Back in the summer of 2010 The Expendables made its mark as one of the biggest disappointments in action history. Director/writer/star Sylvester Stallone assembled what appeared to be a dream team of stars (mostly washed up) for an action epic of a lifetime. Not only did he drop the ball, but he also made me strongly question the future of the genre that is slowly getting taken over by generic PG-13 sequels to films that came out years ago, like Live Free or Die Hard. Now, two years later Stallone has stepped down from the director’s chair and added a few more names from the golden era of action movies. The Expendables 2 is every bit of movie that The Expendables was supposed to be, but it still never fully achieves that level of badass and amazement that we’ve come to expect from the stars summoned by director Simon West.
Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) and the rest of the very large team from the first film return in another action-packed romp to rid the world of Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), a notorious bad guy known around the land for his brutality and no-bullshit attitude. This time around Ross adds a few members to the team, like The Kid (Liam Hemsworth) and Maggie (Nan Yu). Also making extended appearances are Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Church (Bruce Willis), who were seen very briefly in the last film.
Let’s skip over the crap that isn’t important in a Simon West film; the plot. There really isn’t one that stretches beyond your basic by-the-books revenge story. The Expendables 2 pulls back and lowers its intentions, which is right away noticeably better than the first film and its random need to make us care for Barney’s personal life. Simon West cuts past all of that dragging garbage and delivers an action movie the only way he knows how, with lots and lots of blood and bullets.
Too bad he mostly uses CGI, because there’s a few occasions that would have really benefited from the old prop body and massive buckets of fake blood. Still, there’s an improvement in the way the blood and action is poured onto the screen. We’re treated to more head shots and gory outcomes that come from lots of bare-knuckle brawling and knife fights. West strips down the stealth and teamwork and simply inserts a dozen one-on-one fights or scenes were we have two important characters mowing down hundreds of faceless bad guys.
The Expendables 2 is all fine and dandy, but there’s some problematic pacing that keeps the film from having an actual structure. There’s no real beginning, middle or end. It’s all just a hazy blur of war and manliness. Lots of the action is bland and lacking real creativity, which is partly because some of these men are pushing their age limits, but also partly because there’s just no style. Everything is stripped down of any cinematic flashiness and substituted for men holding machine guns and firing at anything moving out in the open distance.
The only time this approach actually works is at the end, when Stallone goes up against Van Damme in one showdown that you won’t want to miss. The two have different styles and the collision makes for a predictable, but fun brawl. Stallone is all fists and muscle, while Van Damme holds more strength in his speed and agility, with furious kicks and lots of trash talking. It works for this film, but only because everything else doesn’t add up.
The acting is by far the worst for all men involved, minus Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme. They’re the only two that seem to get the tone of the film perfectly, with Lundgren acting like a complete nut and Van Damme soaking up every chance to be the baddest bad guy on the planet. The two have a reputation for starring in trashy straight-to-home video movies, yet their performances outshine Stallone, Willis, Statham, Hemsworth and everyone else that pops up.
I’m still not sure why they haven’t hired a decent writer to actually get the characters down. I know the films (or era) in which this is inspired by never worried about story or plot, but if there was something connecting all of these stars the film would be 100 times more enjoyable. The Expendables 2 is a team-oriented action film, but they never truly feel like a team. No one is on the same page, instead everyone is out to get their five minutes of fame in some sort of killing montage.
People will attack me because I don’t appreciate the film for what it is, but that’s simply not true. I love cheesy action flicks, especially ones starring Stallone, Van Damme, Schwarzenegger and occasionally Lundgren, but there’s a big difference between those films and a film like The Expendables 2. Those films know exactly what they are and they never try and convince you otherwise. The Expendables 2 (and the first film) tries sidelining the action in exchange for plot development that never leads anywhere or makes a lick of sense.
The Expendables 2 does a better job at keeping things going and never pit stopping for too long, but there’s still so many easily fixable flaws that somehow make their way into the film. Chuck Norris‘ cameo is horrible and sort of pathetic and most of the one-liners referencing the stars’ past films are too on-the-nose to really be considered funny. If you laugh at someone telling Schwarzenegger that he’s going to get terminated then I really don’t know what to say, because jokes like that are too easy for me and just lazy.
The film takes the (probable) series in a better direction than the first film, but it still has troubles forming an actual movie. Watch The Expendables 2 to see your past heroes blow up shit and hold heavy guns, but don’t be alarmed if that’s all they do. There’s never a moment in the film where you find yourself surprised with how they managed to bring all of these stars together. There’s also never a single second in the film that feels like a well thought out scene to maximize entertainment for those watching the film in theaters. It’s just an excuse for half a dozen old men to collect some of the easiest paychecks of their life, while spitting on their legacy of great action cinema. It’s basically highway robbery. At least Jet Li had the decency to bow out early, if only Statham was as wise.
There’s a remark at the end of the film about an old, beat up airplane belonging in a museum, in which Schwarzenegger replies saying that the he, Stallone and Willis belong in a museum. I almost agree with that statement if they keep milking this series by making more films. These men are capable of much better, so why shouldn’t we hold them to it?
The Expendables 2 – 7/10