Director: Simon West
Writers: Richard Wenk, Sylvester Stallone
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis
Release date: August 17th, 2012
Running time: 103 minutes
Best part: The action sequences.
Worst part: The comedic moments.
Strapping on the pistols, knives and corny dialogue once again, The Expendables 2 loudly expresses that the revered elements of 80s action cinema are still valuable. Despite this series already feeling the pinch of a discerning modern audience, this instalment is a clear step above its underwhelming yet still enjoyable predecessor.
The super group known as ‘The Expendables’ has survived the deadliest assignments in the harshest environments on the planet. But after one of their own – Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) – is killed on the job, the team must stop the dastardly plans of Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), a terrorist hell-bent on world control. Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), under the orders of a higher CIA power (Church (Bruce Willis)), must overcome his emotional restraints, gather his muscle-bound friends – rounded out by knife specialist Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), martial artist Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Hail Caesar (Terry Crews), and Toll Road (Randy Couture) – and save the world yet again. Along the way, the Expendables are joined by alluring, tech-savvy security expert Maggie (Yu Nan), spec-ops badass/troublesome loner Booker (Chuck Norris), and Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger).
Carrying over many problems from the original, we still spend little time on anything more than the team’s killer attributes. Stallone and the gang are simply cyphers of their most famous characters, asking a lot of an audience who might be unaware of their previous work. Despite being built around the most obvious action film cliches, it provides a clever spark of confidence with the advantages of its A-list cast and glowing sense of nostalgia. Simon West, a director with prior experience in the genre with Con Air and The Mechanic remake, pulls back and allows guns, martial arts and weird accents do the talking. The team of both old and new action greats is expanded from the original with satisfying results. Side by side through every gun shot, explosion and catch phrase, the muscle-bound elephant in the room fades away as the ensemble evolves into an enjoyably chummy group of friends. The dialogue unfortunately falls into failed sitcom delivery with the regular use of petty insults, references and one liners drowned in a cheesy fondue. Despite this, the wink and nudge style illustrates the worth of these great actors. Here they pay homage not only to each other, but all forms of influential and violent genre cinema with its modernised Magnificent Seven narrative.
“Why is it that one of us who wants to live the most, who deserves to live the most dies, and the ones that deserve to die keep on living? What’s the message in that?” (Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), The Expendables 2).
Despite problems as glaring as the veins covering Stallone’s triceps, it’s still one of the most likeable action flicks of the year. Unlike many of 2012’s spineless action extravaganzas including Battleship and Total Recall, The Expendables 2 delivers on its most promising of opportunities. The chemistry between this dynamic ensemble of iron clad heroes delivers the energy needed for any entry in the ‘men on a mission’ sub-genre. Stallone and Jason Statham provide the most charisma as team leaders, with Stallone using his emotional range seen in films such as Rocky and Copland. Yu Nan is charming as the crew’s token female, while Dolph Lundgren, the always hysterical Terry Crews and UFC fighter Randy Couture are enjoyably silly yet underused as the bickering comic reliefs. Everyone provides a satisfying payoff in the film’s many jaw-dropping and bloodthirsty action set pieces. With the likes of Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris and Schwarzenegger partnered with the violence and stylish choreography of the most popular and exploitative action flicks of their day, The confusing, quick cut style of the original is thrown out for the greater good.
If Norris making a Chuck Norris joke or Jet Li hitting villainous soldiers with pots and pans sounds cool to you, then The Expendables 2 is a real treat. Increasing the action, charm and cheesiness of the original, this reunion of seasoned action heroes is a flawed yet enlightening homage to an immortal genre.