How do you top a film that embraced the ethos of the old school action film? You turn up the volume. That’s what The Expendables 2 provides: an amped up version of the first film.
Following our group of mercenaries, the job is simple this time. After CIA company man Mister Church (Bruce Willis) tracks down Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his band of misfits, they’re tasked with a new job. A plane has crashed with information leading to some nuclear material and the Expendables are tasked to retrieve it. When a villain conveniently named Jean Villain (Jean Claude Van-Damme) opts to take it from them instead, and executes one of the team in front of them for the fun of it, Ross and his crew are out to save the day and take a little revenge.
It’s not a terribly deep film in terms of plot and character, of course, but the one thing the film brings in spades is a good sense of fun action. One of the things that marked the first film being so successful was that it towed that line between mocking the once mighty ‘80s action film and being a great ‘80s action film; the sequel doesn’t do it this time around nearly as effectively but it still has the same spirit as the original. There was no way to go but down after that terrific first effort but the drop off isn’t all that significant. This is a film that has an inherent silliness to it and embraces it, of course, but it doesn’t go completely silly. Simon West manages to infuse the same sort of ridiculous action behavior that marked perhaps his peak as a director in Con Air into this film.
Stallone wisely conceded the director’s chair to genre director for hire West and it’s not a bad decision. West may not have Stallone’s steady hand as a story-teller but what he does bring is a much better looking film than before. The Expendables 2 looks better and is shot in a cleaner way; there’s no camera tricks or shaky-cam involved this time around. West doesn’t get nearly as strong performances out of his cast this time around either but in his defense the best actors in the group either exit early in the film (Jet Li) or didn’t return (Mickey Rourke). Liam Hemsworth has a small but solid part as the newest member of the team, Billy the kid, and he manages to hold his own on screen opposite a fairly strong cast.
The film’s biggest surprise comes from an unlikely source: Jean Claude Van-Damme. Always the stoic hero, as befits his usual roles, JCVD is a great villain and ridiculously over the top. In a film like this you need a villain who’s deliciously evil and JCVD is just that; there’s no liking him in any aspect and he manages to top Eric Roberts in the first film as an over the top evil-doer. JCVD has been a hero long enough to know what a bad guy needs to do opposite him to heart and is the bad guy he’d like to play off in his own films.
It doesn’t hurt that JCVD has a good script that systematically paints everything in a clean way with no shades of gray. West has a good script that maximizes everyone’s strengths to help him; Stallone the Oscar winning writer isn’t in brilliant form here but this is a film that doesn’t need a brilliant script. It just needs one that knows how to work to the strengths of its cast and allow the material to be engaging. Stallone does a great job at that and manages to work in small supporting parts for Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger along the way.
There’s something special about seeing Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis and Chuck Norris in one insanely over the top action sequence fighting against the goons of Jean Claude-Van Damme. Much like the church scene in the first film, getting these icons of action together for a ridiculous action scene, culminating in a one on one fist fight between Stallone and JCVD, that makes The Expendables 2the best film of the summer.
With The Dark Knight Rises falling to mediocrity, and The Avengers turning into The Transformers in tights, The Expendables 2 proves that there’s no school like the old school …. and Sylvester Stallone is your headmaster.
Director: Simon West
Writers: Richard Wenk and Sylvester Stallone
Notable Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Jet Li, Nan Yu, Liam Hemsworth, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris
Tags: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren, Jason Statham, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jet Li, Liam Hemsworth, Nan Yu, Randy Couture, Simon West, Sylvester Stallone, Terry Crews, The Expendables 2