Review: The Expendables 2
PLOT: Thanks to their antics in the first film, The Expendables’ leader Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) is in hoc to shadowy CIA agent Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) to the tune of $5 million. His only way to get off Church’s shit list is to take a Chinese agent, Maggie (Nan Yu) into Albania to retrieve the cargo of a downed airplane. While there, Ross and the team are ambushed by Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his own crew of mercenaries. After they murder a key member of the team, the others vow to get even, following Vilain and his crew deep into Eastern Europe for a major showdown.
REVIEW: In every way bigger and better than the first film, THE EXPENDABLES 2 is super-charged adrenaline rush that makes up in brawn whatever it lacks in brains. By comparison, the first film- which I flipped for a couple of years ago (not that it’s held up that well in repeat viewings) is pretty wimpy, with this one truly delivering the kind of epic action you’d expect from such burly cast of action gods.
Right from the start, it’s obvious that EXPENDABLES 2 has a significantly bigger budget than the first film, with the scale of the opening assault on an army base in Nepal being about three times the size of the first film’s South American finale. Literally millions of rounds of ammo are spent as Sly, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Jet Li, and new recruit Liam Hemsworth as Sly’s protégé, wreak havoc and amass a body count that has to be in the hundreds.
From there, the film admittedly loses some steam for awhile, with the crew heading stateside, and Sly getting them into dutch with Willis. Dialogue was not one of the first film’s strengths, and there are some groaners here too (such as Lundgren’s reaction to a parachuting Jet Li- “this gives new meaning to Chinese take-out”). Hemsworth, as the wide-eyed innocent of the team decides to call it quits after one more go-round with the gang, and tells a story about his dog that died in Afghanistan that laid it on a little thick for my tastes- but it’s not as bad as all that. I actually dug the surrogate father-son bond between the aging Sly, and the young Hemsworth. Still, this is by far the dullest part of the flick.
Luckily, bad guy JCVD shows up to wreak some Van Dammage (having his own badass sidekick in Scott Adkins) - sending Sly and co., on a mission of vengeance. This is Van Damme’s first time on the big screen in a while, and he looks fit and focused, and chews lots of scenery as a villain that’s appropriately epic for this kind of film. I especially liked hearing Van Damme mangle the pronunciations of words like “plutonium”, as his crazy line readings have always been the thing about him I enjoyed most (say what you will about his acting- but the dude’s having fun).
Once Sly and co., take off after JCVD, the film picks up right where the nutty opening left off, giving us a solid 45 minutes or so of pure carnage. The violence here is ramped up to ultra-violent levels, although I suspect this was still shot as PG-13, and then brought to an R with some cgi’d gore and dismembering, as their isn’t a single usage of profanity in the film. Hmmmm…
But never fear, the action delivers and there are some funny, gory jokes that would have been lost with a lower rating, and add to the hyper-stylized vibe of the film. The cast is game, with Sly once again getting the lion’s share of screen-time. He still looks to be in as crazy shape as he was in the first film, and his final, epic fight with Van Damme doesn’t disappoint. I love seeing hand-to-hand fights in movies like this, and this bout, coupled with a nifty scrap between Adkins and Statham, are very satisfying.
Statham is once again regulated to the sidekick role, serving mostly as Sly’s foil, but he still gets a couple of big set-pieces, including a badass knife fight in a church (leading to the immortal line “I pronounce you man and KNIFE”). Jet Li is really only on board for a quick cameo, and I almost wonder why they bothered at all, as he’s in it less than the cameoing heavy hitters like Arnie and Bruce. Lundgren, who was briefly a baddie in the first film, is back in the fold here; and serves as the comic relief- with lots of in-jokes satirizing his past as a Fulbright scholar, and MIT student. Randy Couture and Terry Crew mostly hang back, although they each get in some good lines. Newcomers Nan Yu and Hemsworth exist mainly to humanize Sly.
Which brings me to Bruce, Arnie, and CHUCK NORRIS…
Bruce isn’t in this much more than he was in the first film, but he gets in on the action a bit towards the end. Arnie, in his first role since ending his stint as Governor of California has a fairly significant part- maybe not a full-on supporting role, but more than a cameo. Like Van Damme, he seems to be relishing his return to the big-screen, and most of his dialogue consists of jokey one-liners, and knowing references to his big-screen past, and that of his co-stars. And CHUCK NORRIS? While he’s not on-screen long, he’s used hilariously well, in a way that slyly acknowledges his internet fame (using a “fact” as dialogue), and apparent immortality (in two scenes, CHUCK NORRIS probably kills more baddies than anyone else).
Behind the scenes, Sly, who directed the first film, stepped down as director, turning over the reins to Simon West. While I loved CON AIR, his other films haven’t done much for me- but with the big budget, West is obviously able to cut loose, and this is the most energetic film he’s done since that one- and he adopts a similar tongue-in-cheek tone (although this may partially be due to Sly’s script, or the obvious ad-libbing Arnie did).
While I’m certainly guilty of getting carried away in nostalgia in my review of the first film, I’m confident that THE EXPENDABLES 2 is going to satisfy all the action junkies who might have been underserved by the last one. It’s not perfect, a lot of the dialogue is still clunky, and there are some slow spots- but THE EXPENDABLES 2 is still a f’ing blast. If you’re a fan of any of the icons in the cast (who isn’t?), this is for you.
|Extra Tidbit:||CHUCK NORRIS must only be typed in caps. Otherwise CHUCK NORRIS may get angry. I don't want to make CHUCK NORRIS angry.|