It has been not the best summer of movies for me. Aside from two nice surprises, most of what I’ve seen has ranged from average popcorn fare to crap I want to avoid like the plague. So, after the last few films I saw being well within that low end of the spectrum, I am so glad that many of the world’s greatest action heroes have come along to salvage the end of my summer movie season! While The Expendables 2 has some factors that keep it from matching the original, overall this is just a big, fun action flick that is what summer movies are supposed to be about.
After taking a seemingly simple job for Mr. Church (Bruce Willis), the Expendables find their plans going awry after encountering sadistic rival mercenary Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme). The Expendables set out – with help from Maggie (Yu Nan) – to seek revenge in hostile territory, where the odds are stacked against them. Hell-bent on payback, the crew cuts a swath of destruction through opposing forces, wreaking havoc in an attempt to shut down an unexpected threat – five tons of weapons-grade plutonium which is more than enough to change the balance of power in the world. However, that’s nothing compared to the justice they intend to serve against the villainous adversary they seek revenge from.
Now, the only thing I felt held this film back was just it’s 102 minute run time. If this had been a solid two hour film, I think it would’ve had the time to beef up a few aspects. Jean-Claude Van Damme makes for one massively awesome villain. He easily and deeply sinks his teeth into the role, and his vicious physicality sells so much of the character’s vile ferocity. Van Damme plays the material with a lot of zeal and charisma. You can clearly see there’s a lot of potential substance to Vilain, but the film doesn’t give the character much screentime or material to develop the richness Van Damme puts into the role. We get just enough to sell his status as a villain, but not enough to really build up his threat level. Partly because of this, the climax seems to come a little too quickly. I had hoped for some more momentum to build up in the film before the full-on firestorm rained down. In the first film, the villains were given ample screentime to develop fully, and they were tied deeper into the plot. Both films have generally the same runtime, but the first film just seemed to make more of the time it had.
On the upswing, the entire cast seems like they were having a wonderful time shooting this movie. Stallone has plenty of great chemistry with everyone, but I think the best material is between him and Statham. Barney Ross and Lee Christmas just feel like such good, long time friends who can constantly take light-hearted jabs at one another, and are totally in sync when it’s time to throw down. It’s a great, inspired pairing that brings so much levity to the film. It really makes it a fun ride. Action-wise, Jason Statham continues to shine with several knife fight scenes which are brilliantly executed and choreographed. Nice touches are maintained with his character as they keep alive the relationship between Lee and Lacy, portrayed by the lively Charisma Carpenter. Unfortunately, Jet Li departs the film after the opening action sequence, but he’s still given his moment to shine. Chuck Norris’ role of Booker is full of fun humor that plays up the exaggerated internet humor of Norris’ superhuman feats. It’s very well done. The only negative mark with Norris is that he only ever fires a gun. There is no martial arts action from his limited appearance in the film. He doesn’t have anything more than an ancillary action role. He shows up in two action sequences, and has a nice departure at the film’s end. Sure, the script didn’t require his character to be there, but he does add to the fun of the movie.
While Stallone stepped down from the director’s seat, he remained as co-screenwriter, and you can still see his talent there. The first film had its fine touches of emotional depth, and we are treated to some of the same here. We get a fine amount of substance from Billy that Liam Hemsworth does a perfect job with, and really makes an impact upon the film. He seemed like a very solid addition to the team, and proves his worth opposite some heavyweight talents here. Barney Ross has more forefront time in this movie as he develops a solid relationship with Yu Nan’s Maggie Chen. He has his soul bearing moments with Maggie that bring a lot of dramatic and emotional strength to this very testosterone pumping movie. Yu Nan does an excellent, charming job showing both a compassionate, insightful side and being a more than capable fighter. She has plenty of physicality to offer in the action sequences beyond just gunplay that is very impressive. I think it was a very excellent idea introducing her character into the mix. Surely, it offers up something a little more for the women in the audience to connect with, but in general, it’s good storytelling and screenwriting. Barney is able to open up about certain things that can only be inquired of by an outsider, a character that is learning more about him along with us. I liked Maggie right from the start. She’s smart, cunning, humorous, and clearly doesn’t shy away from danger. She’s exactly on the same level as the rest of the team, and more than proves her worth to them time and again. I would love seeing more of her in The Expendables 3.
Lundgren, Crews, and Couture continue to be entertaining and ass kicking. Dolph definitely has been given a great, amusing character that everyone plays well off of. Bruce Willis is absolutely great as Mr. Church. He’s another actor who could play one hell of a magnificent villain when given the chance, but he eventually fights side-by-side with the good guys giving him the opportunity for some funny quips. Him and Schwarzenegger exchange their signature catch phrases late in the film, and it’s a total riot hearing them throw each other’s own lines back at one another. Arnold has never had a problem embracing the self-referential humor of his iconic characters, as evident by Last Action Hero. He’s having the time of his life here playing off of Bruce, Sly, and even Dolph. It’s pure fun watching Arnold in this movie. He kicks a lot of major ass, and gives us plenty of that classic charming Arnold humor we’ve all loved for decades now. It really comes down to the fact that these are all guys who love action cinema, and are making these movies as a real, honest love letter to the genre’s fans. The Expendables showed us exactly what we had been missing in the action genre for so long, and this sequel continues on that great, vibrant, explosive trend of entertainment! Everybody gives it their all in these movies!
And OH YEAH! You will get your fill of amazing action here! Director Simon West shows he’s still got the chops he put on display back with Con Air. However, this cranks up the volume and brutality further than he’s ever done before, and you’re damn right there’s blood! This is a hard R rated action movie that doesn’t hold back. Right from the start, we get slam bang, smart, innovative action that delivers on every level. It’s fiery, loud, adrenalin fueled, and just flat out fun! You see these guys at the start charging in to storm of the stronghold, and you know you’re in for a bad ass thrill ride! They pull out the big guns, the large caliber ammunition here all the way through! Stallone, Statham, Li, and Van Damme show off their physical abilities greatly in various action sequences. However, nothing beats out the climax of Stallone and Van Damme throwing down. You’ve got the brute force of Barney Ross combating the vicious martial arts expertise of Vilain, and they are true hardcore heavyweights. Stuff that would take down the average person in an action movie doesn’t even take these guys off their feet. Getting busted up with a chain, hurled across the room into a metal gate, and just plain visceral brutality is something both men are able to take and more. This is one of hell of an awesome climax that is worth the price of admission alone. The build up to it by Van Damme is wicked. He thrives so much in this role in this scene that it punctuates wanting to have seen a lot more of Vilain throughout the movie. Jean-Claude is clearly loving this character so much, and he puts every charismatic ounce of enthusiasm on display. I think it’s a brilliant and amazing villainous performance.
The cinematography of Shelly Johnson is rock solid. He also lensed Captain America: The First Avenger, and shows just as sharp of an eye for action here. Every shot maintains a sense of action geography to know who is doing what, where they’re doing, and who they’re doing it to. It fully puts the fiery, explosive, bloody action on excellent display for an audience to indulge in completely. The editing of Todd E. Miller never embraces rapid fire cutting. He lets the action play out competently and smartly. There’s great action choreography to behold throughout the film, and both Miller and Johnson want you to see all of it. These are some smart and highly capable filmmaking talents here that know the mechanics of a great action film.
The story is your straight forward revenge plot, but it is handled well. Again, it would’ve been nice to have more develop between the heroes and villains. Maybe have Vilain just slip through their fingers at some point, and thus, further fueling their hunger for revenge. They get so close, but he gains the upper hand, almost laughing at them as he escapes. I think something like that could’ve increased the film’s momentum towards the climax. Between the time they first encounter Vilain and corner him at the airport for the film’s climax, they don’t come close to encountering one another, and that’s roughly an hour apart. So, we never really get much of that adversarial conflict boiling up between Barney and Vilain, but Stallone and Van Damme surely hold none of that back when they do finally clash. The film might indulge itself too much with its start studded cast at the expense of a meatier plot, but it never sacrifices entertainment value at any point whatsoever.
Ultimately, what you expect is exactly what you get with The Expendables 2. There is no film this summer that has had action anywhere near as huge as what this film offers. Plain and simple, this is pure bonafide FUN! With a collection of some of the greatest action heroes alive today, you really cannot go wrong here. With the names that are being thrown around for a third film, I’m very intrigued at what more these filmmakers are looking to pull off. A return of Mickey Rourke would be awesome as well. This franchise is all about rekindling the best aspects of the classic big summer action movie, and as long as Stallone is creatively involved I think we’ll continue to get our money’s worth. I don’t think this film lost anything with Simon West in the director’s chair, and I would easily welcome him back if he’s invited. If your summer movie experience has let you down at all, do yourself a real favor, and indulge in the action-packed fun of this movie. While I don’t think it’s quite as good as the first film, it’s exponentially better than the vast majority of action films released today.