Film Review: The Expendables 2
Director: Simon West
Studio: Nu Image / Millennium Films
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Yu Nan, Liam Hemsworth, Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme
Remember when people used to go to the movies to have a good time and not be forced to contemplate overly complicated and philosophical plot lines? Remember when audiences used to go out to the movies to just have a good time? Better yet, remember when such people were not looked down on for apparently having no taste in good cinema? Remember when the likes of Schwarzenegger were shooting up the screen? When people eagerly looked forward to the next Rambo or Die Hard? When it was announced that Hollywood was bringing together the legends of action cinema for a team-up movie akin to The Avengers people were understandably ecstatic, this had not been done before and people were eager to see what it would be like. When The Expendables finally came out in 2010 audiences and critics were unsatisfied and suddenly questioned if they still wanted movies of this ilk in theaters after all this time. Both parties, audiences and critics, were not sure what to make of it: For a pure action movie meant to be a throw back to ‘Ye good ole days’ of John Rambo and John T. Booker it sure tried to be something more and came across being somewhat pretentious and cluttered.
The cast and crew obviously took this recurring criticism to heart because The Expendables 2 takes a completely different angle this second time around and the end result is perhaps one of the best ‘guys night out’ you could have this summer at the movies. The addition of new and old talent to the already epic list of characters really makes an impact. This time around the mercenary team adds the talents of Liam Hemsworth (Yes, the brother of Chris Hemsworth), Yu Nan, and the legendary Chuck Norris to it’s ensemble. If these additions were not enough to entice audiences back for another movie then the revelation that another legend, Jean-Claude Van Damme, would be playing the movie’s antagonist surely sealed the deal for them. Having seen The Expendables 2 tonight I can happily tell you all that it is indeed leaps and bounds better than it’s predecessor.
As the movie starts we’re reunited with ‘The Expendables’ in the midst of a mission to rescue a Chinese official from his captors. During the daring rescue we’re introduced to new team member ‘Billy the Kid’ (Liam Hemsworth), an young and exceptional sniper who’s impeccable timing and aim makes the mission a success. After a brief respite in their favorite bar the team is called upon for another seemingly simple mission in Eastern Europe by former CIA Agent ‘Church’ (Bruce Willis). “Seemingly Simple” and “Action Movie” never go hand-in-hand and sure enough the mission quickly goes south when the team encounters a mercenary army led by Jean Vilein (Jean-Claude Van Damme). This short but significant encounter spurs ‘The Expendables’ to seek revenge against this new formidable opponent and they embark on a vendetta against Jean. Along the way the team discovers evidence of Jean being behind much bigger things going on in the region and are forced to band together like never before to survive. The interaction and the way the team members play off each other is interesting to watch and provides much needed depth to what is undeniably a rather shallow premise.
The plot is thread-bare basic but in this case that’s both a good and bad thing, it is staple action movie storytelling that never tries to be anything more than it is. Too often we see action movies trying to branch out into other areas and end up never pleasing either crowd it was aiming for (In Time, Sucker Punch etc). The movie and it’s cast are fully aware what they’re aiming for here and what audiences want to see, sure enough they deliver the mayhem, the carnage, and the body count by the truckload. One-liners and references to each cast member’s filmography are scattered throughout the dialogue but when they crop up it’s done in a way that is similar to Scott Pilgrim vs The World in that they make sense in the context of the story. While some of the dialogue falls flat on it’s face for the most part it works and is certainly a step up from the cast’s last outing together. Every team member gets their moment to shine and if people were worried that Willis, Schwarzenegger, and Norris would be horseshoed into a single scene each, don’t – while they are indeed supporting cast members when they enter the frame they really make an impact. How, where, and when do these three make their appearances? Now that REALLY would be telling!
It’s hard to believe that this movie could improve on the gratuitous violence and quality of action sequences offered during the previous one but somehow they pulled it off. Besides character interaction and camaraderie action is easily this movie’s strongest suit (If you came here for a deep plot the joke’s on you). Whether you’re seeing Billy the Kid turn heads into mush with his .50 cal sniper rifle, watching Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) slash someone up finer than Freddy Kruger, or witnessing Hale Cesar (Terry Crews) go on a rampage with his automatic shotgun complete with explosive fragmentation rounds everywhere you look you’re seeing this movie push the boundaries of what a PG-13 movie can get away with. This movie comes out of the gate kicking all kinds of ass and never lets up on the way to it’s jaw-dropping finale, you will not believe what you are seeing when you get there!
This is by no means a perfect movie though, as I have previously mentioned the plot is still a bit flimsy and more attention to detail needs to be paid in future installments. Some plot developments receive very little or no build up or explanation at all but the holes are much smaller compared to the previous movie. The charisma and force of personality behind the star studded cast is enough to support the movie but you will eventually realize that they are set in the foreground of a picture with precious little meat on it’s bones. ‘Dramatic’ moments between characters feel a bit stale but you didn’t come here to see your icons moping around discussing their feelings, they let their actions do the talking. I was not overly impressed with the manner that Yin Yang (Jet Li) makes a premature exit from the movie as it was pretty obvious use of the old ‘MacGuffin’ trick to make it seem plausible. Maggie (Yu Nan) does her best to fill the boots left by Jet Li but sure enough that is too big of an ask and while she is not a dull character by any means she just doesn’t measure up to the comical but lethal Li. It’s still a decent trade when you consider in the place of Jet Li you get Willis, Schwarzenegger, and Norris finally able to step up and do their thing once again. Van Damme does a decent job playing the antagonist but you never really get the feeling that he is too serious a threat, he’s just an evil guy that the team wants to get even with.
Final Score: 7/10
+Excellent and memorable characters +Extremely impressive action scenes +Much better script +Incorporates references to classic action movies and tropes +Fully aware of what it is and never tries to be anything else
-Plot is still weak -Certain plot developments are questionable and might throw people -Lack of Jet Li -Dramatic moments feel awkward
The Expendables 2 is a move completely unashamed of what it is that embraces the material on offer with great gusto, bombastic attitude, and in-your-face action and set pieces. A vast improvement over the first Expendables movie that shows promise for the future. More work dedicated to crafting a more engaging storyline would go a long way in the inevitable Expendables 3.
Everything being said this is a solid movie that will serve as a “Guy’s Movie” for some time to come.