For anyone who likes to complain that they don’t make action movies like the used to, here comes The Expendables 2.
If this movie was handed to you on a VHS tape you’d probably think it was made in the early 90s Planet Hollywood days with the stars inexplicably wearing old age make up. Ok, so maybe we already got to see this gang kick ass once in The Expendables. However, that movie wasn’t quite the vintage action fantasy we all hoped for. Sure, it was fun to see Stallone, Statham and co. blowing things up in South America like the good old days. However, the tone of the movie bounced awkwardly from treating 80s B-movie action with undeserved reverence and the occasional moment of knowing humor. Watching those aging icons make things go boom was not the time to take things seriously, it’s not as if we could ever forget we were watching Stallone and believe in his fictional character. Well, the good news is that Stallone passed off directing duties this time out and the franchise fell into the welcoming hands of Con Air’s Simon West who has given the series the tongue-in-cheek tone it deserves. Expendables 2 is a big, expensive, dumb movie that is overstuffed with stars, but at least this time everyone involved knows it and revels in an idiotic blood-soaked goof off tone. In other words, this is the flick you wanted last time.
Like a James Bond movie, The Expendables 2 starts in the middle of the latest mission for the gang of badasses. Stallone, Statham, Lundgren, Terry Crews et all dive out of planes and fire off hundreds of bullets in the jungle. They kill the bad guys and rescue a kidnapped Arnold. Things seem good. Then just when the team is about to relax over some brewskis, Bruce Willis turns up and assigns them another mission. They’ve got to save a box containing the location of old Russian nuclear material from a crashed airplane. So, they do. But unfortunately Jean Claude Van Damme subtly named Vilain (only one L away from villain!) was waiting for them. He kills off the new young cast member Liam Hensworth (who to be fair was marked for death the second he was named “The Kid”) and steals the box with a plot for world domination that for some reason involves perpetually wearing sunglasses. That just makes the Expendables angry and they set out for revenge. This isn’t really a movie where the good guys lose, so you can probably guess where it goes from here. Chuck Norris, Arnie, and Bruce Willis grab machine guns to join the party and many evil henchmen die. Asian action star Nan Yu also shows up to kick ass in Jet Li’s place and be somewhat of a love interest for Stallone. However, this film has way too much testosterone crammed into every frame for a weepy love story . All the guys are married to their guns, ammo, n’ buddies. But in a totally platonic way, of course.
The Expendables 2 isn’t far removed from kids in a sandbox playing with their Arnie n’ Sly action figures, just with about $100 million funding the playdate. That’s not really bad thing. Does anyone really want to see Stallone, Norris, or Schwarzenegger try to act anymore (Arnie in particular seems to be having a tough time getting his groove back)? Hell no, we just want to see them fire off guns and there is plenty of that here. Everyone seems to be on the same page about the level of ironic humor an Expendables movie should have this time out. Arnold drops every famous one-liner from his resume at least once, Van Damme does his split-kick and never takes off his shades until the final battle, Chuck Norris is backed by The Good The Bad And The Ugly theme and even spits out some internet-approved Chuck Norris facts, Statham does his brooding British tough guy thing, Willis finds room for all his ticks, Lundgren gleefully makes fun of himself (even his engineering background for 80s action super fans), and the sideline duo of Terry Crews and Randy Couture speak in one-liners and act in violence. The movie has everything the casting mashup promises and zips along at a quick pace with West staging slick action and creating a heightened tone that ensures every scene play for laughs (intentional or otherwise).
There’s not really much else to say. It’s not like The Expendables 2 is loaded with subtle subtext or meta-commentary. It’s just braindead violent fun, the kind that used to fly off the shelves on VHS when rental stores still existed. The fact that there is even a slight sense of knowing humor that gently mocks the proceedings is a huge bonus. This is about as good as this kind of movie could possibly be. It ain’t a classic, but it’s a worthy way to kill a late summer night at the movies without worrying about taxing your little brain. There’s enough macho wish fulfillment here for fans (like an great battle between Stallone an Van Damme) and more than enough explosions for anyone who craves that sort of thing. After the somber action trio of The Dark Knight Rises, Total Recall, and The Bourne Legacy, it’s nice to see that violence can be fun again. These guys don’t have many more action movies left in them, so this victory lap is a nice farewell of sorts. Now who do I have to bribe to get us The Expendables Vs. The Avengers before these guys all hang up their guns and hit the retirement home.