Review: 'Expendables 2' Has Fun Blasts & References But Little Else
by Jeremy Kirk
August 17, 2012
In The Expendables 2, Arnold Schwarzenegger name drops Rambo while sharing a frame with Chuck Norris. If you're a child of the '80s, this just blew your mind. That's exactly what Sylvester Stallone hopes with this follow-up to his 2010 endeavor to bring the great actions stars of the New Wave Era to the Bieber Generation's screens. It's nostalgia for everyone involved, creators and observers alike, and The Expendables 2, though an improvement over its predecessor, packs as many references as it does bullets. It's fun for a while, but like its core cast, it quickly becomes clunky and head-slappingly hokey.
For synopsis' sake, let's just say the group of mercenaries with a penchant for blowing up people's heads find themselves in deep with the CIA and are ordered by the very persuasive Church (Bruce Willis reprising his 20-second role from the first film) to undertake a rather by-the-numbers job. The task is so trivial, it's a wonder it takes the entire team of Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren, and Liam Hemsworth, the only new member of the team. Accompanied by a Chinese agent played by Nan Yu, the team encounters the bad guy of the film, Vilain, played by Jean-Claude Van Damme. After tragedy strikes, the team sets on a quest to take Vilain down and keep him from selling stolen plutonium that will make him a lot of money, something the character continuously makes reference to. That may have been more than a little revealing with how Stallone wrote the character.
That and the shot earlier described are two very clear examples of where The Expendables 2's head is at. It's a dream poster for fans of '80s action to have Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Willis all firing machine guns at the camera, context be damned. When it's a shot that epic, the context writes itself. There are bad guys. These three action stars you remember from your childhood are the good guys. The good guys are shooting a load of heavy artillery at the bad guys. Call it action porn, but story and character never work themselves into anything The Expendables 2 has to offer.
That action, by the way, is superior to what we got when Stallone directed the first film. Taking up the reigns from this time is Simon West, director of Con Air, a big action movie with a lot of stars featuring a rather large plane. This probably had a hand in him getting the job here, and for the most part, he keeps the action heavy and fast. The number of extras who lose limbs or even have their heads exploded in this film may be an all-time record for such a film, and if it isn't, it's a close second to Stallone's last Rambo movie. Much of it is CGI, a major gripe with these action movies that aren't trying to hold themselves back in terms of rating, but it just looks bad.
But exploding bodies and decapitations can only take a film so far regardless of who's wielding the grenade launcher or brandishing the machete. The story and character that The Expendables 2 lacks keeps the film from every reaching a true level of suspense or excitement. Even early in the film when one of The Expendables follows through on the name, you get the impression it's only existence is to kick off the feature-length chase that follows. After characters start popping up and, literally, dropping out from the film like Wack-A-Moles, any feeling of attachment to any of them begins chipping away. By the time the explosive finale kicks in, any care for how the film will end has long since been buried by all the debris.
One element that shines through, though, is Van Damme, playing a full-fledged villain here on a very rare occasion. His years playing hammy villains in cheesy but awesome action movies have learned him a thing or two about chewing the scenery, and Van Damme takes control of his character better than anyone else in the film. Even the jabs about money end up sticking in the viewer's rib worse than they do the actor. Van Damme is having the time of his life here dressed in black, wearing sunglasses, and giving some James Bond villains a run for their money.
The rest of the cast has ups and downs, most of them - Stallone, Willis, and Schwarzenegger included - playing the same type they've been playing for decades. Crews and Lundgren provide the comic relief, warranting the two get their own buddy movie, and the best self-referential quips stemming from Lundgren's very real degree in chemical engineering. Hemsworth fills a role fine, offering something of subtext being the youngest in a group of old guys who's served his time in Afghanistan. Jet Li very awkwardly disappears early and Statham's big arc is that he forgives a woman who cheated on him and who keeps calling. The quack quack ringtone on his phone is one of the film's many awful attempts at humor. Chuck Norris' attempt at making a Chuck Norris joke falls better, but that's once again the very reason this film even exists in the first place.
The Expendables 2, and The Expendables for that matter, is for action junkies who don't care about minor details like motivation or logical plot points. As long as the fireballs and explosions are big and the wanton carnage brought on by half a dozen men carrying machine guns is adequate, mission accomplished, everybody. There's more that could be getting done with this series, much more character that could be put into the people all these actors play. Character names would help here, but this is just Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis playing in a multi-million dollar sandbox. Somewhere, buried way down there, there might be an Expendables movie that is both fun and good. With The Expendables 2, fun will just have to suffice.
Jeremy's Rating: 6 out of 10