Wes Anderson may be the currently working director least suited to using 3D. His scenes are often flat tableaux with his characters spread out laterally across the screen. If he was telling the story of Moonrise Kingdom 1,000 years ago it would be a tapestry, like Bayeux, and I think he’d probably be OK with that.
That visual style suited the puppetry of the delightful Fantastic Mr Fox but this new film populates the flat, theatrical, planes with living, breathing human actors – not just actors, movie stars (including Bruce Willis and Ed Norton).
The story is also pure Anderson – outsiders finding their own path in the face of the disapproval or simple incomprehension of others. Our old-before-his-time hero for this film is Eagle Scout Sam Shukowsky (Jared Gilman): orphan and outcast, watercolourist and pipe smoker.
The time is 1965 and the place is an island off the coast of New England. Shukowsky has fallen in love beautiful young malcontent, Suzy (Kara Hayward) whose parents just don’t understand. They make a pact to meet in the middle of the island to start an idealistic – and, frankly impossible to maintain – new life.
The two disappearances spark a “scout-and-girl” hunt led by the island’s only police (Willis) and the naïve but dedicated scout master Norton. This is twee Anderson, witty, warm and endearing (if you are me) or glib and annoying (if you are one of the people who didn’t like, say, The Royal Tenenbaums). Despite it’s daffiness there’s a real warmth to the kids’ relationship and the supporting cast are either reliably aligned to type (Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton) or satisfyingly against (Willis).
Talking of Willis, he plays a mocking version of his wisecracking tough guy persona in The Expendables 2, a rapidly deployed follow-up to Sly Stallone’s surprisingly effective hit from 2010. In fact, everyone involved is deliciously pricking their personas: Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Van Damme and Norris all send themselves up good and proper in a film that – directed by Con-Air’s Simon West rather than Stallone himself – is better shot than it has a right to be although there’s too much digital blood for my liking.
Our team of ageing mercenaries have been called into action one more time – to rescue the contents of a crashed safe somewhere in Albania, the contents of which hold the key to global nuclear non-proliferation. Standing in their way is Jean-Claude Van Damme and his array of idiosyncratic line readings. The scene is set for a tumultuous climax when Balkan rivers will run black with hair dye and our 80s megastars will swap catch-phrases with a nod and a wink.
This edition of The Expendables is tighter and more entertaining than the original, still perfect fodder for those of us who remember when action movies had campy wit as well as explosions, when shots were held for more than a fraction of a second and the camera – for the most part – stayed tied down. Be prepared for a third edition which I think should be called The Expendables 3: Botox Squad.
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 5 September, 2012.