The Expendables 2 Directed by: Simon West Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lungren, Nan Yu, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth Running Time: 1 hr 42 mins Rating: R Release Date: August 17, 2012
PLOT: A group of humanitarian mercenaries (led by Stallone) must stop an evil man (Van Damme) from getting his hands on five tons of plutonium.
WHO'S IT FOR? An appreciation for these action stars is necessary. There's no way this movie would be fun if you don't have some type of fondness towards movies like Commando, Rocky, Lone Wolf McQuade, The Transporter, The Terminator, Hard Target, and many others.
Families have their reunions for two reasons. They gather from far and wide to pay their respects to someone who has passed, or, said families want to celebrate the happiness of being a family.
2010's The Expendables, as directed by Stallone himself with the same visceral seriousness as his brutal Rambo movie, is much like the first type of reunion. Though that film did have bits of comic relief, one couldn't help but see the story as a eulogy for action's past golden decades of the '80s and '90s, when vehicles only needed a macho star and a big gun to get made. With The Expendables, Stallone was able to make quite a guest list for his "Dream Team" genre movie, but beneath the movie's bombastic action there was a looming darkness of the fear of irrelevancy that no machine gun or face punch could stop. Though The Expendables prominently featured the new type of action star, Jason Statham (playing Stallone's apprentice), it was emotionally invested in rescuing past stars like Dolph Lundgren and past genre clichés from DVD bargain bin obscurity.
Now that everyone's all acquainted and good vibes have been achieved, the celebratory Expendables 2 is the fun, raucous lampshade-hat party the first one probably should have been as well. A billion of anonymous bad guys reduced to bloody bits? Check. Lots of explosions? Check. Jukebox tunes playing during down time? Check. Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger shooting machine guns out of a Smart car? Rock and roll.
With credit to director Simon West, this one clears itself of many of the first one's glaring flaws to make it more fun to enjoy. The fighting is not captured with claustrophobic shaking cameras, allowing hard-hitting take-downs to play out cleanly. Even the story is cut without heavy drama, this time lacking in anything comparable to Mickey Rourke's babbling war monologue in Expendables, which always slows that movie down.
As the script has great fun with action clichés, embracing them for all of their for better or worse glory, these legends of the genre show their fun by embracing the goofier side of things. Worse than Stallone's serious insistence on naming his character "Barney" and Statham's "Christmas" in the first movie, this sequel has plenty of dorkiness to go around. Stallone insists on donning a cap and a 'stache missing from his Italian Stallion moment, Statham's on-screen girlfriend from the previous one has now become obsessive and naggy, Schwarzenegger machine gun fires his winky zings, and of course, Chuck Norris, trimmed like a G-rated version of Jesus, make a Chuck Norris joke.
While this certainly isn't a clean party, the biggest foul of The Expendables 2 might be that it turns these former mega movie stars into people who have to make fun of themselves, or resume the old shticks, to maintain our attention. It's a double-edged sword, but such jokes do play well into the fun of The Expendables 2. Is sacrificing original seriousness not a cost in being in the retro business?
Two years after The Expendables, the action genre has changed. As evidenced by the trailers that played before Expendables 2, The Men (Stallone and Schwarzenegger) are returning to theaters next year to re-dominate the Planet Hollywood that once slid from their grips, and sent them towards other interests. Even Bruce Willis will be releasing a fifth Die Hard movie in 2013. Maybe The Expendables 2 isn't just a reunion, but a welcoming home party.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10