THE EXPENDABLES 2 Review

In my review of the first Expendables film I ended it by saying that the film was nothing more than a good time and I imagine that is all Sylvester Stallone really desired for his audience to have. That he did a fine job at achieving that goal and that I couldn't wait for the sequel, quipping that maybe Jean-Claude Van Damme would show up next time. One can imagine my excitement when it was actually announced that the Muscles from Brussels would not only be showing up in The Expendables 2, but would be playing the bad guy. Perfect! It is easy to criticize these films for their lack of any kind of ambition outside of the bad 80's action flicks they intend to pay homage to, but that is their purpose and if you go in wanting or expecting anything more than that you will be sorely disappointed. If you know what to expect at all though I can't see how one could not thoroughly enjoy themselves as this sequel is everything the sequels of that action hey day aspired to be. Bigger, louder, and packed with even more action heroes with more bullets to hand out than you could ever imagine. While I looked forward to the first film for the reasons of seeing Stallone's old school style and ideals mix with someone leading the new school such as Jason Statham that excitement has passed and so to find something to actually look forward to and invest in with the sequel we find it to be the fact that there is an even bigger palette of action stars than the first one offered. We look to see the minor cameo roles of Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger expand to where these three titans of the genre stand together on the front lines. The last twenty minutes is worth the price of admission alone and to boot, this is so ridiculously entertaining you'll find your self surprised at how much you can't wait to see The Expendables 3.

From left: Maggie (Yu Nan), Caesar (Terry Crews), Barney
(Sylvester Stallone), Road (Randy Couture) and Gunner
(Dolph Lundgren) are the Expendables.
While story only matters so much in a movie like this, there is a surprising amount of attention paid to the details here. We open this time with a major action set piece, something I wanted from the first film that felt a little underwhelming. Barney Ross (Stallone) and his crew that includes Lee Christmas (Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and newcomer Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) bust through some poor little Nepal town where the old school mercenaries blow holes in everyone who gets in their way, busting down structures with their parade of tanks all in order to rescue a Chinese businessman for God knows what reasons. It is purely the set up to re-introduce us to the wide cast of characters while putting on display exactly how outlandish and graphic the violence of the film is going to be. Li's character is dismissed early as he escorts the businessman back to their hometown so we are treated to some nice bonding moments and a hint at a storyline that is never further explored that has Barney disliking Christmas's plans to move forward in his relationship after the cheating episode of part one. This is minor to the introduction of little Hemsworth though who is an expert sniper and slowly taking that place of Barney's right hand man from Christmas. That is, until Billy admits the life isn't for him. The thick of the plot begins when Willis's Church comes a callin' for the payback Barney and his boys owe him. Church sends them on a seemingly simple mission that asks them to take along female tech genius Maggie (Yu Nan) and retrieve an item from a safe on an airplane that crashed in Albania. The mission is completed quickly, but the victory is short lived as Jean Vilain (Van Damme) and yes, that's seriously his characters name, kidnaps one of the Expendables and demands the item from the plane. Barney is hesitant, but gives in while Vilain takes the life of his captive anyway. It is now personal, and you know they're going to make sure they get revenge.

Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Barney, and Church
(Bruce Willis) let loose on their enemies.
As far as summer blockbusters go, it will be hard to beat this one in terms of pure enjoyment. There is a sense of carelessness, of fun that goes along with the ride the film takes you on while still containing some nice attempts at genuine emotional moments as well as several hilarious bits, some of which are even intentional. In this aspect I think I may have laughed at The Expendables 2 more than any other comedy that came out in the past three or four months. There is a point in the film where the team is trapped, surrounded by members of Van Damme's gang known as the Sangs. Naturally, there is no way all of these guys can bite the bullet and so who else is there to come to the rescue but Chuck Norris? Literally every time Norris appears on screen as the lone wolf Booker I was smiling. It completely epitomizes the cheesiness of the series yet perfectly captures the tone that Stallone established in the first one and director Simon West carries over so well in this one. West is no stranger to big, giant action films as he's made a few successful ones of his own including Con Air, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, as well as working previously with Statham on The Mechanic. The director not only improves on the way in which they convey the intentional, almost satiric tone of the films but he also stages the action pieces with a more brutal force. Whereas under Stallone's direction there were clearly a few messy edits and sloppy action sequences built on great ideas that didn't transition as well to the screen as I would have hoped, they seem all the better choreographed here while still allowing each character a moment to shine. There is no shortage of action here though, and the whole thing is completely relentless in its goal to create an all-out, over the top action movie they just don't make anymore. If they were made more often The Expendable  films likely wouldn't have as much charm as they do, so the film ultimately benefits from being one of a kind in this day and age.

Bad guy Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) faces off against
Barney in the finale.
In my initial reaction to the first film I was so in love with the idea of the film and was satisfied enough with the final product that I gave it a rating of three and a half stars. That was my initial gut in what I would rate this film as well. Looking back I would probably take away the half star or maybe even a whole from the original. That speaks bad for the first film, but it means well for this second entry in the series as it shows the potential for what that first movie should have reached. Does it mean there isn't room for the third one to grow and be even better? Of course not, with this series there will seemingly always be room for improvement and they are far from perfect, but they serve their purpose as well as any Oscar bait drama. There is plenty of bad acting and horrible dialogue here, but Hemsworth lends the movie a bit of credibility while Van Damme is living it up, making what could have been a stale role this juicy experiment as this ridiculous villain who plays up every cliche of a foreign bad guy you could imagine. The final showdown between Van Damme and Stallone will elicit several cheers while the corny dialogue exchanges between Willis and Schwarzenegger in the heat of battle will have you rolling in the aisles. I can only imagine Stallone intended to have another successful franchise on his resume when he began to shape this idea of an orgy of action heroes rolled into one film together into an actual reality and he has delivered what he promised, only improving on the formula this time around. I really am excited about part three coming down the tube. I hear Eastwood may show up next time or we may even get a trip inside the Cage on top of what will no doubt already be the most bombastic chapter yet.