I will admit upfront that there was very little possibility that I would not have enjoyed this movie. You have every 80’s action star, a lot of guns and explosions, and the right tongue in cheek attitude, what’s not to like? These guys are basically having fun doing a last couple of hurrah’s in their chosen fields of expertise. They bring with them a cachet of personal history, one liners and audience affection so that it is going to be hard to resist. That doesn’t mean it is going to be a good movie, but it does mean that to spoil it you would have to make a bad movie. “The Expendables 2” is not a bad movie. If you have any desire to see this movie because of what you want from it before you go in, you should be satisfied. If you are looking to find flaws or things to complain about, there are a few issues but not enough to take away the pleasure of watching some old pros go through their paces one more time.
When you have this many action stars in a film, you know that everyone is going to get a few moments to shine but they are not going to be able to take over the film because there is constantly some one else up next in the queue. Stallone and Statham are the leads in the movie and they get plenty to do and the choicest characters. If there were not so many pieces to fit in, then this would be a buddy action picture with those two as the partners of our screen bromance. Sly looks older but still has the physique to carry off a demanding action role like this. His biggest moments come toward the end when he goes one on one against the villain. There are a few moments of contemplation and mournful dialogue, but they are only narrative that is filling in until the next action scene. Statham has been making these kind of movies steadily for the last fifteen years. He hits his marks, knows enough martial arts to be very convincing and has the cool factor needed to let him be the “knife” guy for the team.
Dolph Lundgren was under used in the first movie and he gets a chance to be a stronger character in this film. The story takes advantage of his real life chemical engineering background but usually plays it for laughs. He is the main comic relief in the film. Jet Li, is part of the opening sequence of the picture and you can understand what an amazing martial artist he is from the brief sequences he participates in. Li leaves the picture pretty early, and I guess it makes sense since there is so much other activity going on. The way he steps out of the action seems to suggest he would be stepping back in at any moment, but he does not. The other members of the Expendables team do take a step back from the more high profile parts they had last time, to make room for expanded parts from the cameo slots in the first picture. Bruce Willis is not just in one scene this time, he is in three or four including a big action sequence toward the end. “Arnold” gets a brief shot in the opening and returns for the closing segment as well. Both Willis and Schwarzenegger trade off on variations of their signature characters from other films. This material might be a little too campy for some action enthusiasts but for movie lovers, it’s a set of jokes that provokes welcome groans of recognition even though getting to them seems like a belabored process.
The two new kids on the playground of this franchise are Jean Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris. The bearded wonder that is the seventy plus Norris, appears in only two sequences, but in each of them he is like a shot of caffeine. Norris pumps up the action geek in everyone and allows us to know that the good guys are going to win in the end. I had read where Norris did not want the movie to be R rated, but the reasons for the rating here are all based on violence, not language and sex. While it may not seem politically correct to say so, he and the rest of us primitives can live with the rating for the purpose of the action in the film. Norris also gets a chance to spoof all those Chuck Norris is so tough memes with a funny line about a snake. Van Damme is the action icon best served by the script. He gets to play the villain role, and he bites into it with relish. After our first encounter with his character, we hate him and can’t wait for the comeuppance that will clearly arrive before the credits. His showdown with Stallone gives him a chance to show off his unique martial arts style, ham up his villainy, and generally make the strongest impression of the ensemble action cast.
Although there is some hokiness in the struggle to get humor based on the casting into the movie, that tone does not undermine the plot and the drama that all the action is in aid of. You won’t care after the movie is over, but there is not much sense to the way plot points follow along. The macguffin is as usual, secondary to the action and emotions that are being stirred up. We want revenge, we want to be on the edge of our seats and we want a cathartic laugh every once in a while. That is how action films work best and it is why the Expendable 2 works as well as it does. I look forward to seeing this movie thirty times a year on pay television, I know I can plug in at any point and just enjoy the ride.