By Bob Garver
With “The Expendables 2”, who needs “The Expendables”? The 2010 original wrote some checks to its audience that it couldn’t cash. It bragged about the inclusion of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and Mickey Rourke in its all-star cast of action heroes and then didn’t have them do anything memorable. It also had too many long stretches where there wasn’t any shooting or fighting. The new film does better in both departments. The pacing has improved, everybody gets in on the action, and there are some pleasing new faces in the cast including a man who could win a gold medal at a state fair with blue ribbons for prizes.
The Expendables are a mercenary crew that specializes in jobs where the people hiring them will probably try to kill them once they’re done. Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) is their leader, who likes guns. Christmas (Jason Statham) is his sidekick, who likes knives. The crew also includes big galoot Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), peaceful powder keg Toll Road (Randy Couture), spry secret weapon Yin Yang (Jet Li), and big not-so-secret weapon Hale Caesar (Terry Crews). Mickey Rourke’s mentor character from the original is sitting this one out, in his place is optimistic sharpshooter Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) who makes the deadly mistake of mentioning that he has plans for life after The Expendables. If that sounds like a thin lineup, don’t fret. The team will eventually get help from Schwarzenegger, Willis, Chinese action starlet Yu Nan, and a man who could get an Amish community to relocate to Las Vegas.
The team travels to Albania to stop a villain with the ever-so-subtle name of Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme). Vilain has a ton of useless henchmen who really give new meaning to the term “men at his disposal”. I swear there are scenes where The Expendables kill more henchmen than were in the room when they entered. As the villain, Van Damme is good, maybe too good. The audience at my screening couldn’t quite seem to root against him as he fought Stallone in the film’s climactic sequence. Maybe the film should have had him fight someone a little more beloved, like the man who could lull a baby to sleep by gently playing a vuvuzela.
The film is made up of about half action scenes, a quarter sad scenes, and a quarter smart-aleck banter. The sad scenes are there to explain why the characters are so mad during the action scenes. The smart-aleck banter mostly consists of the characters finding various ways to call each other stupid, with occasional stops to reference the actors’ films and personal lives. The action scenes feature a ton of shooting where victims pop like bloody water balloons. Occasionally they’ll mix it up with some fighting, the better to savor the violence. Sadly, there are no trademark roundhouse kicks to the face from the man whose roundhouse kicks go around the house (Have I mixed that up with a fat joke?).
“The Expendables 2” is just as dumb and as fun as it promises to be, which is more than I can say for its predecessor. The original got the “dumb” part right, but couldn’t follow through with the “fun”. The key difference is that this time Schwarzenegger and Willis are actually given something to do (by which I mean weapons to fire), and the star power is upped by the likes of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris. Yes, it’s Chuck Norris I’ve been referencing this whole time with all these exaggerations. I’ve got one more: Chuck Norris should win history’s one and only Oscar for Best Supporting Shooter.
Two and a Half Stars out of Five.
“The Expendables 2” is rated R for strong bloody violence throughout. Its running time is 102 minutes.
Contact Bob Garver at [email protected].