Quick Review: ‘Expendables 2’ (dir. Simon West)

‘Expendables 2’, the “last blockbuster of the summer” as some advertisements have put it, was set to be the explosive and testosterone filled ending to this blockbuster season. Like its predecessor, it once again contains Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and Terry Crews; but with extended performances by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis who appeared briefly in the first film, as well as the addition of Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme. From the cast alone one would expect a lot of mayhem, death and one liners. Well I can assure you that it delivers on all fronts but I’m sad to report I still sit here feeling pretty unsatisfied with the final product.

The film starts off some time after the events of the first film, with our group of brawny mercenaries for hire doing what they do best, which is of course mowing down an army of rebel soldiers causing chaos in some village in the middle of nowhere. The only addition to the group is a young sniper with a few years in Afghanistan under his belt. This opening scene is one of the highlights of the film, and contains enough death and explosions to match that of the typical modern action flick.

When the mission is over they head back home to relax, well to drink and ride motorcycles which seems to be all they do on their off time, but this is cut short when an old ‘friend’ comes calling and orders them to go retrieve a package in the middle of some plane crash site in the mountains of Albania. They do, things don’t go as planned and the package is stolen by a ruthless group of ‘super rebels’ led by a man named Vilain (no I’m not joking, the films main villain is named Vilain), and in the process one of our ‘Expendables’ gets killed. Well this leads to someone swearing revenge, and they go off to crack some skulls, get their vengeance and while they’re at it possibly save the world.

If that all reads like something you’ve seen before it is because you have. Now you might be saying “well that isn’t necessarily a bad thing” and I agree, but the problem is that even if it isn’t meant to be Oscar worthy or original, even if those involved were looking to just produce an over the top action flick, you’d think at least something from it would stick out. You’d think when all was said and done it would not be so easily forgotten. Sadly, for me, that isn’t the case. Within an hour of leaving the theater I had already gotten over any post-viewing enthusiasm, and just felt rather empty about the whole experience. Sure there were some moments worth remembering, like Arnie ripping the door off of a smart car, but the action was just so devoid of any style or coherence, the story was so dull and predictable, and even the main cast of characters just seemed to be rehashing what they previously did in their first outing. Perhaps its biggest mistake was that for a film that seemed to be trying so hard to emulate all those great action films of the past, it did it so well that it doesn’t stand out enough to be anything “special”.Yeah, it has a pretty awesome cast but what was once a novelty for the first film now just felt like more of the same.

That isn’t to say it is bad because it isn’t. It does what it needs to do in terms of entertainment, it kicks a whole lot of ass and you’ll enjoy yourself while you watch it. I sure did. There  is enough action and laughs, along with great references, and an awesome performance by Jean-Claude Van Damme that warrants not only an initial viewings but revisits. I just hope that when the inevitable third film is made, that they do more than just throw in a bunch of action stars of yesteryear and maybe make an attempt to be a bit more creative, stylish and add just a tad bit of substance, which I would hope isn’t asking too much.

VGM Entry 20: The Great Giana Sisters

VGM Entry 20: The Great Giana Sisters
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)

A number of video games released in 1987 would go on to become major generation-spanning series. The Great Giana Sisters was not one of them. In fact, if was probably one of the worst ideas in gaming history. It was apparently developed for release on the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, and MSX2 all at the same time, with a ZX Spectrum version to shortly follow. It was intended to be Rainbow Arts’ major commercial rival to the smash hit Super Mario Bros. But what was it exactly?

Well, one version of the box art depicts an attractive, perky-breasted woman in a miniskirt flying through a bizarre montage of giant lobsters, magical mushrooms, UFOs, and deadly dragons guarding foreboding castles on grim, icy mountain peaks.

Another depicts two trailer trash meth addicts sporting peace signs and an “I’m Cool” nametag, along with the suggestive comment that “The brothers are history!” A bit contradictory? Well, look right here! Zzap!64 says it’s “the greatest platform game of all time”, so it must be true!

The music, too, might lead you to believe this. It was also one of the first soundtracks composed by the now legendary Chris Huelsbeck (more often spelled Hülsbeck, though the artist himself uses Anglicized adaptation. For the sake of consistency I’ll stick to the latter in the future). The game’s title screen theme is pretty intriguing, bearing a sense of foreboding that aptly reflects the degree of strife and diversity which at least some versions of the cover art promise to bring.

Are you excited? Or at least curious? Good or bad, all signs point to a game that will in the very least be extraordinarily unique. Well, let’s take a look at the gameplay. Brace yourselves.

Needless to say, they got their pants sued off and pulled every version of the game from the shelves within weeks of its release, never again to see the light of day until Nintendo, perhaps for pure comedy value, allowed publisher Destineer to release it on the DS last year.

Rainbow Arts was a German publisher, and perhaps copyright laws are different there, but one has to imagine that a good many staff members were flipping burgers after this brilliant idea. Chris Hülsbeck would not be among them. He would go on to compose for many Rainbow Arts games to come, including the highly acclaimed Turrican series for which he is best known.

But before we brush The Great Giana Sisters off, really, what is going on with the music here? The main gameplay song is quite catchy and appropriate, but the title screen and underground theme (see Stage 4 in the video, 3:24) have about as much in common with the game as the box art. It would be interesting to find out why he chose these songs in particular. Perhaps they were some unaffiliated demos he had lying around in a dusty desk drawer, or perhaps he took advantage of a terrible game to write what he wanted to with no concern for relativity.

Whatever the case, the staff at Rainbow Arts heard his work even if no consumers did, and his future game assignments seem to reflect his personal style, not the reverse. The title theme and Stage 4 of The Great Giana Sisters examplify precisely the sound he would become famous for.