The Expendables 2 (2012)
By: Devon B. on September 1, 2012  | 
Director: Simon West
Starring:: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Screnplay: Richard Wenk, Sylvester Stallone
Country: USA
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I was initially a bit disappointed with The Expendables, partially because it would be very hard for any film to live up to the expectations generated by the film's cast, but I think a bigger problem was the disjointedness of the script. I revisited the film a few months later and enjoyed it much more, but there are some definite script problems, the main one being Dolph Lundgren's character isn't around enough. Thankfully Sylvester Stallone realised his mistake there, and keeps Lundgren on hand most of the time in The Expendables 2.

Stallone, mercifully no longer sporting eyebrows like a female film star from the 30s, is once again called in by Bruce Willis' character to go on a mission. The team go to retrieve an item, but after locating it they are intercepted by another team that we know are badass because they're lead by Jean-Claude Van Damme and his underling Scott Adkins. In his first scene Van Damme manages to do what Eric Roberts was unable to do in the entire prequel, and expend one of the expendables. Due to honour or respect or some shit, Van Damme leaves the rest alive, so unsurprisingly they come after Van Damme and now their mission's personal.

The Expendables 2 starts with an action scene that would be the climax of most movies, with bullets flying like it was The Wild Bunch and more explosions than a Rammstein concert. I've been tricked by awesome intros before, so kept my excitement in check, but The Expendables 2 is a much better crafted film than its predecessor. Stallone is still the lead, with a love interest way to young for him, but because he and Jason Statham don't have to do the whole reconnaissance thing, the movie is able to stick with the whole team rather than individual members. This means that some of the characters that didn't get enough screen time in the first film are given quite a bit more in this one. Except for Jet Li. Don't go see this movie just for Jet Li, because he's essentially just doing a cameo. He does get a good little kung fu skirmish in the beginning, but after that mission is done so is he. Hopefully he'll return in The Expendables 3 and get to beat up more people. But Lundgren, Terry Crews and Randy Couture all get more screen time, which helps The Expendables 2 feel much more like an ensemble piece than the mash up that came before it.

Lundgren is given a chance to be more playful, and the film goes a little autobiographical and acknowledges Lundgren's real-life smarts. I was thrilled to see Lundgren on the big screen again, and because the film makes fun of his character a fair bit, it seemed like Lundgren's ego didn't need stroking as much as some of the others'. Egos even get an on screen discussion at one point, but the person that has the biggest doesn't even get a mention in that scene. I'm talking, of course, about Chuck Norris. As with Li, don't go see this movie for Norris, as his character is like a hold-over of the unevenness from the first film, feeling completely shoehorned in like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Willis were last time. Norris only appears briefly, and first arrives in a scene that is a gigantic ego massage that references Good Guys Wear Black, Lone Wolf McQuade and the "Chuck Norris is so tough" joke genre. Schwarzenegger and Willis are more naturally included in the story this time, though the excuse for Willis to get in on the action is thin at best, but that is forgiven because when the moment arrives for the big three to fire up the cinema screen, it is totally fuckin' worth some convenient scripting. Statham's roll is smaller than in the first movie to make way for his co-stars, but he's given a few great moments, and a good martial arts fight, to make up for it. Our older heroes are admittedly looking.older, but aside from Norris' artificially coloured beard (you're 72, Chucky, let it go!) and some puffiness on Van Damme's face, most of the geriatric gunmen looked extremely fit and able. Van Damme appears to have been hitting the gym to bulk up for the roll, which begs the question, would Steven Seagal do the same if he were cast in the third film? It might be his last chance to do a big budget action movie, so it could be the push he needs, but I also wouldn't mind Stevie doing his Ogami Itto-esque thing on the big screen.

The Expendables 2 is an improvement on the first film in almost every way. Now that the characters have been set up, the quest to get everyone together to blow shit up seems much more organic. Not necessarily much more plausible, because there're a few things (mostly linked to characters' motivations) that have murky logic at best. There's also little attention paid to ongoing radiation sickness concerns and a massive cliché that was so obvious I figured the film was going for a bait-and-switch, but otherwise this film is the better written of the two. I suspect there may be a director's cut coming that includes some more character stuff that might iron out some of these plotting edges, because there's one plot point that is mentioned a few times that doesn't really go anywhere. Unless that's a key story element in the next instalment, but that seems unlikely.

The main reason to come to this movie isn't a story though, it's action. Duh! There's not a lot of martial arts action, perhaps because Li is M.I.A. for most of the movie, but director Simon West does a better job of capturing these fights and keeping them coherent than Stallone did last time. The opening and closing set pieces are impressive, and there're enough moments of mayhem in between to keep any action fan engaged. There was concern that the film would be aiming for a PG-13 (US) rating, but it's too bloody for that. however, there is strangely very little swearing. When it was confirmed that the film would be rated R (US), the thing cited was profanity, but I only heard two swears, and those were "shit" and "bastard", so no one dropped an f-bomb. People have blamed Norris for the initial PG-13 scare, but he has so little involvement I can't imagine the film would've been toned down to secure him, and Norris himself has refuted the idea that this was ever discussed. The film doesn't feel like it's been neutered like Taken, but it is a bit odd that everyone has their swear filter on, almost like a censored TV version is what made it to the cinema. Anyway, back to that blood, a lot of the squibs are CG, but they're made to look as realistic as possible, and honestly I didn't find them distracting very often.

The Expendables 2's humour is a little obvious, like the 80s flicks it's a call-back to, but there're some genuinely funny lines. Towards the end a few of the jokes got a little too nudge-nudge wink-wink for my liking, but at the same time it would be hard to resist the temptation to make a huge deal of the fact that Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger are all shooting at the bad guys together. Perhaps as another nod to the action films of old, there're also some unintentionally funny moments like a scene that implies that Stallone is as strong as the immense Crews and another which has the most homoerotic comeback of all time.

Because much of the movie was shot in Bulgaria, The Expendables 2 has a backdrop like some of the direct-to-video work that some of its stars have been making for years, which made me wonder, where is The Asylum's knockoff of this series? It could star people that were DTV stars in the 80s and early 90s like Jeff Speakman, Billy Blanks, Don "The Dragon" Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, and Sasha Mitchell. The Disposables - coming soon.

A huge step up from its predecessor, The Expendables 2 is silly fun from start to finish. It's big, loud and brazen, and will hopefully pave the way for its stars to do more of what they do best for many years to come.
Movie Score
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