Having enjoyed the minion-decimating antics of Stallone and his aging buddies back in 2010, we were looking forward to a similar kind of mindless retro action fun in this sequel. With the promise of more cameos and extended appearances from Bruce and Arnie, can The Expendables 2 deliver?
Barney Ross (Stallone) and his gang of mercenaries are forced by CIA agent Church (Bruce Willis) to find a downed plane in Albania and retrieve its cargo. But when the villainous Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) kills one of their team and makes off with the package, the job becomes a personal revenge mission.
If you weren’t convinced by The Expendables it’s probably safe to assume you won’t have much time for this either. If you’re hoping for more of the same then The Expendables 2 delivers just that, with an extra dose of self-aware humour. Stallone may have given up the director’s chair to action veteran Simon West (Con Air, The Mechanic) but for the most part it’s business as usual, with only Mickey Rourke declining to return.
Plot-wise, it’s about as elaborate as you’d expect from a film with a villain named Vilain (played with the appropriate level of ham by Van Damme) as its villain. Barney’s nemesis is digging under a Balkan village for hidden Russian plutonium which allows our heroes both the Rambo-esque privilege of liberating a downtrodden people from their evil oppressors, as well as being a big enough threat to warrant the overblown finale with those bigger-name cameos dropping in with all guns blazing. For the most part it’s completely, knowingly daft, with Arnie, Bruce, and Chuck’s dialogue sounding like it was written by teenage action fans (direct quotes from their films and Chuck Norris jokes all appear).
Oddly, the filmmakers attempt to counter-balance this self-aware silliness with a bit of dramatic heft, which frankly doesn’t work. Stallone proved with Rocky Balboa that he’s more than capable of giving a moving performance as an over-the-hill lug with one last thing to prove, but po-faced monologues about the capriciousness of fate and how we cope with death don’t fit in a film this ridiculous. Don’t expect too strong of a female presence here, with new recruit Maggie (Nan Yu) still obliged to fawn over Sly, and our heroes having to rescue a town that, thanks to the baddies, is exclusively populated by women and children.
But the main requirement for the fans will be decent action set-pieces. Thankfully, there seems to be have been a decision made to ramp these up, and the film benefits from some well-choreographed shoot-outs and punch-ups that make the most of the cast’s different skill-sets. Jet Li makes an impression early on with a kitchen fight, Jason Statham gets to show off how flexible he is as knife-man Lee Christmas, and Stallone does his well-trodden but still impressive aging brick shithouse routine.
To be honest, The Expendables 2 is exactly what you’d expect. It’s over the top, there are intentional and unintentional laughs, the action’s good, and the stars look like they’re having a great time.
Even sillier than its predecessor but just as entertaining, The Expendables 2 won’t win any new recruits but it’s a big, fun, dumb Friday night movie.