- Rated R
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All photos © Lionsgate Films
Reviewed by Ezra Stead
his film is about as subtle, quiet and thoughtful as anyone who saw “The Expendables” would expect its sequel to be, which is to say, not even slightly. Like the first movie, “The Expendables 2” wastes pretty much zero time getting around to its particular brand of wildly over-the-top action and carnage. After blasting through a remote village full of mercenary gunmen and taking the film's body count from zero to at least a few dozen in about a minute of screen time, Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and company have a few nice improvised weapon fights. Setting the tone for the rest of the film, Barney ramps a riderless motorcycle through the windshield of an approaching enemy helicopter, and the unfortunately named Yin Yang (Jet Li) lays waste to a bunch of guys using a couple of frying pans.
All this and more happens before the opening title, not to mention a reappearance of the ridiculously large and powerful AA-12 auto assault 12-gauge shotgun wielded by Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) in the original. This time, however, it is quickly commandeered by Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), which I like to think was a stipulation in Arnold's contract: “I'll do it, Sly, but only if I get the biggest gun.” Much like the first film, this is basically porn for gun and explosives enthusiasts, and Stallone and company seem hell-bent on topping every action movie ever made for sheer intensity, not to mention one-liners. “The Expendables 2” goes even harder than the first one on both counts, though perhaps a bit too hard with the one-liners. For every great exchange like the farewell between Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren) and Yin Yang (Gunner: “Who am I gonna pick on now?” Yin: “You'll find another minority”), there are more than a few really clunky ones, like when Church (Bruce Willis) describes Barney's past behavior as “male pattern badness.”
We might as well just get the “plot” out of the way quickly, which is exactly what the film does. Church recruits Barney and his team to steal something, telling him (and the audience) not to worry about what it is. Of course, it falls into the wrong hands, those of the evil Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his henchmen. That's pronounced “vil-ane,” but as with most of the other character names, it's pretty cheerfully on-the-nose; Barney's right-hand man, Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) seems to have been given his name mainly so the guys can make jokes like, “It looks like Christmas came late this year.” Anyway, while stealing the goods from Barney's team, Vilain kills one of them, making it personal for the Expendables.
Besides Van Damme, there are a few welcome new additions to the cast, including Chuck Norris in what amounts to little more than a great cameo as Booker, a lone wolf (get it?) mercenary who saves the asses of most of the team before delivering a winking Chuck Norris “fact” in the form of dialogue (Barney: “I heard you got bitten by a king cobra.” Booker: “Yes, and after five days of excruciating pain, the cobra died.”) The entire film is gleefully self-aware, often to the point of absurdity, like an exchange between Willis and Schwarzenegger in which they steal each other's trademark “Die Hard” and “Terminator” (and every other movie Schwarzenegger ever made) lines. Hell, the mining machine from “Total Recall” even makes an appearance, albeit with a slightly different design.
Another interesting addition to the cast is Nan Yu as the Chinese agent Maggie, the first useful female character in the “Expendables” franchise. Just as Yin predicted, another minority has been added to the team for Gunner to pick on, though in a very different way than he used to pick on Yin, since she is a woman. Much like the first film, Gunner is the most enjoyable character, his drunken gruffness supplemented in this one by more character development taken from Lundgren's actual life: before becoming a tough guy, Gunner/Lundgren was a chemical engineer who studied at prestigious universities.
All in all, “The Expendables 2” is exactly what fans of the first one would expect and want, and there's nothing wrong with that. Sure, it's knowingly silly, hyper-violent escapism, but what else would it be? The only elements really missing are Mickey Rourke, whose presence wasn't even really essential in the first one but still always more than welcome, and Steven Seagal, who we can only hope will finally be persuaded to join the cast for the third installment.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
The bonus material isn't as plentiful as you might think, but there are a handful of extras worth checking out, including a director commentary with Simon West and a making-of featurette ("Gods of War") that focuses on getting the gang back together for a sequel. Additionally, there's a 25-minute featurette about the rise of action films in the 80s, a look at the weapons used in the movie, deleted scenes, a gag reel and a digital copy.