Improving on the original in just about every way and delivering on the 80′s cheese and star power, the Expendables 2 is an enormously successful throw back to old school R-rated action and is enormously satisfying in just about every possible way.
After a successful rescue mission in which sniper newcomer Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) removes the heads of dozens of bad guys and sets up a pretty awesome debt repaying later in the movie, Barney (Sylvester Stallone), the leader of the Expendables, is approached once again by Church (Bruce Willis) to go on a mission. This time the mission is to retrieve an object from a safe in a plane downed in Indonesia and there is no saying no as it serves to clear the Expendables’ debt from the events of the first movie. Barney has to take the job, which doesn’t make Lee (Jason Statham) very happy, and has to take along a CIA asset, Maggie (Nan Yu)who can open the high tech explosive lock on the safe. Barney doesn’t care for this but with Ying Yang (Jet Li) leaving the team after the last mission, Maggie rounds out the numbers. The mission goes well until the team is stopped after retrieval by Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his cadre of mercenaries who steal the object and kill one of the Expendables. This doesn’t sit too well with Barney who decides it is time to clean house on the bad guys. Much killing ensues.
Like the first Expendables, this one’s plot is razor thin and exists only to get action movie legends involved in as much violence as possible. Unlike the first Expendables, this one takes itself way less seriously and gives in to the cheesy jokes and one-liners from 80′s action films and turns the violence to well past ‘over the top.’ For me, this was a very good thing.
I really dug the first movie but I lamented that it mas more like the latest Rambo with graphic violence and a dead serious plot and less like Commando and other cheesy one-liner driven action movies of the 80′s. This still made for a good action movie but it just wasn’t as much fun as it could have been. Here, the gritty, gory violence is back in full force but the sense of fun was also back. There are plenty of heavy moments but they are punctuated with fun moments as well. It never strays into parody but manages to find a good balance between 80′s cheese and legitimately good action. I feel like a lot of the credit for this goes to handing directing duties to Simon West who has always shown a sense of humor in his past work like Con Air, Tomb Raider and the General’s Daughter while still delivering generally kick ass action (if you can excuse Nicholas Cage looking like Jesus while doing a spinning heel kick). Stallone co-wrote the script too so he seems to be aware that this installment needed a bit more humor. Luckily he gave it to a guy capable of doing both pretty well.
The Expendables 2 also delivered much better on the promise of teaming up the top names in action movies of the last 30 years. The first one got who they could get but some were reduced to cameos and others couldn’t do it at all. This made for an impressive cast but with some holes. Expendables 2 really fills in a lot of those gaps with new additions much more in keeping with the original mission statement. Aside from returning stars like Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Jet Li (albeit briefly), Statham and Stallone, Church and Trench (Arnold Schwarzenneger) have expanded roles here and actually get to kick ass. Dolph Lundgren’s Gunnar is a full fledged member of the team as opposed to a double agent who is rarely seen, Chuck Norris shows up as Booker in a hilarious and awesome turn that makes great use of the legacy of Norris without over doing it, and Jean-Claude Van Damme is the piece’s main villain (as if his name didn’t tell you that regardless of pronunciation).
That last one though is what keeps this movie from being a full on 10 because while Van Damme’s actual martial arts background is sketchy at best, the man is an action star with a certain skill set and that skill set was criminally squandered in the final showdown with him. It makes sense in terms of story and is statisfying on that level but honestly, with a movie like this, why start now? Why decide that the potentially epic final battle should serve the story instead of the audiences near-fever pitched blood lust? It isn’t a horrible fight but I wanted a lot more and it left me disappointed.
Regardless of the final fight being less of a showdown and more of a let down, the movie delivers in general and the action is pretty much non-stop and manages to be even more satisfying than the first one. There seems to be a bit more martial arts based action here which makes sense given the number of martial artists in the cast but there is still a metric ton of gun fire going on. The gory decapitations and limb removals are back in spades and the staging of the action is very well done. I think it is almost impossible to be a fan of cheesy 80′s action films and not love this movie. I spent a fairly substantial amount of the film giggling by the gratuity of it all and that is exactly what I was looking for.
Conclusion [9.0 out of 10]
The Expendables 2 was pretty much everything I was hoping for going in. There was enough escalation to keep it fresh and exciting and it managed to deliver more fully on the promise of the original. It also proves that even though some of the actors are getting up in years, they can still kick much as and carry action movies. As soon as this one ended, I started getting excited for the next one and who they can lure in. Hopefully they can get Wesley Snipes involved because there is not nearly enough betting on black for my taste. Whoever they get, if they stick with the formula, they will have a winner. Regardless of what they do next time, suffice it to say that this installment is pretty fantastic and is a must see if you are into this kind of action movie. If you are not then I am not even sure why you are reading the review. Action fans: Go see this right now.