“The Expendables 2” is the kind of dumb action movie fun we have come to expect from the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis among others famous in this particular genre. Clearly everyone involved in its making is simply out to give action fans what they want, and while there are no real surprises in store, it is still fun for those who just want to enjoy the R-rated carnage being inflicted onscreen without analyzing this sequel’s threadbare plot too much. It’s also nice to see a lot of these action movie icons come together in the same film, and it helps to make “The Expendables 2” more memorable than its predecessor.
This sequel opens like gangbusters as the Expendables blast their way through a village to rescue someone who looks rather familiar (I’ll leave it to you to find out who it is). Those who survived the first movie (or who proved to be nowhere as expendable as the film’s title suggested) are back, and seeing them lay waste to a foreign army made me wonder if these were the soldiers John Rambo never forgot to eviscerate in “Rambo.”
Afterwards, Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) is greeted by the secretive Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) who gives Ross a mission he is in no position to turn down; recover an electronic device that can help retrieve a dangerous substance that cannot fall into enemy hands. It later turns out that this substance is plutonium, and the gang is met by an especially villainous character appropriately named Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) who plans to sell it to the highest weapons making bidder. This leads to the Expendables losing one of its members in unforgivably cold-blooded fashion, and that ends up making this particular mission especially personal for them.
Stallone once again has the lead role and co-wrote the script, but he has turned the duties of director over to Englishman Simon West. Now West is responsible for “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” “The General’s Daughter” starring John Travolta, some remakes that vary in degrees of quality (“When A Stranger Calls” and “The Mechanic”), and perhaps the best Jerry Bruckheimer guilty pleasure to date – “Con Air.” While I have no problem defending Stallone as a director, having West take over proved to be a good move. The action scenes are more cohesive, the editing is not all over the place, and everything we see onscreen remains appropriately LOUD.
By the way, those who complain about how loud “The Expendables 2” is, just shut up. All the action movies released in summer 2012 are just as loud, so we should expect the increase in volume by now. Next time bring yourself some ear plugs if you want to preserve what’s left of your hearing!
Now Stallone and Schwarzenegger are definitely showing their age here (Schwarzenegger especially), but it’s great to see them still kicking ass even as they have long since become senior citizens. In an industry that continues to be increasingly youth-based, these veterans prove that the odds against them are more expendable than they are. Seeing Schwarzenegger handle a machine gun is especially fulfilling as he proves that he has not lost aim after getting caught up in the realm of politics for the last few years.
Jason Statham (who returns as knife expert Lee Christmas) almost looks like a kid next to the rest of the cast, Liam Hemsworth as former military sniper Billy the Kid practically resembles an infant next to Stallone which probably makes the majority of the cast feel jealous as a result, and Terry Crews still knows how to rock a nasty looking gun as weapons specialist Hale Caesar (nice name). Randy Couture returns as demolitions expert Toll Road, but he doesn’t get as much to do here. The same goes for Jet Li who plays combat expert Yin Yang who ends up disappearing from this sequel far sooner than we could have anticipated. As for Dolph Lundgren who reprises his character of the volatile Gunner Jensen, he actually grew on me a bit this time around.
There are some “new” cast members who team up with the Expendables this time, and they prove to be welcome additions. Nan Yu adds that needed touch of estrogen to this testosterone dominated franchise as Maggie, a character who provides some of this sequel’s few surprises as she proves to be an expert in more ways than one. The previously mentioned Liam Hemsworth gives “The Expendables 2” that youthful feel of someone who has yet to become as cynical as his hard-bitten colleagues, and he gives a strong performance as a soldier eager to steer his destiny in a new direction.
One action star, however, who I was happy to see here was Chuck Norris who portrays a “lone wolf” retired military operative named Booker (an homage to the character he played in the 1978 movie “Good Guys Wear Black”). Now while I can’t agree with Norris’ political beliefs in real life, seeing him appear onscreen had me applauding. Norris has always had a strong and memorable presence in the movies I’ve seen him in, and he has one of this movie’s best lines regarding a snake.
But one actor I actually had more fun watching than I thought I would in “The Expendables 2” was Jean-Claude Van Damme. His limited acting skills prove to be a perfect fit for this sequel’s main villain, and he creates a perfectly detestable bad guy we want to see Stallone and company beat the crap out of. Now while he may be one of my dad’s favorite actors (I’m just kidding dad), I’ve never cared much for him in movies other than “Hard Target” or “JCVD.” But here, Van Damme proves that he still has those graceful moves as he dares his opponents to take him out minus the use of guns.
I guess I could complain more about “The Expendables 2” as it likely has more plot holes than anyone would notice upon first glance. But hey, in the end this is a movie that should be fun, and for me it was. I enjoyed seeing these action stalwarts come together in one place, and seeing them interact made for some exciting and funny moments. “The Expendables 2” may not reach the exhilarating action movie heights of this year’s “The Dark Knight Rises” or even “The Raid: Redemption,” but it does get the job done. With something like this, that’s usually the best you can hope for.
* * * out of * * * *