Directed by Simon West
Coming into the summer with something to prove, “The Expendables 2” kicks things off right from the start with a huge opening set piece that would make jaws drop if it was in any James Bond movie, with the guys crashing into Nepal to save a hostage. After that mission, the team doesn’t get much R ‘n’ R before they’re sent out on a new mission and a few changes are made in the team.
It’s pretty clear that some of the problems that plagued the original movie are gone with the addition of director Simon West to the team. Not having to spend time introducing or developing the characters makes a big difference, and if you show up not having seen the first movie, you still won’t have much trouble figuring things out. You’ll immediately be on board with whatever these guys do.
As usual, watching a group of action heroes shooting guns and blowing things up is the main draw, but the comic chemistry between Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Randy Couture and especially Dolph Lundgren, who gets some of the funniest scenes, really makes the movie what it is. Jet Li has a smaller part this time, only appearing in the opening sequence, but he’s given a nice spotlight fight that seems to be paying homage to his peer Jackie Chan. The remaining guys are joined by Liam Hemsworth as a young soldier who looks up to Stallone’s Barney. More importantly, the sequel introduces the first female Expendable, Nan Yu’s Maggie Chan who brings a new dynamic to the group that helps lessen the testosterone that often makes it hard to take seriously, and thankfully, she’s never used as a damsel in distress to be rescued by the guys.
On top of that, Jean-Claude Van Damme makes a much better villain than Eric Roberts from the first movie, because you really believe he can hold his own when going up against Stallone and we get a great fight sequence between the two of them that proves it.
One of the biggest annoyances about the first movie was the false promise of having Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger together in the same movie, which amounted to a short cameo by the latter two. There’s a lot more of both Willis and Schwarzenegger, each playing a big part in the movie’s final firefight while throwing out a couple of jokes at each other’s expense. Then again, when Chuck Norris shows up to save the guys while shooting up a village, Stallone’s send-off of “Thanks for showing up” gets an awkward laugh because it does seem as if Norris really must have just shown up for one day. (He does come back, but it’s the most throwaway role of the guys on the poster.)
Granted, the story and dialogue are no great shakeswhen you can understand what everyone’s saying from their mumbled lines–but the good thing about “The Expendables” as a franchise is that it’s never meant to be taken seriously and you can tell the vets are having fun reliving their heyday. It’s also clear that Stallone is better when not having to act and direct at the same time, and Simon West slips into the latter role with ease, creating a movie that uses CG far better to enhance the action and violence. Even so, Stallone offers some of the worst moments of the movie when he tries to bring more gravitas to certain scenes and says something so corny that you’re not sure if it’s meant to be funny or not. (And he seems to have trouble maintaining a consistent moustache over the course of the movie, too.)
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