Sly Stallone and his merry band of grizzled ‘80s icons return for another round of fist fights, shoot outs, and explosions in The Expendables 2. I didn’t particularly care for the first movie in this franchise despite being a huge fan of the concept of that movie. The Expendables promised fantastically cheesy ‘80s action delivered by some of Hollywood’s greatest washed-up stars, but failed to deliver. The Expendables 2 finally delivers on that promise.
Liam Hemsworth, Nan Yu, Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger join in the mayhem this time around as the original crew of mercenaries seeks to stop an evil Jean-Claude Van Damme (hilariously named Jean Vilain) from dumping several tons of weapons-grade plutonium on the black market. This time around Stallone hands over directing duties to Simon West of Con Air fame, and the result is every bit as gloriously stupid as it sounds. The only problem with the action in The Expendables 2 is that there isn’t enough of it.
The movie starts off on a high note, opening on some camouflaged thugs as they torture a hooded prisoner in some Southeast Asian hellhole. Before the audience has an opportunity to process what’s happening, Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, and Randy Couture plow two gigantic armored trucks (sporting mounted cannons no less) into the middle of the prison, blasting away at everything in sight. Bullets fly, explosions flare, blood flows, and faceless guards are reduced to gory piles of meat. Jet Li beats the hell out of a dozen guys with his bare hands while Terry Crews mows down a small army with a comically oversized gun; Sylvester Stallone explodes a helicopter by driving a motorcycle into it.
The crew gets to the hooded prisoner, unveils him, and—holy shit!—it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger! They give him a gigantic goddamn gun, too, and then the gang kills another thousand grunts before escaping mortar-launching hovercrafts in a rusty, old cargo plane. The first ten minutes of The Expendables 2 is the movie I would have written when I was ten years old and still awesome as fuck.
Once the “story” gets underway the energy just sort of drains out of the production, but only temporarily. Just as he did in the first movie, Stallone devotes an ordinate amount of time to scenes where his characters sit around bonding. He wants to show that these weathered old men have hearts and that their job takes a heavy toll on them. In other movies, such scenes provide character development. In The Expendables 2, it’s just bullshit filler approximating character development. Watching Stallone, Lundgren, and Statham attempt to be morose and thoughtful is a little embarrassing. Action junkies don’t pay to see Stallone attempt act sad, they pay to see him put a steel-toed boot through an anonymous Eastern European’s face.
The new additions to the cast mostly gel with the exception of Liam Hemsworth. Despite his tall stature and muscle-bound physique, he’s really more of a proper actor than an action star. He’s a little too nuanced and a little too good at playing an actual veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s like someone dropped an actual soldier into a roomful of clichés. The energy Hemsworth brings to the production is just wrong for this sort of movie.
But just when I’m ready to start hating The Expendables 2, there’s Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Norris, and Willis, standing side by side, armed to the teeth, mowing down an airport terminal full of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s thugs. Then the movie is awesome again. When the yapping stops and the pyrotechnics start, the movie approaches a sort of action-cinema genius.
The action itself is top notch, Van Damme makes for a surprisingly effective villain, and every actor in the movie gets at least one scene where they get to do something insanely cool. In this era of watered down PG-13 remakes like Total Recall (2012), it’s still good to see these old dinosaurs coming together to make movies that remind the rest of us of when action movies were awesome.