An elite team of badasses fights to stop an evil dude with shades from selling plutonium to less-than-savoury types – oh, and something about revenge too. That’s pretty much all there is to the plot of The Expendables 2, the testosterone-fuelled follow-up to the mildly entertaining, somewhat disappointing original. This second go however has less talking and more blam-blam-kablooey so more closely offers the kind of experience that fans of 80s action were expecting of the first film.
Let’s do a roster check: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s an impressive lineup of old, new and ‘who?’, and by this point you’ve probably already decided whether you want to see it or not. But just how good is this throwback to the classic action movies of yesteryear?
With this sequel Stallone has handed over the directorial reins to Simon West, the man who brought us the great 90s action flick Con Air. Presumably this gave Stallone more time to focus on acting, but I can’t say that I noticed a perceivable up in his game – I’m almost certain that the Italian Stallion has gumballs perennially stuck in his mouth. The biggest win this time is that we see much more of Willis and Schwarzenegger, the latter’s grandstanding announcement of ‘I’m back!’ seemingly preordained and entirely appropriate. On the other hand, Chuck Norris unfortunately proves that he’s still every bit the awful actor he used to be. At least the movie is self-aware, paying homage to the bizarre pop culture craze surrounding Norris’ god-like status.
Characters spout awful one-liners like there’s no tomorrow, with Statham’s groan-worthy, “I now pronounce you… man and knife,” coming to mind as the corniest of the bunch. Yet I’m not going to harp on the movie for its terrible script and dialogue. It’d be much different however, if we were supposed to take this stuff seriously. Each actor seems to play a character based on their own film catalogue, and nods are made to the all-time classics like The Terminator and Die Hard.
Van Damme is the villain, creatively named Vilain. He proves he’s still got his trademark kick and is pretty effective at playing the big bad, although it’s a shame he doesn’t have another team of badasses to back him up. Vilain is instead left with a motley crew of hired goons from the henchmen hotline. Nevertheless, the most relatable character is probably Liam ‘brother of Thor’ Hemsworth’s Billy the Kid, who’s pretty effective alongside the older, more experienced grubs onscreen.
But while there’s still a great deal of fun to be had in having all of these action stars together, The Expendables 2 never reaches the heights of the genre’s classics. The plot isn’t memorable and the characters are but mere caricatures of Rambo, John McClane and Frank Martin among others – watching the film made me nostalgic for the good old times but sadly didn’t make me fall in love with the movie in front of me. Worst of all is the action which, despite plentiful and bombastic, just isn’t clever or original. CGI blood abounds and there’s a sense that perhaps a little too much testosterone and not enough thought went into planning the mindless carnage. Truly, star power can only take you so far.
No so expendable after all, The Expendables 2 is mean, macho and packing plenty of bravado. You’ll come for the action, stay for the explosions but then forget about it all once you leave.