A small but in many ways significant upgrade over the original Expendables, the success of The Expendables 2 can be mostly credited to a change in directors.
With Simon West (Con Air, Tomb Raider, The Mechanic) replacing writer-star Sylvester Stallone in the director’s chair, this sequel is tighter and better paced, with an accomplished air to it that accurately recreates a 90s Carolco action blockbuster as opposed to the original’s schlocky 80s Golan-Globus/Cannon vibe.
Of course, as a parade of (mostly) past-their-prime action stars, there’s a limit to how good a thing like this can be; thankfully, The Expendables 2 knows exactly what it is and makes no pretense of delivering otherwise. It’s loud, violent, and sweaty, but the film’s strongest asset is its self-deprecating sense of humor.
A lot of that comes from the cameo roles, which have been beefed up from the earlier film: Arnold Schwarzenegger (Trench) and Bruce Willis (Church) have more screen time and get in on the action this time around, but new addition Chuck Norris, as Booker (a reference to his breakout role in Good Guys Wear Black), gets the biggest reaction when quoting the internet meme Chuck Norris Facts.
The film follows Barney Ross (Stallone) and his ragtag band of mercenaries, The Expendables: Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture), Hail Caesar (Terry Crews). New to the team is sniper Bill the Kid (Liam Hemsworth), while the character played by Mickey Rourke in the first film is absent this time around.
On a mission to retrieve sensitive information from a downed plane in the former Soviet Union, the team runs afoul of the inventively-named Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), who has been forcing local villagers to work in a plutonium mine. Van Damme, really sinking his teeth into the villain role, is one of the film’s highlights, and he doesn’t disappoint in a climatic hand-to-hand duel with Stallone’s Ross. Also effective: martial artist Scott Adkins as Vilain’s right-hand man.
As simplistic and straightforward as action movies come, The Expendables 2 offers few surprises story-wise; it’s good vs. bad with lots of gunfire and little thought involved. The film opens and closes with explosive extended action setpieces, but the middle hour is relatively quiet; director West somehow manages to keep things moving quick enough to avoid falling in a story mire, and throws in enough wink-wink gags to keep us entertained.
One major gripe, though it’s improved from the first film: the use of CGI, which is expected these days but really detracts from that 80s/90s (practical f/x) action movie atmosphere. The explosions look fine this time around, but blood spatter is all over the place; how expensive can a few (make that few thousand) squib shots be?
You know exactly what you’re getting into with The Expendables 2, and the movie more or less delivers exactly what you’d expect. As Schwarzenegger and Willis (crammed into a SmartCar in a great sight gag) and Chuck Norris mindlessly open fire in an airport and lay waste to hundreds during the film’s climax, you’re either entertained or you’re not.
And if you’re asking how they know the people they’re pumping lead into are the villains and not innocent bystanders, you’re watching the wrong movie.