Stallone Reunites His Geriatric Action All-Stars for Goofy Expendables 2
There’s no point in going into great detail about The Expendables 2. If you buy a ticket, then by golly you more than likely know exactly what it is you are in for. Big, loud, obnoxious, cliché, nonsensical, melodramatic and happily stupid, this sequel to the nearly unwatchable 2010 first film is everything that one was not, and whether that’s a good thing is obviously in the eye of the beholder.
Seriously, though, if one was expecting some sort of trailblazing action extravaganza that would do for the muscle-bound machine gun-filled brawny B-movie aesthetic what Christopher Nolan did for the comic book film they have another thing coming. But I seriously doubt anyone was expecting that. They’re anticipating short snippets of snappy dialogue intermixed with crazy stunts, some blood and guts, knowing sarcastic winks to the audience and levels of 1980s-style ultraviolence many of its aging stars were once upon a time best known for.
Sylvester Stallone returns as Barney Ross, the leader of a ragtag group of mercenaries all of whom carry self-describing monikers like Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunner (Dolph Lundren), Hail Caesar (Terry Crews), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth). The unit’s second-in-command is Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), while CIA mystery man Church (Bruce Willis) is back pulling the strings while fellow mercenary Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) pops in to save the day just so a certain well-known catch phrase can be modified to explosively announce his presence.
As for plot, like the “classics” of the Golan-Globus days of yore there honestly isn’t much of one. There’s a central conceit regarding a nefarious villain known as, wait for it, Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), who is trying to steal lost Russian nuclear material. There’s also a subplot involving the murder of one of the group’s members leaving the remaining mercenaries aching for revenge. But that’s all nothing more than a cheeky red herring allowing for tons of automatic weapons fire, bad puns and even worse one-liners. The whole enterprise is a testosterone-fueled wank-fest, the film nothing more than an excuse for Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, Van Damme and the rest of the cast to revel in their R-rated glory days.
Unlike the original, some of this can be a lot of fun. The script doesn’t try to take itself seriously, reveling in cliché while throwing in various bits of homage to everything from The Seven Samurai, to the Rambo films, to The Delta Force, to Die Hard and to The Terminator. Stallone gets to banter with a female costar probably 40 years his junior (Nan Yu), Willis and Schwarzenegger get to exchange catchphrases, Chuck Norris pops up to poke fun at his own ‘do anything’ celebrity persona and Van Damme gets to unleash a few of his patented flying kicks to the head.
Is there a point to any of it? No. Is it entertaining? Sometimes, but not consistently so. Does that matter all that much? Probably not. As I’ve already stated, anyone buying a ticket likely already knows whether or not this sort of thing is their action drug of choice before the fork over the cash at the box office. A viewer gets exactly what is advertised, nothing more, and certainly nothing less, and anyone walking out feeling like they’d been duped only has themselves to blame.
Personally, while I loathed the first The Expendables this sequel didn’t come close to getting the same sort of rise out of me. Van Damme is having a blast filling the requirements of this particular embodiment of one-dimensional villainy, while new director Simon West (Con Air), taking over from Stallone, gives the actions scenes an extra sort of punch that wasn’t there the first time. A pair of final fights between Statham and Scott Adkins and Stallone and Van Damme are close to perfect, and while the outcome of neither bout is ever in doubt they still got my adrenaline pumping all the same.
The Expendables 2 isn’t a good movie, and I can’t say even with the stuff I found somewhat amusing I’d even go so far as to consider it a guilty pleasure (if I even believed in the concept of a “guilty pleasure”). But for what it is, for what it’s trying to do, I can’t say the sequel doesn’t succeed, making the inevitable third chapter in this series a virtual foregone conclusion.
Film Rating: 2½ (out of 4)