Sylvester Stallone adapts a vehicle for his Expendables co-star Jason Statham as a strangely accented former DEA agent and single father who unwittingly runs afoul of locals in small town Louisiana. The eclectic cast includes Kate Bosworth as a nasty resident, James Franco as a drug dealer, and Winona Ryder as his ex-girlfriend. It’s very standard action-thriller stuff, but basically delivers on its premise, giving Statham a chance to kick some ass and Franco to add another unpredictable credit, and character to his résumé.
300: Rise of an Empire
300 wasn’t a film that leant itself easily to a sequel, which may explain why it’s taken so long for a follow-up to that surprise smash to appear. Somehow, Rise of an Empire manages to take place before, during, and after the events of 300. The timeline, and coherency in general are hardly the primary concerns of new director Noam Murro (Zach Snyder stays on as screenwriter and producer), who puts his efforts into the heightened visuals and battle scenes. Maybe I’ve just been worn down by too many bloodless PG-13 action movies in recent years but it was quite fun to see the excessiveness of the violence on display here, with huge, clearly CGI blood spraying everywhere upon the frequent slayings as Murro puts on the slo-mo for maximum effect. The film has a nominal lead in the super-bland Sullivan Stapleton but it’s only Eva Green who manages to inject some spark into the film as Artemisia.
I’d heard about some controversy Peter Berg’s fact based war drama drew for taking liberties with its source material and being overly jingoistic before getting a chance to see it. It apparently played very well with right-wing audiences in the US and while it’s certainly very pro-USA, it’s not obviously more so than some other war films I’ve seen. I didn’t find much to object to politically but just found this story of a failed Navy SEAL operation in Afghanistan rather boring. The action was mediocre, and there was little tension to be found in the dangerous situations (perhaps aided by the title giving away the plot). I do think it’s noteworthy for a war film to be well received by those who actually took part in the war in question, as Lone Survivor generally appeared to be, but I found it lacking in both excitement and power.
The Raid 2
Welsh director Gareth Evans impressed a great deal of people with Indonesian action fest The Raid two years ago. That film featured astonishing sequences of balls-to-the-wall action, but honestly didn’t have a great deal of plot or characterisation. Evans seeks to restore that balance with the sequel, which is just as reminiscent of Scorsese as it is John Woo. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the ideas for this film actually predated the original Raid, but Evans was unable to secure funding and opted for the smaller project first. The Raid 2 is a sequel that I found considerably more impressive than the original; it boasts a story examining the criminal underworld of Jakata, as Rama is sent undercover in prison to befriend a gang leader’s volatile son. There’s so much plot this time around that it actually is a bit tough to take it all in in one viewing, and I’m keen to see this again soon. It’s a crime epic that mostly justifies its 2-and-a-half hour running time, if it’s a little bit indulgent in places. Crammed with iconic imagery, Evans has upped his game in every aspect here, including of course, the action sequences. He crafts several breath-taking fight scenes, employing masterful camera work, including a few moving long shots that I’m at a loss as to how he achieved. That Evans is able to create better action scenes than most blockbusters using about 2% of their budget is not something to be ignored. It’s brutal, but not exhausting, and confirms Evans as one of the most exciting filmmakers to have emerged in recent years.