I loved the idea of The Expendables when I first heard about it. Mixing old school action movie stars with a couple of younger ones sounded like an adrenaline feast and the result was a satisfying production, albeit one that could have been much better. Let’s just say it did ‘wet the appetite’ a bit, but didn’t completely satisfy the hunger. Stallone didn’t waste much time getting the sequel going and he managed to convince even larger names to join the fray. The list of stars – from then and now – is quite impressive. Stallone, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Scott Adkins, Nan Yu, Bruce Willis, Liam Hemsworth, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Some have big roles…others not so much, and even though I found myself wanting certain characters to have more screen time, I was overall pleased with the final product. For the critics who keep complaining that the plot is paper thin and utterly ridiculous, well, you guys don’t really know what makes audiences excited to see films like this. The type of action films that ruled the decade that most of these stars made a name for themselves in never really focused too much on plot details. The simplicity of the storyline allowed the viewer more time for over the top destruction sequences that were a blast to watch. This is also why most of these films (let’s throw Commando, the Rambo films, Bloodsport, Universal Soldier, and Missing in Action out there as examples) rarely clocked in at more than 90 or so minutes. Action junkies want just that…action. Explosions. Destruction. And that’s what those films delivered. As time went on, the action film genre became more ‘developed’. With increasingly improving CGI and better script writers (better is a loose term), old school knock down, drag out action pics took a back seat and eventually faded at the box office…therefore, fading from the multiplex as a whole. Stallone successfully revived his own franchise with the fourth installment of Rambo in 2008. He found just the right formula that carried over to his creation of The Expendables. The action and carnage was extreme in Rambo…but it worked. Turns out, fans were ready to give these types of films another chance. Sitting in the theater last night at midnight, I found myself surrounded by a variety of age groups. Young, middle aged, and old all turned out to see the movie, and there were even quite a few women in attendance. It was great to see such a broad appeal for the flick.
Expendables 2 doesn’t waste time getting the adrenaline pumping. The first 15-20 minutes of the film is filled with a rousing action sequence that rivals some of the craziest ones I’ve ever seen. It definitely sets the tone for the film and let’s the audience know that it’s not for the faint of heart. We also get our first glimpse of Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and it’s clear that he is going have a much bigger role this time around. However, Jet Li’s Yin Yang manages to get one big kick-ass fight sequence, but is not heard from or seen again. Not sure why, but it doesn’t really hurt the film, so that’s ok with me. Once that mission is completed, the crew takes what amounts to a short break before Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) enlists them to take on another one that appears to be something relatively simple (well, at least for these guys). Barney (Sylvester Stallone) let’s Mr. Church know that he’s not happy with the fact that he never gets his hands dirty. Basically, Church calls the shots, gives order, but never throws himself into the fray. This is a key bit of dialogue between the two of them that has an important role later in the film.
Before the boys head out on their next mission, Bill the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) tells Barney that this type of life is not right for him. Barney is disappointed, but understands and respects his decision. Bill is an excellent sniper and you his skills quite often in the opening sequence. He decides to finish out the month with the team and that means going on this next mission. Hemsworth makes the most out of a smaller role. He doesn’t do anything extraordinary, but he gives the character a bit of heart, which is important due to what happens to him when the mission begins. Bill gets caught by a band of thugs headlined by Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme). When the rest of the team finds Bill held captive, they are forced to surrender to Vilain in order to save the young man’s life. Remembering the conversation the two of them had, Barney knows that if he can manage to get Bill out of this situation then he can move on to a better life. This is the only time that I can remember, in either Expendable film, where we see Barney stand down to any villain…he is put in a situation where he absolutely must surrender. Unfortunately for him this is also where we see just how heartless Van Damme’s Vilain is. Jean-Claude really hams it up as the villain in this film. His acting is sub-par, as it’s always been, but there is something fun about watching him be the bad guy. An added bonus…he shows us that he can still kick some major ass.
Bill’s death becomes the catalyst that drives Barney and his team to want to find and kill Vilain. They also discover an unexpected threat while doing so…five tons of weapons-grade plutonium, more than enough to change the balance of power in the world. The great thing about the ‘feel’ of the film is that you never get a sense that retrieving the plutonium is the most important part of their mission. Getting revenge on Bill’s murderer takes precedent over everything else and defines what these guys are really all about. As far as plot details go…well, that’s it. It’s simple…straightforward…and at the end of the day is not why we go see films such as this. We want great, over the top, fast paced, bloody action sequences combined with memorable one-liners and tossed with a bit of vintage cheesy 80′s awesomeness. The Expendables 2 delivers on all counts.
I really appreciate what Stallone has done here. This is his brainchild and so far, he’s come really close to delivering what most fans wanted from it. I say ‘really close’ because I still see room for improvement. In particular, the dialogue and banter between the characters. At times, it is quite good, but it falls flat in certain situations. Perhaps if Stallone was to get a more adapt comedic script writer for the next installment, this flaw could greatly improve. When you have so many well known personalities in one film, funny and cool dialogue is essential. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some great one-liners in the film, but opportunities were still missed. Another issue I have is writing a screenplay that gives some of the better characters more screen time. I know it has to be tough when you have so many of them. In this particular installment, I wanted more Chuck Norris. His Booker aka Lone Wolf is not only the most intriguing character, but also has the potential to be so much more than what we see on-screen. Fun fact about his character name – the name Booker is a nod to Good Guys Wear Black, in which Norris portrayed a character named John T. Booker. In that film, as well as this one, Norris plays a retired military operative in a rescue mission to help his old comrades. He also has the best line in the film, which involves a black cobra and the fun jokes that are made about the awesomeness of Norris himself. Other than these two tactical errors, the film does a fine job of staying the course and delivering what the fans want.
A bit of character breakdown now. Stallone obviously wrote Barney Ross with himself in mind. Like I stated above, this is Sly’s brilliant idea and who better to lead the team than the man who put it all together. Sly embodies the character very well. He is still a beast of a man physically and due to his age, has the wisdom that only a leader could have due to being in the game for so long. Nan Yu’s Maggie, a new addition to the cast, gives us our first female Expendable and holds her own against her male counterparts. Jason Statham’s Lee Christmas is Barney’s right hand man. Lee appears to be the most level headed of the team members, and is naturally the most gifted fighter of the group. I would say that Jason is the best actor of the core group of The Expendables and he gets some great lines as well. It’s fun listening to him and Stallone go back and forth in certain scenes. The wise, old guy trying to give advice to the stubborn, younger man. Dolph Lundgren’s Gunner proves himself to have some comedic talents here as he gets some very funny lines. It’s very apparent that the friendship between Dolph and Sly over the years has made them very comfortable poking fun at one another. I just think it’s great that they remained such good comrades since Rocky IV. Terry Crews’ Hale Ceasar provides more comic relief and does his fair share of destructiveness as well. Crews is also another beast of a man that manages to show his softer, funny side throughout. Stallone and company managed to write his character quite nicely to fit his persona. Randy Couture’s Toll Road gets the least amount to do here, but if anyone had to take a back seat it should be him. Nothing against him or his character, but it’s just not as memorable as the others. Bruce Willis’ Mr. Church and Arnold’s Trench are both given much bigger roles this time around and both show up ready to play. Bruce is super cool in everything he does and he doesn’t disappoint. Arnold shows that he’s been out of the acting game for awhile. Not only does he look really OLD compared to everyone else in the film, but The Expendables 2 acts like a warm-up role for the former governor to get back into the swing of things – at least, acting wise. He seems a bit off of his game, although with the help of the script, gets some great one-liners to ease the transition. Once he picks up a semi-automatic though, it’s vintage Arnold and that’s what he does best.
The finale matches the opening sequence in terms of intensity and body count, plus we get the added bonus of having Willis, Norris, and Schwarzenegger join the original team (minus Jet Li). I found the final act to be completely satisfactory in terms of overall brutality and pacing. It doesn’t over extend it’s welcome and it doesn’t leaving wishing for much more (although, like I said earlier, more Norris would have been a good thing). Bottom line, if you are a fan of the type of action film that ruled the 1980′s, then you are going to eat The Expendables 2 up. Plus, if you are a fan of fun, adrenaline pumping films in general, then get in line – you won’t be let down either. Yes, there are a bunch of old farts still trying to regain a bit of what they had in their prime, but there are also a couple of younger stars, such as Statham and Scott Adkins (who plays Vilain’s right hand man Hector), that add more realistic ass kicking to the game. Oh, and the final one on one fight between Van Damme and Stallone is one for the ages and proves that they both can still bring it. Rumors are swirling that Sly wants Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes (once he’s out of prison) and Nicolas Cage for the third installment. I say bring it on…also bring on a scriptwriter that can successfully throw these guys into the mix and make their appearances more than just cameos. Back to the film at hand…I highly recommend seeing The Expendables 2…for nostalgia and honest to goodness badassery. Rating: