Thursday, January 26, 2012

Rated M for Managing Expectations

The upcoming sequel to "The Expendables" is one of the most highly anticipated releases of the year for action fans. Not only is the whole cast of the first movie expected to return, but they'll be joined by more action heavyweights of the 80s, including Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, who only had cameos in the first film, are expected to be more involved in on the action this time. However, rumors started circulating earlier this month that the film was probably going to be rated PG-13. Cue the wails and lamentations.

The most beloved 80s action franchise of yesteryear were mostly R-rated, like the "Rambo," "Lethal Weapon," "Die Hard," and "Terminator." However, in recent years they've fallen out of fashion with the studios, which prefer PG-13 films that can attract a larger audience. So the latest installments of "Terminator" and "Die Hard" were rated PG-13, bringing in the money, but also incurring much scorn from the series' fans. No R-rating meant less intense action sequences, less visceral violence, less profanity and sexuality. No one will argue that a PG-13 action film without this kind of content can't be as good as an R-rated one, but that isn't the point. R-ratings promise a different kind of moviegoing experience, and to go from an R-rating to a PG-13 rating can change the fundamental nature of a film.

The whole point of a film like "The Expendables," many would argue, is to see the kind of bloody, crazy, no-holds-barred fighting and shootouts that its headliners made famous in their heyday. Why make a "Die Hard" film where Bruce Willis can't deliver John McClane's most well-known catchphrase, or a "Terminator" where the evil cyborgs aren't turning every human who gets in their way into piles of bloody body parts? An R-rated action film operates much like a horror film. If the scares are too tame to give you a good jolt, then the movie hasn't really done its job, has it?

But honestly? I don't have a problem with "The Expendables 2" being a PG-13 movie. Please put down the pitchforks and let me explain. The first film was rated R, for "strong action and bloody violence throughout, and for some language," but none of the adult content really mattered to the effectiveness of the film. Most of the profanities were barely intelligible coming from the multi-national, thickly accented cast, and the action scenes was so over-the-top, it bordered on cartoonish. And to be honest, they were pretty tame for an R-rated film. It's easy to see why – many of the actors were seriously past their prime, and not in good enough shape to credibly be getting into these kinds of scraps anymore.

In "The Expendables 2," even more older action heroes will join the fray. I love them all, but Stallone and Schwarzenegger are in their sixties, and Chuck Norris is over seventy. How much carnage can we really expect from them? At what point will the usual larger-than-life action hero antics just look silly with sexagenarians? And not in a good way, like "RED." I think the movie is in danger of becoming a parody of itself if it plays the scenario too straight. The last one came pretty close to the edge a few times, and only really got away with as much as it did because it left most of the real fighting to the youngsters in the cast – Jet Li and Jason Statham.

What made the "The Expendables" noteworthy, in spite of all its flaws, was providing a chance for us to see the amazing cast come together, to give familiar faces like Dolph Lundgren a chance to appear onscreen again. Nostalgia, as much as anything, was what made that movie work. I expect the same thing will hold true for the sequel. I mean, if people went to see "The Expendables" for really envelope-pushing, hardcore action sequences, they probably came away disappointed.

So I'm not ready to write the film off yet, just because it's not going to be what fans had envisioned. I, for one, actually liked the PG-13 "Terminator" and "Die Hard" movies. They weren't great, but they were fun for what they were. "The Expendables 2" is not going to be an orgiastic wallow of guts and glory, but you know what? It's still going to have Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Bruce Willis joining forces against the evil legions of Jean-Claude Van Damme. I wouldn't miss it for the world.

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