Thursday 23 August 2012

Review: The Expendables 2

When I returned from seeing this film my sister asked me "what is The Expendables 2 actually about? The trailer just has their names in it" - my response: "hmm, what is it about? Well The Expendables 2 is about an hour and forty minutes..."

All joking aside that's actually an interesting question though, because let's face it this isn't a film that is going to be focussing entirely on the plot side of things; this gives me a bit of a problem however as this is the part of the review where I usually explain the film's plot! Ah, so what can I do? I don't know actually, so I'll let you choose instead, here are your three quote-unquote 'plot' options:
  1. The Expendables 2. Stallone. Statham. Li. Lundgren. Norris. Crews. Couture. Hemsworth. Van Damme. Willis. Schwarzenegger. (As the adverts show, this is the marketing department's idea of a plot).
  2. BANG. BOOM. Arnold Schwarzenegger Cameo. EXPLOSION. SHOOTING. Attempt at emotional moment. STABBING. MORE EXPLODING. Bruce Willis cameo. MORE BOOMS. MORE BANGS. Chuck Norris cameo. MORE SHOOTING. MORE STABBING... (Repeat for 103 minutes).
  3. To quote the film; Jason Statham: "What's the plan?" Sylvester Stallone: "Track 'em, find 'em, kill 'em."
So there are your options, I quite like the third but I'll let you take your pick. It really doesn't matter which one you choose though, they all do the job and at the end of the day the film's not really memorable enough for whichever plot you choose to last in your memory outside of the film's duration anyway...

The Expendables have assembled a team of all abilities - except screenwriting apparently...

It's a shame that I didn't enjoy The Expendables 2 that much as I really wanted to after actually somewhat enjoying the original. Sure it wasn't perfect, and it was a pretty poor film on all technical levels, but it had its tongue placed firmly in its cheek which made it a perfectly fun one-off piece of fluff that ended up being slightly more than the exciting cast list that we all anticipated - an homage of sorts to the classic 80's action films and their macho-men stars, not unlike what The Cabin in the Woods does for the horror genre. It was fun and had a lot of laughs with its banterous dialogue, and with the collection of actors that it brought together it made for a special one-off treat. However by returning for a sequel, the one-off special quality has worn off, with a film that doesn't seem to be able to get it right again. The Expendables 2 feels lumbered for the majority of its running time; it takes itself too seriously, and when it doesn't it feels forced either by going too far over the top, or by just not being funny enough - thanks to the poor script and the feeling that it's trying too hard. Perhaps worst of all, the action isn't really as amazing as you'd want it to be either, and it's all because of that one threat that no Expendables style group will ever be able to defeat: the evil duo of characters and plot!

I've already established that there really is not much of a plot. At all. The extent of it is that the bad guys are after some weapons grade plutonium (unfortunately not in order to power their modified DeLorean Back to the Future, or perhaps even back to their 80's glory days...), and that's about it. But everyone knows that going into the film, and if you're going to see this film you'll have accepted that fact before you've bought your ticket. You may argue that this is part of the point by staying true to a lot of the mindless action films that inspired it, but this time with no plot the film ends up falling apart, relying upon its characters and action to hold it together. The problem is we don't really care for the characters who are never really established or developed and become poorly written two-dimensional character stereotypes of their own acting persona's (the film even goes as far as to name Jean-Claude Van Damme's villain character 'Vilain' - that just says it all!). Alongside this the film tries to fit in too many of these characters for you to keep track of most of them, and as a result a lot of the characters just briefly appear and then disappear for large chunks of or all of the film, reappearing when the moment is right (a.k.a. when the rest of the cast are stuck in an impossible situation and the writers need the convenience of a quick exit). This prevents the film from actually feeling like a film; instead it feels like a cast of action stars having a reunion party (Stallone's character even says to cameoing Norris "well thanks for showing up" at one point, evoking a feeling of a film made by numbers), which in result hinders the impact of any laughs and the peril of any action scenes and the whole film just collapses into a big mess of misdirected moments that you just don't care about and can't get involved in. This all meant that for the majority of the film I just felt bored and uninterested, thinking about some of the other great films that the cast had made in the past. The first film was so bad that it was actually good; this sequel is so bad that it's just plain bad.

A handful of cameos turn up to save the day... and the film!

However to the film's credit it does manage to pick itself up for the final twenty minutes or so when the large finale action set-piece takes place. During the closing scenes of The Expendables 2 it all somehow seems to come together to form the exploitation throwback film that you wanted to see in the first place, just like the first one did. I obviously won't say what happens but the final events of the film provide some lasting moments which successfully balance the action and comedy just right, making up for the rest of the film in a small way by giving the overall film a big moment of redemption right at the end. It is worth seeing the last twenty minutes or so for this, and in fact you actually could just watch the last twenty minutes alone without the rest of the film and have a good time with full understanding (as if there is anything to understand!); the problem occurs when you have to endure the rest of the film first. To the sequel's strength as well it does make a better use of its cameos this time around with Schwarzenegger and Willis actually getting involved in some of the action rather than just turning up to say hi like in the original, and Norris' moments providing some laughs too, with these three characters being a highlight in a rather dull film. It's just a shame that at the same time the film sacrifices Mickey Rourke's character who formed the heart and soul of the first film, but fails to return for the sequel.

As good ol' Arny Schwarz says with one of his overly clichéd yet enjoyably cheesy lines "I'm back," The Expendables explode back onto the screen following on from its successfully fun and tongue in cheek original, however it's unfortunate that aside for the last twenty minutes or so I kinda wish they weren't "back!" Whilst the original had a sort of charm in its throwback to the 80's exploitation action romps that made most of the ageing cast stars, this sequel loses the enjoyment factor by trying a little too hard to be a bit more serious and at times too humorous. With its poorly written script (whether intentional or not), underdeveloped characters and plot-less series of action The Expendables 2 ends up feeling forced, lumbered, tedious and boring for the majority of its run time. Some might argue that that's all kinda the point, but at the end of the day by taking its tongue out of its cheek The Expendables 2 ends up being a very dull affair for the most part. "My shoe is bigger than this car" is one of the better lines from one of the better scenes, it's just a shame that the film overall has incidentally gotten a bit too big for its boot...

(By the way, the fun 80's throwback trailer embedded below is worth a watch as it is better than most of the film itself and what you'd have wanted it to actually be. Plus it's free!)

Verdict: 2/5

The Expendables 2 (certificate 15) is now showing in cinemas across the UK.

Have you seen The Expendables 2? Agree or disagree with my review? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Thursday 2 August 2012

Review: Ted

I'd like to say that Ted left me in more stitches than Ted himself is made of, but not unlike the above poster; that'd be taking the pee...

"Now if there's one thing you can be sure of, it's that nothing is more powerful than a young boy's wish" opens the narrator (Patrick Stewart), before continuing; "...except an Apache helicopter. An Apache helicopter has machine guns AND missiles. It is an unbelievably impressive complement of weaponry, an absolute death machine." Setting the tone for the film, the young boy he refers to is John Bennett (Bretton Manley) who makes a Christmas wish that his best friend Teddy the teddy bear could be alive. And sure enough in that traditional clichéd Christmas miracle style he does. Years pass and both John (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted (Seth MacFarlane) grow up, but the toils of Ted's celebrity status have taken their toll on him and they now live their drink and drug lifestyles as grown adults. However problems arise when John's girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) has enough of John letting her down as a result of Ted's wild antics, testing their relationship to the limits...

Now I know I'm going to be going against the majority of my peers and demographic here and seriously putting all of my street-cred on the line when I say this, so here goes: I didn't think Ted was that good. There I said it! I know I risk getting a lot of stick for this, and believe me I already have, but hear me out and I'll explain to you why for me at least Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane put the 'Ted' into 'Disappointed,' 'Tedious' and 'Wanted & Expected More'...

Ted and John misbehave in the park (no not like that, but the film isn't beyond that sort of humour of course!)

Seth MacFarlane is best known for making the hit animated TV series Family Guy. You'd think that this unique style of humour would be the saving grace for this film, and something that would hopefully set it apart from most other generic Hollywood comedies today, but in fact that's the reason the film doesn't work. With an episode of Family Guy, each lasting around about 20 minutes long, the show is mostly just a format for jokes and random pop-culture tangents (if you search for clips on YouTube most of them are only 5 to 10 seconds long as the episodes are essentially focused on being a string of jokes), with a minor plot merely being the backbone upon which the jokes can be placed upon - and that works because it's only 20 minute long. This same formula has been transferred to the big screen for Ted, except Ted isn't 20 minutes long, it's just short of 2 hours. By stretching out the running time and transferring it to a live action film the jokes cannot be as random, nor can they be as often either as the film would look more like 2 hours of random clips making an almost You've Been Framed style montage of gags with no sign of any direction. Unfortunately for Ted this exposes the very weak plot of the film, which is essentially a poor, overly clichéd and done to death rom-com formula which is completely predictable from the very start.

But surely that's alright though isn't it, because as we know from the likes of Family Guy the plot is just the backbone for the jokes to be placed on top of!? Unfortunately not, the plot of the story is key unfortunately folks - it's film 101. Looking past the weak plot though, are the jokes even all up to that anyway? Well I'll admit a handful of them were actually very funny, and I did have a good laugh at some of the gags throughout the film. What I do like is MacFarlane's style (particularly the use of Family Guy like music), the clear love for cinema that he himself has (with a number of brilliant references to cult film classics such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, E.T, and the biggest of all Flash Gordon which has a particularly large influence), and a couple of surprise cameos that pop up along the way too. Mark Wahlberg also does a good job in the lead role, but I did ultimately feel that he was limited by the film and can perform a lot better.

Ted, John and Lori decide to eat out (the bear would make a dirty joke about that caption, I'll refrain from doing so...)

Yet whilst Ted has its moments and good laughs, most of the jokes aren't anything particularly special. Between each of the bigger gags there almost seems to be a bit of a lull where smaller gags bubble up before bursting into a bigger moment (it is no coincidence that it is often here where the weakness of the plot is revealed, and the audience gets a lot quieter as the hysterics drop). A lot of these are okay and do their job of filling the gaps as the smaller jokes of the film, but a lot more of them end up being below average and do become quite tedious. It's at its lowest points were the film opts for 'jokes' that rely upon using swear words, insults, and extremities in order to give the appearance of them being funny. This is the laziest form of writing for comedy and happens far too much in films today; it's the ideology that if a normal sentence isn't funny, then placing a swear word into that sentence instantly makes it funny. There is nothing particularly exceptional or overly memorable about this and it ultimately leads to a lot of the film being entirely forgettable.

Even a lot of the jokes that do work aren't as stand out or as original as you'd expect from the film or MacFarlane either. One of the film's better series of gags comes from the narrator's voice over, which whilst being witty is essentially the same as that of the voice over in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a film that was released nearly 10 years ago (the quote that I used at the start is the perfect example of this). The premise of the film, and the main gag itself which is of course the adult and inappropriate teddy bear is also an idea that has been done before, albeit not on the big screen, but in the video game Naughty Bear (in which you play as a serial killing teddy bear). Speaking of which, this main premise - the 2 hour joke of Ted the swear bear (as I like to call him - there's a joke opportunity missed MacFarlane!) - is one that you can ultimately see from the trailer alone, and not unlike a segment that you'd find in an episode of Family Guy incidentally (which as I established earlier would only last for about 5 to 10 seconds). Unfortunately alongside this some of the film's best jokes are also used in the trailer, and are therefore unsurprising and unfunny when seen in the film; one in particular in fact caused the guy sitting next to me to turn to his mate and say "oh this bit's good", only for the majority of the fully booked screen to then remain silent without as much as a chuckle for the whole segment (spoiler alert: this scene does feature in the trailer below...)

There were three in the bed and the little one said - well, I won't say what the little one said, I do try to keep this blog clean ya know...

I know I'll be fighting against the majority here, and I'm sure that most people who go to see Ted will say that they enjoyed it. This is a Family Guy film made and marketed for the Family Guy fans, with creator of both Seth MacFarlane re-using the same style, structure, brand of humour and most of the cast from the popular animated TV show. Unfortunately the same structure doesn't work when stretched out for the big screen, and the handful of good gags aren't enough to make up for the disappointment that comes from the poor plot and the majority of sub-standard jokes. The majority of the film is ultimately forgettable, and for anyone who's already seen the film, stop and think; just how many of the jokes are actually memorable enough to recall now? Ted is a fairly interesting premise, but one that fails to outlive anything much more than the trailer.

(Please be aware that the trailer below is not safe for work and is inappropriate for anyone under the age of 15...)

Verdict: 2/5

Ted is now showing in cinemas across the UK.

Have you met Ted!? Agree or Disagree with my review? Leave your comments below!