Monday Movie Review: The Expendables 2

There was something “off” about the first Expendables film (my review) – something unnecessarily mean-spirited and unlikeable. Perhaps it was the racist treatment of Jet Li’s character? Maybe it was the relentless and increasingly tedious, grim-faced brutality? Or it could have been the general unsportsmanlike nature of it all – with our heroes frequently double- and triple-teaming to beat the stuffing out of a single, nameless thug. The Expendables was a 2-star movie, if that.

Well, I’m pleased to report that The Expendables 2 is an entirely different kettle of ageing action icons. Clearly Sylvester Stallone and co. have learned from their mistakes, and taken fan fantasies to heart because this is the movie that its predecessor should have been: silly, self-aware, stuffed with (hopelessly unsubtle) in-jokes and loads of fun.

Chuck Norris actually making a Chuck Norris joke? You got it! Plenty more screen time for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis (who cameoed in the first film)? Check. References to Dolph Lundgren’s impressive real-life intellect? Yup. Fifty-something Jean-Claude Van Damme still delivering his devastating roundhouse kick? You betcha. If you’re a fan of overblown action movies from the 80s onwards, pretty much everything you could want of a retro-style tribute film is here... combined with a refreshing sense of humour.

The plot for The Expendables 2 is kept simple and straightforward. Owing a debt to slimy government agent Church (Willis), the grizzled band of mercenaries known as The Expendables (including returning Stallone, Lundgren, Jason Statham, Li, Terry Crews and Randy Couture) head off to Albania to retrieve the contents of a safe lost during a plane crash. All goes well for the team – accompanied by Yu Nan’s aloof female operative – until they’re ambushed by the villainous, um, Vilain (Van Damme) and his band of Satanic-tattooed thugs. An Expendable falls and the mercs swear revenge. Handily, vengeance comes with a hefty side-helping of social responsibility, because taking out Vilain also means saving local villagers who’ve been hauled off to a mine to dig for Vilain’s “treasure” at gunpoint.

Like its predecessor, The Expendables 2 still oozes machismo from every pore. However, there’s a new light-heartedness to the teasing and game of one-upmanship played by the stars (especially between Stallone and Statham), all of whom consciously embrace their beloved on-screen personas. And I have to suspect that this change in approach has something to do with co-scripter Stallone – who also wrote and helmed the first film – handing over the directing reins to Simon West, whose Con Air also blended over-the-top vehicle stunts, explosions and humour to entertaining effect.

For the record, The Expendables 2 is pretty light on hand-to-hand combat, and heavy on gun battles until the film’s final quarter – when the long-debated, all-star face-offs finally begin.

Anyway, if you have a stomach for violence, The Expendables 2 is a lot more accessible than its predecessor. Liam Hemsworth, as a former army sniper, adds both eye candy and youth to the cast. And Nan, though inexpressive, holds her own as a credible, non-exploitative action heroine in a movie where the manly thing to do is protect the lady folk from danger.

As already said, The Expendables is ridiculous and trashy, but a helluva good time. Although you certainly won’t be watching this one with the most sophisticated of moviegoers, everyone at my screening clearly loved the film. Unsurprisingly, Arnie and Chuck received the most delighted response, whereas unhinged anti-hero Lundgren and always-prepared Crews are consistently the most entertaining of the Expendables themselves. Beware though: The Expendables 2 doesn’t bother reintroducing its cast of characters from the first film, so viewers may be a bit lost if they haven’t seen the original.

I admit I feel uncomfortable rating The Expendables 2 so highly. After all, it’s cinematic junk food, designed to satisfy appetites swiftly and in the most blunt way possible. At the same time though, the film delivers 100% what it promises, tongue firmly in cheek, and these days, in oh-so-serious Hollywood, that’s kind of rare. The Expendables 2 is a blast – a burly, bicep-flexing contender for Greatest Guilty Pleasure of 2012.

4 stars out of 5.

This review originally appeared online at The Movies.


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