enjoyable then THE EXPENDABLES which was just okay in my book. I had fun with it, but it didnt blow me away.

Bryce Wilson said...

Well Rambo 3 is next on the docket.

We'll see how hindsight looks.