When it was first announced, who really thought that a sequel to "The Expendables" was needed in the first place? The insanely hyped 2010 first installment was of the most disappointing action movies ever made, and it was a true shame because it had all the necessary stars, but the film itself was executed so poorly. Suffering from choppily shot and edited action scenes, dodgy CGI, in addition to taking itself too seriously, it was one of those few movies that I was so disappointed with I initially didn't want to admit it. Fortunately though, I got some hope for the sequel when Sylvester Stallone vacated the director's chair to Simon West, in addition to more acclaimed action legends being added to the star-studded cast of manliness and testosterone. In the end, does "The Expendables 2" live up to what the first film should've been, or did Sy and the crew still not learn from the many mistakes made in the first one? Hit the jump button to find out!
The film kicks off with a 10-minute opening action sequence where the Expendables rescue a kidnapped Chinese businessman in a desolate village in Nepal. The team is led by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), and is rounded out by ex-SAS solider and knife specialist Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), hand-to-hand combat specialist Yin Yang (Jet Li), weapons specialist/AA-12 demolisher Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), demolitions expert Toll Road (Randy Couture), and snipers Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren) and Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth), the newest and youngest member who recently served his last tour of duty in Afghanistan. The team takes what seems to be a simple mission of securing a lost safe in Albania from Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) with the assistance of Maggie (Yu Nan), but it leads to one of their own men getting killed on the job at the hands of the villainous Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his right-hand man Hector. Vilain takes the safe that turns out to be a coordinate location for multiple tons of plutonium that he intends to sell for...well it's never stated why, but come on who really cares about the plot for a film like this? Essentially, this leads to the Expendables swearing vengeance against Vilain and his army along with the help of old friends Booker (Chuck Norris) and Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger). In all seriousness though, taking the plot for a film like "The Expendables 2" in an ideal manner is similar to watching an episode of "The A-Team"; don't try to connect things to the true reality of the situation, and simply enjoy it for what it is as a big, dumb action-fest chock full of smart subject material self-awareness and cheesy one-liners galore.
In comparison to its predecessor, "The Expendables 2" vastly outshines above it and steals the spotlight entirely, too. From the opening action sequence alone, it already surpasses the entertainment level that the first one served for its entire run time. All that I could ask for from a film of this craft is to just be aware of what its trying to be, and then deliver in all the explosions, gunplay, martial arts, and video game-esque dead body counts there are. And by golly once you lay out all those goodies on the table, your numerous cravings should certainly be satisfied to the maximum once the end credits roll.
Sylvester Stallone and his testosterone-fueled cast are all solid in their roles even if some of them are very rusted in the acting department. Thankfully however, that flaw doesn't even matter too much because they're all aware that the sole purpose for why they're doing this film, and that is to kick copious amounts of ass, in addition to quipping cheesy, sometimes very meta one liners, too. In action movie terms, I simply call that "Nothin' but a good time." Some of the standouts though, range from a surprisingly decent turn by Liam Hemsworth, in addition to ridiculously entertaining extended cameos by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris. If you don't laugh at least 10 times from the combination of one liners by these two action legends, I have no idea what to tell you then.
The only disappointment in the cast though, was a similar problem I had with the first film, too. Jet Li appears in the first big action sequence that immediately kicks off the movie on a high note, and he gets one big set piece to himself in the midst of all the action already happening where he gets to use his decades of martial arts experience on about ten bad guys at once. However around the 20-minute mark, his character just disappears and never comes back.
Director Simon West replaces Sylvester Stallone in the place of calling the shots, and he surprisingly executes a far superior handling of the subject material than Stallone did in the original. I still haven't seen his cult classic debut "Con Air" yet, but West shows that he has a keen eye for filming action sequneces, as he mostly forgoes the handheld camera approach that Stallone lend for the original and instead leans more towards utilizing still camera placements and steadicam shots. It still surprises me that as mixed as a career West has had in the action genre, he still manages to show that he has the self-awareness of the genre's conventions. Gee, I wonder why he couldn't do that when he helmed the remake of "The Mechanic" though.
A film of this craft though is especially flawed, but even that's something that shouldn't really be taken into account. Is it absurdly ridiculous at times? Yes. Does Schwarzenegger go overboard with the puns again? Yes. However, does the film know that that it is all that and more? Yes. That's why all of it is okay. The film itself knows to take it in a slightly serious direction to set up a general purpose for why everything happens, but that's about as "real" as it gets.
Overall, "The Expendables 2" is everything and more that I wanted first installment of "The Expendables" to be. Now with names like Nicolas Cage, Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, and Wesley Snipes being sought after for a potential third installment, sign me up if it could turn out like this version does. With the combination of well choreographed action sequences, self-aware direction by Simon West, and a cast that understands the material just as well as the director does, "The Expendables 2" is yet another late summer surprise that entertains on almost all levels, and is sure to be cherished by the biggest action movie fanboys.
Final Grade: B+