The middle-aged motley crew of mercenaries is back with a vengeance in The Expendables 2, a fine continuation of the franchise that actually manages to surpass the original.
The plot revolves around the crew from the original Expendables revenging the death of a fallen friend at the hands of an oily Euro-villain named Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), but honestly, who is buying a ticket for this film in the hopes of watching a life affirming film played across the screen? Anyone walking into a theater this weekend is expecting lots of explosions, hand-to-hand combat, and if it’s not too much to ask, some vintage 80s style one-liners.
Sylvester Stallone doesn’t disappoint, handling screenwriting duties deftly. Whereas the first film had its moments of confusion (seriously, was that Mickey Rourke scene written for another film?), here everything gels into a cohesive whole. Stallone knows that the audience expects certain things from the special guest-stars, and he provides them in spades. It’s not a question of whether Schwarzenegger will say “I’ll be back,” but how many times. Why hire Chuck Norris, if not to shoot off a Chuck Norris joke in the middle of the film for no good reason? At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that I missed Bruce Willis muttering “Yippee-ki-yay…” in the background of a scene.
Stallone wisely handed over the directing reigns this go-round to Simon West. West is a director that I have never particularly cared for; it seems he has always made movies that could be something special (Con Air), or just produced disasters in general (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). I don’t know if it was the cast that he found himself working with on this film, or the fact that this was the biggest film he has worked on in years, but West delivers here unlike any other picture he has ever been involved with. The action set pieces are staged in ways that make this one of the most exciting films to be released this year, and he manages to pull fantastic performances out of actors that clearly aren’t giving it 110%.
That’s not to say that the actors are phoning it in; but let’s be honest, when they signed up for this sequel, it was with the understanding that it wasn’t going to be Shakespeare in the jungle. Jason Statham and Jet Li are both notorious for only working as hard as absolutely necessary, and while both are fun here, they’re not exactly breaking a sweat trying to find their characters’ motivations and inner turmoil. Perhaps the most surprising performance in the film is given by Van Damme, who delivers what is arguably the best acting of his career. The character of Vilain as written doesn’t call for much heavy lifting on the actor’s part, and a less motivated performer would be more than happy to phone in a European heavy accent that we have seen a million times before. Van Damme takes the material and relishes playing the adversary to so many big-name actors. He’s is clearly having fun with the role, and the screen lights up whenever he appears.
The Expendables 2 does the impossible; it gives us one of the best comic-book movies of the year, without even being based on a comic book. The action, the humor, the drama; this film is right at the top of the list of the best action films this year with The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, while gaining a few brownie points for being based on an original concept. If you’re looking for an awesome time at the cinema this weekend, you will have a hard time finding a film more fun than The Expendables 2.