Sly Stallone and his not so merry, mostly grumpy, nihilistic, band of aging action heroes and famous faces are back in the Avengers of action cinema, The Expendables 2. The first film got by on promises, which it didn’t fully deliver on, and a wink, which it did a lot. Expendables 2 delivers on most of the promises and winks at the camera all the way through.
If the first one was a romp on more modern action settings, nameless South American dictatorship. Than the sequel is a romp on good o’ll 1980’s cold war action films. The gang find themselves in the middle of Eastern Europe. Sent on that one last job before they are all square with Mr. Church (Bruce Willis). They have some extra baggage in the form of super safe cracker Maggie (Yu Nan), whom they must baby sit. After one of their own is taken out by the villainous Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), the film becomes as simple as the plan Barney lays out “Track 'em, find 'em, kill 'em.”
It may seem too quick for a franchise to become too self referential in two movies. As funny as the various memes, catchphrases, and classic action cinema moments are they began to overwhelm and take over the movie. At the very least it ruins the flow going from semi serious talk about how to best kill 30 guys to Chuck Norris jokes isn’t an easy line to walk. When the climatic gun fight ends up in a airport and you have Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris on one side the references are there to be made. They just didn’t need to be so obvious. I like my referential humor to be at the hipster level.
The movie is what it sounds like, as cliche as it is. The violence and action is mostly entertaining to watch. Bodies explode with blood or are blown into pieces. The plans are insane and defy reality. The actors are what they are at this point. The main thrust of the character arcs are put upon Christmas (Jason Stathom) and Barney (Sylvester Stallone) with Terry Cruz and Randy Couture being perfect enhancement talents. Dolph Lundgren gets a surprising bit of character work with references to his actual past and manages to endear himself and prove his worth. Jean-Claude Van Damme is excellent as Jean Vilain, channeling all those bad guys from past movies and is rather villainous.
The Expendables 2 is a better attempt to fulfill the promises that the first film had and is definitely the better of the two. If the idea of a rag tag group of action stars from the past 30 years dosen’t excite you, this movie is not for you. If you have a fondness for Die Hard,Rambo,The Terminator,Universal Soldier, The Delta Force than you will like The Expendables 2.