When The Expendables was released a few years ago, there was no misguiding ad campaign or artsy teaser trailer that concealed the film’s true nature. It presented itself as a balls-to-the-wall action movie, jam packed with many beloved action stars from the past 30 years. Despite a somewhat serious tone that led to more than a few unintentional giggles, the movie worked. Against all odds, it achieved the dumb, adrenaline soaked ride it strove to be.
After that surprising success, absolutely no one was shocked to hear a sequel was in development. This was not meant to be a simple rehash either, but a film that would bring the legendary Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger out of retirement. But here’s the question: Is The Expendables 2 worthy of containing this many big names? Does it truly live up to the roster it boasts?
Well, I’m here to tell you that not only does the sequel inject some much needed humor into the series, but it also ratchets up the intensity, creating a campy throwback that action fans of any decade can appreciate.
As with the last iteration, the story is pretty much non-existent, remaining a bare thread that does nothing more than set up sequences of explosive action. Sent on a simple recovery mission by Mr. Church (Bruce Willis), the Expendables, led by the slurring Sylvester Stallone, are ambushed and robbed, but not before watching their friend bite the bullet. The group decides to take an eye for an eye, setting out on a mission for revenge against a gang of vaguely foreign foes.
The mercenaries still have a few holdovers from the original, including Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, and Terry Crews. Already bolstered by a strong group of action stars, the addition of Willis, Schwarzenegger, and Chuck Norris is just the bloody icing on the explosive cake. Although none of those listed are extremely good actors (perhaps aside from Willis), their action chops more than make up for the lacking performances.
Although the first film tried to set a serious mood over everything, the gang has learned their lesson this time and gone for a decidedly more humorous tone. Many of the laughs, of course, are still most likely unintentional, but even those missteps can be appreciated. Cheesy one-liners abound, alongside numerous references to the films that birthed these heroes. The Terminator in particular is nodded at and quoted more times than can be counted.
But the in jokes and B-movie script are only there to spice up the explosive set pieces, which are some of the best and bloodiest to be released this year. Taking a more natural approach towards the fights, director Simon West forgoes CGI effects for the real thing, creating a film that feels authentic despite a body count that amounts to that of a small nation. Every explosion feels destructive, and every bullet tears someone apart while drawing about a quart of blood.
Like his classic debut Con Air, West keeps things moving at a brisk pace, even when bullets aren’t flying. Each character has his own personality, even if you can’t remember their names halfway through the movie. His direction mimics that of a child who was raised purely on 80′s action films and Red Bull; his dedication to replicating the feel of those films saturates The Expendables 2, for better and for worse.
The film can start to drag after the hour mark is reached and the action slows down. Attempts to raise the stakes and provide motivation for the characters feel forced, doing nothing more than stretching out the running time. The film is also about as predictable as can be, particularly when it comes to Liam Hemsworth’s character. He is the equivalent of the soldier who carries a picture of his young wife and baby in his helmet, constantly talking about how beautiful they are.
Jean-Claude Van Damme makes an appearance as the obligatory bad guy, and although he holds attention when he’s onscreen, the biggest surprise is the addition of a woman to the team. Yu Nan fits right in with the guys, kicking as much butt as they do, despite being given the shortest introduction possible. Aside from her, the only other women here are village wives who can’t shoot worth their spit. Some might see the exclusion of females as misogynistic, and perhaps it is. But this is also a movie that involves a motorcycle being charged into a helicopter. It’s not a thoughtful film, and I highly doubt there were any sinister intentions here.
Even though summer is coming to a close, The Expendables 2 should not be excluded as a viable popcorn flick. Gore-hounds and action fans of any age will find plenty to love, whether it’s the corny one-liners to quote with your friends or the action scenes that will have your blood pumping in seconds. This movie does for the action genre what The Artist did for the silent film genre: Distills it down to its most basic parts before creating an homage that more than lives up to the past. If you go into it with the right mindset, then you may just have to most fun you’ve experienced in months.