The Expendables 2 is a loud, violent, brutal, bloody piece of bombast, and I loved every minute of it. Having been a child of the 80s, I grew up on the action films of the various stars of this movie, namely Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger (my personal favorite) and Jean Claude Van Damme. So imagine my excitement when the original Expendables came out, boasting a number of the biggest action stars in one movie. But that one dissolved into the Stallone-Statham show, pushing many of the other Expendables to the back burner and only giving us a brief Arnie-Sly-Bruce Willis conversation.
Expendables 2, however, like most sequels, give us more. More action, more violence, more Arnie & Bruce, and even more action stars! Joining the previously mentioned big three are of course Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Randy Couture, Terry Crews and newbies to the franchise Van Damme, Liam Hemsworth, Yu Nan and Chuck freakin’ Norris. Unlike some sequels though, this time more is definitely better.
The plot revolves around Sly’s team being sent by Willis’ Mr. Church to retrieve a device that contains a blueprint of a mine where the Soviets used to store five tons of weapons grade plutonium. Yeah, don’t let that little bit of information dissuade you. It merely serves as a maguffin to get the REAL plot underway: revenge. During the retrieval mission, one of the Expendables is killed (it’s not hard to figure out who, but I won’t spoil it here) by the bad guys, prompting Sly to lead his team to “track ‘em, find ‘em, kill ‘em.”
Jean Claude Van Damme plays the aptly named Jean Vilain (pronounced Vil-ON), but isn’t really given much to do. While he does play the bad guy really well, most of the work is given to his right hand man, Hector, played by British actor Scott Adkins. Arnold, no longer tied down by his role as Governator of Cal-ee-for-nee-ah, shows up for more than a brief cameo, getting to take part in the big action set piece at the end (probably as a warm up to his first starring role in over a decade, next year’s The Last Stand). Dolph Lundgren provides most of the comic relief, and there’s even a nod to his real life status as a “genius.” (Lundgren went to M.I.T. and has a master’s degree in chemical engineering). My only real complaint is Jet Li departs at the end of the first act and never returns. (Semi-spoiler alert: no, he’s not the murdered teammate). My hope is he’ll be back in Expendables 3.
Simon West takes over on directing duties, and it’s a big reason why this movie kicks so much ass. Not having his mind split between acting and directing allows Sylvester Stallone to focus purely on playing Expendables leader Barney Ross. West, meanwhile, as he did in the equally awesome yet preposterous Con Air, guides the movie with his over the top (but not so far over the top into Michael Bay territory) penchant for balls to the wall explosions, lots of gun fire and just the right amount of ridiculousness. I like that the action wasn’t filmed with the handheld, nausea inducing what-the-hell-am-I-seeing confusion camera work of the Bourne flicks. You could actually see who was fighting who, who gets their head blown off (yup, there are a few) and who lands what punch/kick. The final confrontation between Stallone and Van Damme could’ve been a little bit longer in my opinion, but it was still enjoyable to see them face off for the first time ever.
While the first Expendables tended to be too serious, this one is definitely more tongue-in-cheek, wink at the camera. There are plenty of one liners, a couple of groaners (after one poor sap is shot a gazillion times by pretty much every one of the Expendables at once, Stallone wits “Rest in pieces!” But for the most part, the humor is perfect. One scene in particular features Arnie and Willis riffing on each other using the other’s catchphrase. Arnold even gets in his usual “I’ll be back!”
The Expendables 2 isn’t bound to challenge for Best Picture at the Oscars, and nor is it intended to. This isn’t Shakespeare, people, though I do hear Jason Statham does a pretty mean Tybalt. What it is, is an awesome, non-stop, throwback to the great actioners of the 80s and a fitting (unofficial) end to the summer movie season.