A collective of mature action superstars returns to the well for another ride in the barefacedly fun The Expendables 2. This is the sequel to the 2010 original and is one hell of an action ride for classic fans of the genre, eschewing the unearthly hero stuff in favour of good old-fashioned bullets, knives and beefy fights.
Just like with The Expendables, this actioner excels largely because of Sylvester Stallone knack for penning a damn good screenplay. He wrote this one with Richard Wenk and tapped Simon West to direct, drawing on the Con Air filmmaker’s ability to swirl around large-scale set pieces to pull this enormous set of explosions, fights and fun into place.
Stallone is Barney Ross, the leader of the mercenary group called Expendables. The team is deployed to Nepal to rescue a hostage, but they run into Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and renew old rivalries. After the conclusion of the Nepal mission, Barney is greeted with the retirement of Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth). The young sniper wants out of “the life,” but promises to finish out the month.
Unfortunately, that month turns out to be hellish and the Expendables soon find themselves chasing down the villainous Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his evil goat/Satan/sunglasses-worshipping Sangs. The Sangs are after refined plutonium in order to sell it, but the Expendables are after Vilain and Co. for more personal reasons.
The Expendables 2 features a slew of action stars and it is a royal treat to watch Stallone and Van Damme tangle. The Muscles from Brussels kicks all kinds of ass, for lack of better terminology, and the final showdown is worth the money. Van Damme is a terrifically devious villain, too, and his off-kilter swagger creates a multi-dimensional character out of Vilain despite limited screen time.
The cast also includes such luminaries as Bruce Willis, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Scott Adkins, Terry Crews, Chuck Norris, and Randy Couture. Li only appears in the opening sequence thanks to some scheduling conflicts, but Chinese actress Yu Nan appears as a sort of love interest/Expendable. She does a game enough job responding to Stallone’s outdated concepts of gender.
The Expendables 2 is a gleeful throwback to what might seem like a simpler time in action movies. Men were men and women were women, generally incapable of shooting straight unless they have special training somewhere. This is mostly a movie for Alpha males, though, and it is unapologetic in that regard.
It is that spirit of unconcealed energy that makes this a worthwhile event. The violence is big, bold and bloody and the action pieces are over-the-top. The one-liners come like punches to the gut, with tons of inside jokes and self-effacing jabs filling the air. A real slice of fun comes when Willis and Schwarzenegger trade hooks.
In effect, The Expendables 2 is even bigger and bolder than the original. It’s a scandalous steak of a film, one that revels in international flavour and splendid fight scenes without touting any sort of rah-rah resolve or xenophobic hogwash. In a world of self-pitying, hokey “action” movies, West’s picture is a patently pleasurable treat.