Any hope I had of keeping a tally of fatalities in The Expendables 2 was quickly dashed by the opening melee, which makes the last ten minutes of The Wild Bunch look like the first ten minutes of Up. Simon West replaces Sylvester Stallone in the director’s chair for this sequel, and delivers on the bloody, giddy promises made by the original, yet broken like so many crushed skulls. It’s not a total 180 from its predecessor. Additions to the already bulging cast see the small reserve of allocated ‘acting prowess’ spread even more thinly. And, unfortunately, injections of intelligence have not been added to this franchise’s daily regimen of raw eggs and horse steroids. The movie is so dumb you might find typos in the subtitles. That being said, it has a sense of humour about itself, and the relentless violence should inspire whoops of glee from willing viewers. Also, there’s a scene in which Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis turn a teensy smart car into an armoured utility vehicle by tearing off the doors and blasting dozens of assailants away. There are worse ways to spend 100 minutes.
Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, and (briefly) Jet Li return as the eponymous band of brawny brothers, sent around the globe to do the government’s dirty work. This time around, they’re joined by young gun Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) and Chinese operative Maggie Chan (Nan Yu). The team is sent on a mission by CIA agent Church (Bruce Willis) to recover…something.; it’s not important… but are intercepted by the villainous Vilain (a suitably crazed Jean-Claude Van Damme). Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger pop up at various points, ostensibly as themselves. Everyone shoots one another. Statham says, “I now pronounce you man and knife,” before stabbing someone to death. This is the plot of The Expendables 2. I can’t believe I just wrote it. I can’t believe you just read it.
If that all sounds derivative and uninteresting and loosely cobbled together, well, expecting anything more from a film in which character are christened ‘Hale Caesar’ and ‘Toll Road’ is a fool’s errand. In theory, a motion picture should have rich subjects that are compelling and drive momentum regardless of narrative complexity. Not so here! It’s undeniable, however, that there is an inherent joy in seeing elderly frenemies Sly, Arnie, Bruce, Dolph, Chuck, and JCVD sharing screen time, just as the post-credits sequence of The Avengers with Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, and Thor silently eating shawarma remains wildly entertaining merely because they’re together at last. Not even the last Expendables could provide that simple pleasure. Here, the actors seem to mostly occupy the same physical space, instead of having been super-imposed into the frame during the editing process. Sadly, this is a vast improvement.
West (Con Air, the surprisingly decent remake of The Mechanic) knows how to handle outrageous action, and that is precisely what The Expendables 2 was made for (even if The Raid does it better). The killings are frequent and gory; the pace appropriately intense; the final battle between Stallone and Van-Damme genuinely thrilling. The comedic elements fare worse, though the effort is appreciated. Almost all of the jokes fall flat, and every second line of dialogue seems to be a reframing of each actor’s famous catch phrase. But not even Schwarzenegger repeating variations on “I’ll be back,” over and over again can match the cringe-worthiness of Stallone’s almost-romance with Yu. I don’t know what the opposite of sexual chemistry is – platonic geography? – but they’ve got it in spades. All of these complaints are quieted by the non-stop barrage of rifle fire and exploding heads. The Expendables 2 does what it came for, and little else.
The Expendables 2 is now showing in cinemas.