Expendables 2, The (United States, 2012)August 17, 2012
The Expendables 2 does not defy expectations; it defines them. If you think you know what the movie will deliver, you're probably right. No surprises, no twists. Even more than the original The Expendables, this feels like an homage to the '80s, although maybe that's because of higher profile parts for Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose cameos have been expanded to supporting roles. Joining the party are Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris. And the much feared PG-13 neutering did not happen. The Expendables 2 glories in carnage to a degree where it's almost impossible to imagine how much cutting would be needed to avoid an R.
On the whole, The Expendables 2 is more satisfying than The Expendables. With Stallone no longer behind the camera (he has been replaced by Simon West), the action scenes are better staged and more competently presented (no shaky-cam this time around). There's more humor than in the first installment, although nearly all the good one-liners are given to Schwarzenegger. The action is fast and brutal and, if it doesn't raise the pulse much, it's at least flashy. The plot is a by-the-numbers affair that feels like it was dusted off the shelf as a rejected '80s Bond movie, but The Expendables 2 isn't about character development or narrative inventiveness. It's about kicking ass, blowing up things, and spending time in the comfort of a darkened theater surrounded by '80s action icons.
The core members of The Expendables remain the same. The leader is Barney Ross (Stallone), the grizzled veteran of many operations. His right-hand man is Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), and support is provided by Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), and Toll Road (Randy Couture). Mickey Roarke is nowhere to be seen and Jet Li has only a brief appearance (he's gone by the time we get to the opening credits). But there's new blood: Liam Hemsworth plays Billy the Kid and Nan Yu's Maggie brings a little estrogen into this flood of testosterone. Of course, she's a strong woman - in this context that means she walks softly and carries a big gun. Van Damme gets to play the bad guy (cleverly named Vilain), which guarantees him a big one-on-one with Stallone at the end. Willis is Mr. Church, the man who hires The Expendables and Schwarzenegger is Trench, a rival who collaborates to pay back a debt. Chuck Norris reprises his role as John Booker from 1978's Good Guys Wear Black.
As for the plot... we don't need no stinkin' plot. It's something about Vilain finding a stash of weapons-grade plutonium deep in a mine and trying to get it out by using slave labor. He wants to flood the black market with it; five tons of the stuff can make a lot of bombs. The Expendables are all that stand in his way. For Barney, it's not just about national security, it's personal - he has a score to settle with Vilain. The whole movie exists as a set-up for the big climax. Not only do we see a Stallone/Van Damme smackdown (which probably would have been more impressive 20 years ago), but we're treated to Schwarzenegger and Willis teaming up and trading quips. This provides a couple of priceless moments: Willis saying "This time I'll be back" (although Arnold gets to utter it first) and Schwarzenegger offering "Yippe Kayay" (no "motherfucker" included). The final battle is fun but it takes a little too long getting there and the (mercifully brief) "character building" moments are almost painful.
Not a lot needs to be said or written about The Expendables 2, which does exactly what it's supposed to do - no more, no less. Since most viewers will go to this movie with a firm understanding of what they're getting, the sequel is unlikely to disappoint. In fact, because it offers more than teases with Schwarzenegger and Willis, it can be said to be more satisfying. This is basic, generic action filmmaking, as much a throwback to the '80s as many of the actors who grace the screen. Those with a desire to overdose on testosterone need look no further.
Expendables 2, The (United States, 2012)
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Liam Hemsworth, Nan Yu, Jet Li, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren, Jason Statham, Chuck Norris
Screenplay: Richard Wenk and Sylvester Stallone
Cinematography: Shelly Johnson
Music: Brian Tyler
U.S. Distributor: Lionsgate