Dir. by Simon West - 1 hr. 43 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
I don't know how something can be both satisfying and frustrating at the same time, but "The Expendables 2" manages to achieve both. I don't know how you juggle so many ingredients, while simultaneously having so many actors that probably can't carry this type of film at this point successfully, but I'd argue that this film just barely succeeds at that.
Plot? Well, have you ever wanted to see like every action star ever in one film, teaming up against evil? Of course you do. This time, Barney Ross' (Sylvester Stallone) crew is lured into chasing down a macguffin, which is hijacked by Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his crew, the Sangs. When one of the Expendables proves to be exactly that, Barney has a new goal: "Track 'em, find 'em, kill 'em." And stuff blows up. That part is pretty important, too.
The only other film that I've seen (which admittedly isn't a comprehensive list) that deals with the idea of aging action stars is "Red," and that proved to be a hit as well. And while that film was more clever, the entire point of "The Expendables" films is overkill. There's nothing clever about dozens of heads exploding, about gathering possibly too many stars in one film, or about the execution of the ideas within. What "The Expendables 2" does have is a level of self-awareness. It's not for me to say whether it's too much or not, but for folks of a certain vintage, it's pretty awesome to have Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis stealing each other's famous lines back and forth. And if you've ever heard a "Chuck Norris is so tough that..." joke, you'll appreciate his role here.
In terms of the action, it's not bad at all. The opening sequence, where the Expendables free a prisoner from a Nepal prison via invasion, is really good. And the end sequence, where the Expendables face off with the Sang in an airport, is also good. One valid question going is how these guys look physically; are they still the same action stars you remember, and can they still move convincingly? That part's a mixed bag. Instead of harping on the negative and whatever cosmetic enhancements are on display, I'll just offer up that Jet Li's fight sequence is excellent, and that Jean-Claude Van Damme still has the athleticism and swagger that made him a star. I kind of feel like Van Damme might get more roles on the basis of his performance here; he's really believable as a dickish villain (I swear that's a compliment), and he could probably get more mileage from that ability in a less-crowded film.
So where's the disappointment come from? I feel like the "Expendables" movies have all the tools at their disposal to make a really great film. Not a decent one, not a pretty good one, but a straight-up great action film. This film certainly delivers everything you'd expect going in: the explosions, the gun fights, the muscles, the tough-guy banter. And it doesn't rest on nostalgia as the draw - the filmmakers certainly tip their hat when appropriate, but this isn't a sentimental victory lap for a generation of action stars. Twice now, we've gotten good-ish films (you'll appreciate them more if you grew up on this sort of thing). I want more out of this franchise. Maybe that's not fair, and I should just accept that this is the sort of thing I'm going to get out these actors at this point in their careers. It feels like something more is tantalizingly just out of reach. If there's a third installment, I'll be there. I hope that that film would be the one to finally knock it out of the park.
3 / 5 - Theatre