When The Expendables was released a couple of years ago, I proclaimed my unabashed addiction for all things Sylvester Stallone, even when they are bad—as was that movie. I shouted to the movie gods that I wanted a sequel, and I wanted that sequel to be better than the sloppy first offering.
Not only do we get the better sequel ... IT HAS CHUCK NORRIS!!!
The creators of The Expendables 2 learned a lot from the mistakes of the first installment. It gathers up a bunch of old goons, gives them big guns, and tells them to shoot things—and this time out, they do it with much aplomb. It's obvious before the opening title, in a sequence where many a man is shredded via gunfire from aging American action superstars, that The Expendables 2 is going to get things right and deliver the crazy-gory goods.
Much of the credit must go to Simon West, who replaces Stallone in the director's chair. West made the ridiculously enjoyable Con Air, which combined stellar action with funny, dumb dialogue to much success. Unlike Stallone's effort in the first movie, The Expendables 2 gets real laughs from its boneheaded dialogue.
The action involves some nonsense in which Church (Bruce Willis) angrily orders Ross (Stallone) and his men to retrieve something from a plane wreck. That something turns out to be a link to bomb-making materials that could knock the world on its ass. On top of these secrets falling into the wrong hands, one of The Expendables is murdered right before their eyes, which kick-starts a nice revenge subplot.
The action, in the hands of West, plays much better. Stallone's effort featured slapdash editing that made the action hard to follow, while this installment's set pieces get you pumped. And the fake-looking cartoon gore from the first film has graduated to better-looking cartoon gore here.
The script calls for a reduction in the Jason Statham character (Hooray!) while giving bigger parts to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Willis. They are still bit players, but they do more than funny walk-ons. There's also the aforementioned Norris, known as a "lone wolf," a nice nod to his unintentionally hilarious 1983 effort, Lone Wolf McQuade.
Other new additions include Liam Hemsworth as a sniper, a handsome young gun clearly added to appeal to the ladies. (The woman I attended a screening with was very happy with the sight of this gentleman.) Nan Yu tags along as the first woman to join The Expendables on a mission, and she kicks ass with the best of them. Most notably, Jean-Claude Van Damme, who passed on the first movie, turns up as a sunglasses-wearing bad guy.
Van Damme, as the obviously named Vilain, is the person stealing lots of uranium and killing Expendables guys. Of course, he and Stallone will have an epic smackdown near the film's end that calls for Van Damme to do some rather impressive high-kicking. The man still gets lots of air.
Sure, Arnie (Trench) fires off a few too many "I'll be back!" jokes. The beauty of The Expendables 2 is that West has the good sense to have Willis' Church point that out and mock him for it. The screenplay also has the good sense to throw in jokes about aging, and one priceless "Chuck Norris" joke.
If I have a complaint, it's that there isn't enough of Terry Crews and his really big gun in this installment. It was the best thing about the first movie. In fact, Crews hands off his really big gun to Arnie during the opening sequence. WTF?!?
It is impressive to see these guys still kicking after all these years. (Stallone is 66, and Arnie is 65!) Stallone looks almost hilariously fit for his age. (Did you know his tattoos are real? Until recently, I did not know this!) Arnold looks a little the worse for wear, but he did just weather a stint as California's governor and a scandal involving his screwing of the help.
If box-office returns warrant a third chapter, rumor has it that Nicolas Cage is already signed up, with Harrison Ford and Clint Eastwood also being offered gigs. Even if Expendables 2 comes up a little short, I have a feeling a second sequel will get a green light if Ford or Eastwood sign on, because getting either of those guys would mean coming up with big bank. (As for Cage, they probably lured him in with a toy duck and a box of crackers.)
Whether or not they continue the franchise, at least one of these Expendables things worked. Things blow up real good this time out ... real good.