The Expendables 2

I enjoyed the first Expendables, but felt like it was missing a little something. It had all the elements of a great action film, but the end result was a tad hollow and left me wanting more. Enter Sylvester Stallone and his crew of misfits for another round of violence, mayhem, and bloodshed in Expendables 2.  It is, in every way, a far more over-the-top version of its predecessor and, in fact, nearly every action movie before it. The plot, such as it is, serves merely as a thin foundation upon which director Simon West builds a gigantic celluloid edifice in tribute to the glorious excesses of the 80’s, and then blows it to smithereens. This film a flurry of bullets and one-liners, delivered with such gleeful tongue-in-cheek earnestness that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud during the late-night screening (along with most of the audience too). In the first movie, Barney Ross (Stallone) and Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) led the titular gang of mercenaries on a mission to overthrow an evil dictator in the South American island of Vilena.  It was a great way to reunite virtually every great action star from the days of yore, but too much exposition and narrative twists bogged down what could have been a nice nostalgic romp. Fortunately, all that is gone in the sequel and what we are left with is the basic elements of a great ‘splode-fest with none of the window dressing.  It’s straight-up good guys vs. bad guys here, and of course the latter outnumber the former by at least twenty-to-one which, as one might expect, means a whole lot of cannon fodder for the good guys.

The movie opens with Ross and his crew infiltrating (read: demolishing and incinerating) a secret compound in order to retrieve a valuable hostage. Turns out there are two individuals worth rescuing: a Chinese billionaire and Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Stallone’s rival from the first film. Upon their rescue, Trench searches for a big weapon and asks Ross’s team member Cesar (Terry Crews, no doubt lathered up in Old Spice) if he can have his. Cesar agrees, and lets Trench know that if he damages the weapon he will be “Terminated.” Cue cheering and applause from the theater audience, and an almost-visible wink from Schwarzenegger.  Yes, director Simon West is assuring us here, we are in for two raucous hours of craziness.  And it’s going to be a fun ride.

No subtlety or nuance here. Just big dudes with big guns.

New to the Expendables team this time around is sniper Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth, giving the girlfriends who got dragged to this movie something to look at), fresh out of the Army but reluctant to sign off on a life of unpredictable globetrotting with the rest of the team. He agrees to go with the crew on one more job, handed to them by the quazi-secretive Church (Bruce Willis) who wants a rather valuable package retrieved from a plane crash. Along the way they run into Villain (Jean-Claude Van Damme, slipping into this caricatured role like a comfy pair of old jeans), the leader of another band of mercenaries who takes the cargo the Expendables were sent to rescue.  I can’t give away too much here, but suffice it to say that after the mission is over, The Expendables have a much more personal reason to get the package back and kill Villain even if it means destroying half of Europe in the process.

Let’s not kid ourselves here, though: the main reason to see Expendables 2 is not the plot, the visuals, or the even action: it’s all about the actors: we’re here to watch Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, Statham, Couture, Lundgren, and Li take on the bad guys and leave no man standing. The movie works only because it is these individuals, the titans of the genre, doing the fighting and spouting off one-liners like “I now pronounce you…man and knife” while dispatching evildoers with aplomb. When the team asks Booker (Chuck Norris) what happened after an encounter with a cobra snake, he replies with one of the infamous Chuck Norris Facts: “After five days of agonizing pain…the cobra died.” Schwarzenegger and Willis trade barbs near the end of the film, poking fun at each other’s “I’ll be back” and “Yippie-ki-yay” lines from Terminator and Die Hard while practically cheering along with the audience in the process. Clearly this is not a movie meant to be taken seriously, and it’s all the more fun because of it.

In the 1985 Schwarzenegger classic Commando, there’s a scene in which Arnold racks up over 50 bodies in 3 minutes. It’s ridiculous, ludicrous, illogical–and thoroughly entertaining. Scenes like this allow us to root for an unstoppable here who will do whatever it takes to right the wrongs in this cruel world. The Expendables 2 is an extension of that mentality: there’s no double-crossing, no love story, no shady political backhanded maneuvers, no inner conflict, and no need to dodge bullets (we all know such puny projectiles have no effect on action heroes).  Instead we have a binary world where good is good, bad is bad, and heroes who simply take care of business.  In a summer full of brooding billionaires and squabbling superheroes, Expendables 2 is a reminder of that sometimes all we want is just a rock-solid back-to-the-basics action flick. And boy, does it deliver.


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