The Expendables 2 (2012)
written by: Richard Wenk and Sylvester Stallone
produced by: Avi Lerner, Danny Lerner, Kevin King Templeton & Les Weldon
directed by: Simon West
rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout)
runtime: 102 min.
U.S. release date: August 17, 2012
There’s a reason “The Expendables 2” has been released a mere two years after the first blockbuster movie, led by Sylvester Stallone who also co-wrote and directed the action ensemble. That’s because these guys aren’t getting any younger. It seems inconceivable and ridiculous to most people that any actors over forty (most considered past their muscle-bound heyday) would be involved in violently dispensing bad guys, but I’m not one of them. I enthusiastically admired seeing Stallone gather together a bunch of old dogs for “The Expendables” and will accept the concept barreling its way into the arena of a testosterone-fueled franchise. Simon West (who made his directorial debut with “Con-Air” and gave us “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”) is behind the wheel for this time, which actually turns out to be bigger, louder, and sillier than the last one, albeit with more wrinkles.
The movie wastes no time, opening with The Expendables (they’re never called that here, but we really don’t need anything spelled out for us in a movie like this) attempting a daring rescue of a Chinese billionaire in a fortress in Nepal. The ridiculously-named core gang of mercs for hire are back with their heavy artillery and custom-made vehicles. Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) leads his team which consists of his right hand man, Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) and Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Hale Cesar (Terry Crewes), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and a Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth), the newest addition to the crew. Free of the need for any introductions, the whole thing feels like a Bond opening, just more blunt, abrasive and combustible.
By no means does a viewer need to have seen “The Expendables” in order to follow what’s happening here. After all, it’s all about a high body count, old man jokes, and working off of how the audience already sees these 80s action stars.
Once their successful (and explosive) job in Nepal is completed, the team finds themselves in a situation which requires they work for the mysterious Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) once again. They haul themselves to Albania, forced to bring along code expert Maggie (Nan Yu), one of Church’s associates) in order to retrieve a briefcase that has information leading to a stash of Soviet plutonium in a hidden location. Of course, there’s another party intent on finding the same package, because, well, there needs to be a group of antagonists.
Enter Jean-Claude Van Damme as the big baddie (a considerable step-up from Eric Roberts, from the first film) named Jean Vilian. No really. That’s his name. Don’t be surprised. He fits right in. Vilian, along with his right hand man (Scott Adkins, who played Weapon X1 in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) steals the device from The Expendables and plows his way through stock Eastern Euro villagers with a small army. Fueled by revenge after the loss of one of their own, Barney and the boys (er, and girl) do what they do best as they pursue Vilain. But this time they find themselves getting assistance from a couple of their peers, Booker (Chuck Norris) and Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), resulting in clichéd one-liners, a host of dead extras and a load of collateral damage.
Like the last movie, the goal here is to play off 80s nostalgia for mindless violence and those stars who dispensed it. Updating it only slightly by injecting the sequel with the same kind of carnage found in the Call of Duty video games, “The Expendables 2” is just interested in seeing what more they can do and who else they can bring along for the party. The screenplay by Stallone and Richard Wenk (who helped co-write the needless “The Mechanic” remake, also directed by Simon West) isn’t out to break any originality records, especially with its cheesy dialogue and broad characterization during the non-action sequences. Clearly, this movie that does more damage when it’s not blowing up stuff.
The weakest links here are the newest additions to the cast. Norris is an absolute snore as a “Lone Wolf” one-man army, delivering predictably wooden lines and even cracking his own Chuck Norris Fact joke. Ugh. As the only female, Nan Yu is an absolute bore. Miscast and outfitted with a perpetual sour face, the Chinese actress seems like an obligatory replacement for Jet Li, who stays only for the movie’s beginning. As the youngest Expendable, Hemsworth is included only to offer a tepid monologue and motivate the older fellas into action, but the problem is the audience didn’t sign up to see young blood partake in the battle.
We’re here to see Stallone and Statham banter again and watch as Arnie and Bruce get more screen time this time around. We also want to see some sweet climactic scenes, like a painful smackdown between Stallone and Van Damme. West is a director who knows all this and also knows that none of this can be taken seriously (something Stallone didn’t quite get last time) and allows these actors with more opportunities to have fun. It’s still filled with the same classic rock oldies in between the loud and volatile action scenes and ample machismo occupying each frame.
It’s a no-brainer that Lionsgate and Stallone will be scrambling to fast track a second sequel. There’s no use in rolling your eyes, it’s bound to happen. I would most definitely be down with seeing these action veterans return – hey, it’s better than yet another Adam Sandler movie. “The Expendables 2” is the best kind of predictable and formulaic action flick, delivering just want you expect and then some.