If you asked any action film fan growing up during the 80′s/90′s what their dream action film would be, I’m pretty sure the answer would be one that starred all their favourite action stars (Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, Norris, Van Damme etc) together in the same film. But as much as we wanted it, a part of us knew that a film like that will never happen. However what we didn’t know is that action legend Sylvester Stallone was going to bring us one such film. He decided to turn every action film fan’s dream into a reality by making THE EXPENDABLES, a film which would not only star him but also star some the action genre’s biggest names from both yesterday and today. Plus the film was going to pay homage to the action films of the 80′s and 90′s. While the film itself received a very mixed response from both critics and fans when it was finally released in 2010, but for me personally it lived to my expectations for being both an extremely fun and bad arse throwback to the action films I use to watch as a kid. However at the same time, I acknowledged that it was still a very flawed film that could definitely have be improved upon in a lot ways. Luckily Stallone must have been listening because when it came time to do the sequel, he decided to fix the problems that everyone had with the 1st film and as well as giving us more of what we wanted with the sequel. Now the question you are probably wondering is, were Stallone and Co. able to deliver? In my honest opinion: yes, yes they did.
After the Expendables – Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews),Toll Road (Randy Couture) and newest member Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) – come back home from successfully completing a rescue mission in Nepal, the team’s leader Barney is once again approached by the mysterious CIA agent from the 1st film Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) and is forced by him into doing a top-secret mission. Church wants Barney and his team to go to Albania to find a crashed airplane, inside there is a safe that has an item in it that both him and his people want. However to make sure that the mission goes according to plan, Church makes Barney take one of his agents: a woman by the name of Maggie Chan (Nan Yu), a technical expert who is the only one who would be able to crack open the safe. When the Expendables arrive at the crash site and retrieve the item, things go wrong when they are ambushed by an arms dealer named Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his mercenaries, who are known as the Sangs. Vilain tells the Expendables that if they give him the item, he will spare their lives. Unfortunately once they do, Vilian brutally kills one of the them anyway. After discovering from Maggie that the item from the plane is a computer map that shows the location of a secret Russian base that had stored over 5 tonnes of plutonium, Barney and the team decide to track down Vilian and take revenge. Along the way,they run into a couple of old allies who will help them on their mission.
I should start off by saying that THE EXPENDABLES 2 is, not by traditional standards of cinema, a quote unquote ‘good’ film (but it is definitely far from being a bad one as well). But for what it is THE EXPENDABLES 2 is a completely awesome and highly entertaining sequel that I had a blast with from beginning to end. I think it helps that co-writer/star Stallone (along with co-writer Richard Wenk) knew what exactly type of film they wanted to write this time around. One of the problems that most people had with the 1st film was that it took itself too seriously (which never bothered me but I can understand why it would for some people), so for this sequel they decided to a bit more playful with the both premise and make the tone more of a fun, tounge-in-cheek action adventure film (similar to the films like COMMANDO, DIE HARD 2, TRUE LIES etc), which I thought worked extremely well. The film was pretty funny at times and I liked how it was self-referential it was (I like the all the call-backs to each of the star’s classic films or their real life personal lives), which added to its charm. Plus you can kind of tell what type of film you’re watching when the bad guy’s name is Vilain, which is pretty funny (although I was disappointed that he didn’t have a henchman named Henchmon). But before you worry, the film doesn’t fall into self-parody. Despite being humourous, it still does have some serious moments (one of the Expendables gets killed after all) and the film nicely balances both its humour, drama and action rather effectively. Another factor which I think added to film was the choice of director.
Stallone (who directed the 1st film) decided to hand over the director’s chair for this film to Simon West, the director behind one of the funnest action films of the 90′s: CON AIR. I thought he was a good choice when he was announced but now after having seen the film, he definitely feel he was the perfect choice to helm this sequel. West was able to bring both the fun tone and energy that he brought to CON AIR into this film. While Stallone’s direction on the 1st film was solid for most part, but the action scenes probably would have been better if he eased down on the shaky-cam. Fortunately West doesn’t do that, instead he keeps the camera static 95% of the time so that we can see what is going on within the action scenes (which is actually quite refreshing to be honest). The action scenes where all extremely well staged and skillfully directed by West (particularly the opening rescue mission and the airport shootout at the end, both were great sequences). Also in case you wondering, this is very much an R (or MA15+ here in Australia) rated action film. I lost how many times somebody gets their head blown off during the course of the film. While there is CGI blood here (trust me, it looks better here than it did in the 1st film), they also included a lot of traditional blood squibs as well. Plus the score by Brian Tyler was memorable, the cinematography was nicely done by Shelly Johnson (he was also the DP behind THE WOLFMAN and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER) and its both well paced and edited.
When it came the performances of the film’s all-star cast, I thought they are did very well. Sylvester Stallone gave a much focused turn as Barney this time and Jason Statham was good as well as Lee. I really enjoyed both him and Stallone’s onscreen banter with each other (which it thought was better than done here than in the 1st film). Also Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture and Jet Li were all solid in their roles. One of the things I liked this sequel, they made it more of an ensemble piece this time around. everyone on the team gets a few stand out moments, whether it be through a dialogue or action scene (Lundgren in particularly has a lot of fun moments). Plus both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis return to sequel with much larger roles and they even get join the film’s big action finale (I have to say it was pretty awesome seeing Arnold taking down bad guys again). So what about the newest cast members? Liam Hemsworth did a surprisingly good job as Billy the Kid, the character could have easily have come off pretty useless but he brings a likeability to the role. Nan Yu was pretty solid as Maggie. I never heard of her prior to her casting in this film, but I did ended up enjoying her performance. While she does have an off moment or two, but she still held her own quite well with her all male co-casts. Of course, one of the stand-out roles for me was Chuck Norris as Booker. While his role is basically an extended cameo, but he pretty much steals every scene he is in (I liked the fact they play up his image but having him saying a Chuck Norris fact, which I won’t spoil here). On the bad guy front: Jean-Claude Van Damme didn’t have as much of onscreen time as thought he would, but he makes the most of his role and delivers a very memorable and great turn as Vilain. Also young rising action star Scott Adkins was quite good as Vilain’s right-hand man Hector (I still reckon he should have been called Henchmon).
In terms of the negatives, it has a lot. The film is very dumb, the plot and script are both simple, predictable and straight forward, the dialogue can be bad at times, there are some unintentionally silly scenes , there’s little to no character development, the one-liners are cheesy, the CGI was iffy and it’s completely clichéd. But surprisingly those flaws never really bothered me all. Don’t get wrong I still completely acknowledge that they are there and there valid but I have to be honest, they actually added to my enjoyment of the film. I guess the reason for that is, and let’s be honest, the type of films that THE EXPENDABLES 2 does pay homage to also suffered from similar flaws as well, so I can forgive it on those grounds. Plus I also felt that the filmmakers knew exactly what type of film they were making and they actually embraced the flaws and clichés of the genre (whether it is intentional or not, I’ll leave it up to you). But were there any flaws that actually bugged me? Yes, there are a couple. Even though I thought he was great in the film, I wished that Van Damme had a bit more screen time ’cause I really wanted to see more of him (I think that Eric Roberts had more screen time in the 1st film). Also while the fight scenes between Stallone/Van Damme and Statham/Adkins were great, I wish they lasted a bit longer. Plus I missed Jet Li for the rest of the film since he leaves after the first 15 minutes. Although before he does leave, he has a pretty awesome fight scene that kinda reminded me of the fight scenes in THE RAID. Hopefully Li will be back for the sequel (you know it’s funny when you think about it. Out of all the cameos in this film, Jet Li’s role was really the only one that actually felt like one).
Overall I had a great time with THE EXPENDABLES 2. Yes, it is pretty dumb in a lot of ways but I absolutely loved every minute of it. As much as really like the 1st film, this sequel blows it out of the water and becomes a much superior film in every single way. It was everything I wanted from the 1st film and more. In fact I may even call this the action film equivalent of THE AVENGERS. If you’re a fan of the 1st film or the action genre itself, I guarantee that you will have an awesome time with it. But if you didn’t like the 1st film, I’d still say definitely give this sequel a chance. If you take it for what it is, you may also have a fun time watching it as well. It may dumb but it was a lot of fun.
- Bede Jermyn