Sylvester Stallone’s 2010 explosionfest The Expendables was created on the basis that if you get enough action stars in one film it will be a success. While it was certainly cool to see Sly share the screen with the likes of Jet Li, Jason Statham and Mickey Rourke, The Expendables was in every other respect a complete mess. Now the who’s who of late 20th century steroid abuse returns, with the welcome addition of joke-butt Chuck Norris, recovering coke addict Jean-Claude Van Damme and recovering governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who’s back (sorry) for a more substantial part than his brief cameo in The Expendables’ first instalment. The plot isn’t really important here. Badasses. Guns. Explosions.
The Expendables 2 tries very hard to make up for the numerous failings of its predecessor. Willis (Die Hard) and Schwarzenegger (Hercules in New York) are given much more screen time, and, more importantly, much more weapons. This is what fans want, and The Expendables 2 delivers by the aircraft carrier. Chuck Norris’s appearance is well done, with all involved showing a willingness to make a joke at their own expense whilst diving headfirst into the action. The cast of geriatric muscle men is clearly having a great time, which shines through the film making it much more enjoyable.
The film’s own title is ironic, as the survival of any of the big names is never in doubt, ridding the film of some suspense, and the script, if ever such a thing existed, is almost as bungling as before, consistently failing whenever it tries to be serious. Luckily, that’s a minority of the time, as The Expendables 2 delivers almost as many laughs as explosions. It’s self aware to the extent that Schwarzenegger and Willis swap catchphrases. “Yippie-kay-yay”, murmurs Arnie, who sounds like a robot gargling through a cushion. Some things never change.
Jason Statham deserves credit for his physical commitment to the part, and shows that he’s able to compete with the action legends he’s up against. Veteran Stallone looks like if Robert Downey Jr. had never been to rehab, and would have to have his balls removed just for his voice to reach a growl, but as frequent shots of his bulging biceps show, he’s not ready to retire yet. He’s passed directing duties to Con Air’s Simon West which is for the best, as the action, and the film in general, is pretty much better in every way. In spite of only small improvement in the script, West ensures tidy action sequences, well executed humour, none of the jarring awkwardness, and less of the obvious shoehorning that plagued The Expendables.
If The Expendables threw everything at the screen, The Expendables 2 throws everything else, plus a few grenades. It may not be in the pantheon of action movies alongside First Blood, The Terminator and Die Hard, but it provides a fitting tongue-in-cheek tribute to an era of action films and gives the old guys a chance to show us that they’ve still got it. The Expendables 2, like its predecessor, knows it’s a vehicle for as many big action names as possible, but this time it makes a great action film in its own right.