The all-star action sequel to 2010’s The Expendables sees even more old school action legends join the party.
The film kicks off with Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his right hand man Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) back in action with their misfit mercenaries (Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Terry Crews and Randy Couture) along with new guy sniper Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth). They rescue a kidnapped businessman, in the process crossing paths with Ross’ old rival Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger).
On returning to the States, Ross is approached by shifty CIA spook Mr Church (Bruce Willis), who uses the fact Ross owes him to get him to take a risky job recovering something from a downed aircraft in Eastern Europe, which they have to team up with Maggie (Yu Nan) a tech expert.
They retrieve the goods and are about to get out when they’re caught off guard by Jean Villain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) who kills one of the gang (I won’t say who, but you can see it coming quite a way off). It turns out Villain needed a blueprint to find weapons grade plutonium which he plans to sell on.
Out for revenge Ross and co. decide to track down Villain, along the way bumping into enigmatic mercenary Booker (Chuck Norris) who aids them but then leaves, preferring to work alone. They discover Villain has been taking the men from local towns and forcing them to work in the mines looking for the buried plutonium. Can the gang save the villagers, get revenge on Villain and stop the plutonium from falling into the wrong hands?
As a massive action movie lover, I was always going to like this flick. I really enjoyed the first movie and there’s a great sense of geeky joy in seeing some of the action genres big stars together, especially when the big 3 of 80s action heroes- Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Willis fighting alongside each other.
The plot is fairly simple, and reassuringly old fashioned- stolen nukes and oppressed people are well established genre conventions, and there are few surprises along the way, but it doesn’t matter, because the film zips along at a decent pace and its loud, dumb fun from start to finish.
Action sequences come thick and fast, wonderfully OTT shootouts where faceless goons explode into clouds of blood and some bone crunching hand-to-hand scraps. There are some great little visual gags and flourishes during the fight scenes, including a great scene where a henchman’s bullet riddled demise is captured through and airport x-ray machine.
There’s a real cartoony vibe to proceedings, which harks back to the 80s/90s action movie golden age where consequences and angst were largely ignored, don’t get me wrong, I like introspective, gritty dramas as much as the next man, but at the same time its nice to have some brainless, lighthearted mayhem from time to time. I was reminded of this again today when I watched Octopussy, one of the dafter Roger Moore era Bond movies, and while I appreciate the craft of the Daniel Craig Bond flicks I have to admit I’m usually more inclined to watch the goofier older Bonds.
While there’s no great personal drama aside from Ross’ guilt over the death of his crew and the suggestion that the life they lead is filled with regret and missed opportunities for happiness, the gang kill, quip and banter their way through the proceedings. This is explained in one badass line: “We keep it light, until its time to go dark, and then we get pitch black”.
That’s not to say that the cast don’t do their jobs well. I’ve always found Stallone an endearing and likable screen presence and he’s on fine form here, especially in his scenes with Statham, as the two are charismatic and share great chemistry together, resulting in a convincingly buddy vibe between the two.
The buddy vibe continues through the film in the banter between the rest of the team and one gets the sense that they enjoyed making the film, but happily in a way that comes across in a good way on screen and includes the audience.
The problem with the ensemble idea is that not everyone is given enough to shine, and here Jet Li is criminally underused, he has a pretty impressive fight at the start and bickers with Lundgren to good effect but is then written out of the rest of the movie in a way that smacks of contractual obligation.
Crews and Lundgren get very little time but do well with what they get, particularly Lundgren, who I’ve long had a soft spot for and whose frazzled ex-junkie Gunner is a funny, oddly sweet character. I did feel that more could have been done with him though and they missed a chance to bring him out more by having Stallone hog the romantic angle yet again, but c’est la vie, and Stallone’s the bigger name.
Former UFC star Randy Couture is still the group’s weakest link, but he’s better here than in the first film and forms a decent double act with Crews.
Willis and Schwarzenegger are given more room and things to do this time round, and as I mentioned, seeing them join forces with Stallone will delight action movie fan boys. Their interplay works and there are little in jokes about their films and some catchphrase switching fun.
The tongue in cheek nature continues with Chuck Norris’ extended cameo, which has a little nod towards the “Chuck Norris facts” meme and Norris seems to have fun.
Jean-Claude Van Damme seems to relish the chance to play a bad guy and does it extremely well, making the subtly named Villain an oddly charismatic, menacing figure and setting up a decent Stallone-JCVD smackdown at the film’s close, which is handled rather well, with the more brutish Stallone’s smashmouth style contrasting well with JCVD’s kickboxing. As a long time JCVD fan its nice to see him back in action in something other than bog standard straight-to-DVD fare, and its been a while since he’s been this good.
Its a fun romp but it depends on the level of your affection for mindless action and the action heroes of days gone by. As a massive action movie fan you could say I’m inclined to like this flick and the target audience, and for me it totally worked, but I think for most people it’ll work as a fun, evening in with pizza movie.
Verdict: Gleefully dopey action fare, delivered by an iconic cast who all know what they’re doing and seem to be having fun doing it. 6/10
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.