This sequel to The Expendables amps things up to 11. Nearly every complaint I had about the first film is corrected in this follow up. It is still a fun nostalgic explosion-fest, and there are even more classic 80s action stars in this film.
I was never a huge Stallone fan growing up, I was much more of a Schwarzenegger fan. So I was happy to see that Arnold got a much larger role this time around. In the first film, he was reduced to nothing more than a glorified cameo, but his governing days were over by the time this film was made so he could devote more of his time towards making it. His larger role is a welcome addition to The Expendables 2, there is something about Arnie that no other action star managed to have. I think that is why he was able to break out into other types of movies. Some of Arnie’s best films are his comedies (Twins and Kindergarten Cop). I don’t think any of the other old school action guys in this flick would be able to pull off comedy the way Arnold did. His larger role is a lot of fun, as is Bruce Willis’s increased presence, also.
Despite the additional screen time of Arnie and Willis, this is Stallone’s show. His character, Barney Ross, is front and centre for nearly every scene. I don’t think anybody can argue that this is Stallone’s film and he is clearly enjoying reliving his glory years as an action hero. Barney returns to pay back a debt he owes to Mr Church (Willis) by recovering a small artefact in the former Soviet Union. When a member of their crew is murdered, Barney vows revenge. The plot is incredibly generic, but most of these 80s action films were. As long as the guys are tough and the explosions are loud, I can forgive some tired storytelling here. As with the previous instalment, Stallone his team of mercenaries with a collection of older action stars (Dolph Lundgren and Jet Li) and younger ones (Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Randy Couture and Liam Hemsworth)
One of my favourite additions to this cast was Jean Claude Van-Damme as Jean Vilain (do you think he’s the bad guy?). I always enjoyed his films growing up, he wasn’t afraid to not take himself too seriously (see Double Impact for a great example of this), and he is clearly loving being back with his old colleagues. There is also a terrific cameo by Chuck Norris. It is hard to believe this guy is in his 70s. He looks in such amazing shape for his age. I’m sure it’s not all natural, but you can’t help but admire how well Chuck Norris takes care of himself. My only real complaint is that this should have happened 20 years ago. I’d have loved to see Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Van-Damme headlining a film in their primes. This is still fun, but you can’t help but wonder what might have been had this been made when all of these guys were still relevant.
Expendables 2 is loud shoot ’em up, and never promises to be anything else. If you go into this movie with the expectations that you can turn your brain off and enjoy some of these action film legends hamming it up together, you will not be disappointed.
I’m still not sold on The Expendables franchise, but this sequel is better than the original.
One of the issues I had with the original is that it felt like just any old action movie. It didn’t seem overly epic or special in any way. Given the ensemble cast that Sylvester Stallone assembled, I expected more. Luckily everyone involved decided to up the ante this time around, and the result is fun to watch, even when it is completely ridiculous.
The biggest improvement over the first installment is the inclusion of bigger name actors. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis only had small cameos in the original, but their roles are expanded here. The two actually get in on the action at the end, which is what everyone is paying for. Chuck Norris gets in on the fun in a goofy cameo, and Liam Hemsworth joins as the newest member of this mercenary group. However, the best addition to the cast is Jean-Claude Van Damme as bad guy Jean Vilain (this isn’t even the stupidest name a character in these movies has). Van Damme plays this part to perfection and looks like he’s having a lot of fun with it.
Another fun aspect to this sequel are more shout outs to the actor’s previous films and personal lives. Schwarzenegger and Willis have a fun exchange in which they trade some of their most famous lines with each other. Norris delivers a Chuck Norris joke straight off the internet. Van Damme delivers his signature roundhouse kicks (sometimes in situations that don’t really call for them, but hey, if I was in my 50s and could still pull off those moves I’d do it at every given opportunity too). But my personal favorite is the incorporation of Dolph Lundgren’s personal history into the story. I had no idea that he has a Master’s Degree in Chemical Engineering, and it’s pretty cool of Stallone to use this in the movie. Lundgren’s character helps the team in a “Yeah science, bitch!” moment that makes this film a tiny bit smart in a believable and fun way.
For all the improvements to the cast, character development, and plot, the most interesting part of this movie for me is the amount of plastic surgery that these men appear to have undertaken since the 1990s. These are “men’s men”/macho types, and yet they seem to have caved to societal pressure and vanity in a way I wouldn’t have expected. It’s strange, because actors are typically able to age gracefully more than actresses are, but I’d think that these men in particular wouldn’t need to worry about their looks. So long as they can still hold a gun and stage a convincing fight scene a few wrinkles and gray hairs shouldn’t matter, right?