The Expendables 2 (2012) – Directed by Simon West – Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Yu Nan, Chuck Norris, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Scott Adkins, and Charisma Carpenter.
If you’re new to the Anxiety, be aware that SPOILERS LIE AHEAD. This is NOT one of those reviews that talks about the movie without talking about the movie. This is not a huge issue with a movie like EXPENDABLES 2, but I don’t want anyone to read ahead under false pretenses. So, one last time, there are SPOILERS ahead of you if you keep reading.
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THE EXPENDABLES 2 is the perfect dessert for a summer that offered a lot of high-quality films (The Hunger Games, The Avengers, Amazing Spider-Man, Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus), but also a relatively staggering amount of movies that, irrespective of how well they were made, were not designed get you laughing (Hunger Games, Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus, The Raven, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Snow White & The Huntsman, Total Recall). There were movies that tried to offer a good time, but those films were largely mediocre to awful (Dark Shadows, Men in Black 3, Battleship, The Watch, and the good but disappointing Brave). I wish I’d made it to the theater to see Ted, because that seems to have been the one comedy released this summer that really delivered the funny.
If you’ve seen the trailers for EXPENDABLES 2, you know the film promises to deliver explosions and laughs, and that’s exactly what EX2 delivers.
Part nostalgia, part pure action, Sylvester Stallone’s all-star ode to the way he used to be is big, loud, and wonderfully ridiculous. Unquestionably, a big part of the fun here is watching all of the action all-stars sharing the screen, and if I had one small complaint with EX2, it’s that returning characters Yin Yang, Gunner, Hale Caesar, and Toll Road (Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, and Randy Couture) are minimized to a degree to make way for new arrivals Booker, Maggie, and Billy the Kid (Chuck Norris, Yu Nan, and Liam Hemsworth), and returning Hall of Famers Church and Trench (Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger).
Don’t get me wrong – it’s great to see Norris, Willis, and Arnold banging around in this movie, and both Yu Nan’s Maggie and Liam Hemsworth’s Billy the Kid provide some some of the film’s stronger narrative elements, but their inclusion is obviously going to come at someone’s expense, and that person is not going to be Sylvester Stallone (nor should it). It’s disappointing that Jet Li is only around for the opening action sequence, that Crews and Couture aren’t given more to do (Couture was one of the best parts of the first EXPENDABLES movie), and that even Jason Statham’s role feels diminished this time around.
After Barney Ross and Lee Christmas (Stallone and Statham) beat up some bad guys, Barney sends Lee back to get their weapons. I’m sitting in the theater and thinking, “Why are there so many burned kernels in this tub of popcorn? And why is one of the two main stars in the movie being sent on an errand?” Lee even makes this same point (about the errand, not the corn), when he tells Barney to get someone else to do it. But Barney doesn’t, and so Lee goes off for a solo run. Immediately, I was scolding myself for questioning what was happening because clearly Lee was going to be in for some solo ass-kicking. Maybe he’d be on the receiving end, maybe he’d be on the giving end, but what wasn’t going to happen was Lee would drop out of the narrative.
Yet, that’s what happens. He goes off to get the equipment. He complains on the radio to Barney. He drives back. He’s late for a fight where the team gets saved by the surprise arrival of Booker. Someone cracks a joke about “Christmas being late this year.”
EXPENDABLES 2 is a bit of a different beast than the first EXPENDABLES movie. The first film felt like a declaration by Stallone that could still make a kick-ass action film with the best of them. And he could. To achieve this, Stallone wrapped himself in the context of younger, faster, stronger men. Sure, Willis and Arnold were around for a cameo, and yeah, there was Dolph Lundgren still kicking around in his company, but Statham and Li were guys with active action-film careers, and Crews and Couture were noticeably younger and bigger.
In contrast to the first movie, EX2 is a victory lap, and it’s a well-earned lap for Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, Norris, and Jean-Claude Van Damme, who plays a villain named, er, Vilain.
The result of this celebration of themselves is a more humorous film, and while EXPENDABLES 2 isn’t, on the whole, a better overall movie than EXPENDABLES, it is a more enjoyable movie. I’ll watch the first film when I want to watch a purer action movie, but the second film when I want something a bit lighter. They’re both very good movies, though, and much like EXPENDABLES had me hoping for EXPENDABLES 2, EX2 already has me wishing for EXPENDABLES 3 to get here.
I say “lighter” like this is a pure comedy and that’s not the case. In fact, now that Stallone has handed the directing reigns over to Simon West, the action sequences are a notch better, too. EX2 just hums from start to finish. It opens with a fantastic rescue mission that sees the team rescuing not only a Chinese businessman, but Trench, too. It’s a big sequence, longer than, say, a typical James Bond opening, and West makes us feel every punch, every kick, every gunshot, every slice of the knife. There’s all manner of trucks and copters and smashing and explosions, and it sets a powerful tone.
Then Jet Li exits after one last good line. Yin Yang is jumping from the Expendables’ plane with the rescued businessman and says that maybe he’ll be back and maybe he won’t. Gunner says, “If you don’t come back, who am I going to pick on?”
“I’m sure you’ll find another minority,” Yin shoots back.
There’s a victory party at the local bar back in the States, but Barney takes off early after having a chat with Billy. The youngster wants to get out of this business and go settle down with his girlfriend but he also wants to stick through to the end of the month. In other words, you pretty much know he’s going to die. And he does. Church gets Barney and Co. to take a new assignment to even up the score after Barney’s actions at the end of the first mission. Barney makes the crew take a woman along with them because Maggie is an expert at getting into the safe they need to crack. They get the device Church wants, but then Vilain, his sidekick Hector (Scott Adkins), and their terrorist group, the Sang get the drop on Billy and force Barney to give the device over to them.
Van Damme is top notch in the film as the cool, confident bad guy. He kills Billy by having Hector hold a knife before the kid’s heart and then kicking it through his chest and into his heart. It’s a pretty bad-ass move, and nearly everything JCVD does in this film is bad ass. He’s the perfect bad guy for a film like this, and his final one-on-one fight with Stallone is a darn good one.
There’s a plot here about JCVD stealing some abandoned Russian plutonium but it’s just the vehicle to get to all the action and laughs.
When the group is pinned down in an abandoned Soviet training facility that looks more like an abandoned back lot of a Hollywood studio, a mysterious hail of bullets comes in to kill all the Sang and save the day. Who could this mysterious savior be?
None other than Chuck Norris. The movie has a lot of fun with in-jokes and none more than with Norris. His character’s name is Booker, which is the same name of the character Norris played in Good Guys Wear Black. Stallone refers to him as a “lone wolf,” which is the title of the Norris flick, Lone Wolf McQuade. They even work in one of those Chuck Norris tough guy jokes when Booker says that he was once bit by a poisonous snake, but after five days of holding on, the snake died.
Almost as if he was taking this as a challenge, Arnold reminds everyone that he’s the King of One Liners, dropping an “I’ll be back” one time too many for Willis, who shoots back a “You’ve been back too many times already. It’s my turn,” and when he runs off, Schwarzenegger says, “Yippy Ki Yay,” stealing one of Willis’ famous line. He even comments on all the dramatic reappearances after Norris saves him and Willis by asking, “Who’s next, Rambo?”
As I mentioned up above, EXPENDABLES 2 is the perfect dessert with which to end the summer. It’s a big, loud, explosive, fun movie. The Sang might even set a record for most henchmen killed in a film. It’s a victory lap film, and I enjoyed every second of it – even when Arnold would say something that caused me to roll my eyes, it made me smile, because I was giving him the same eye roll that I’ve been giving him his old career. One of the reasons why I can’t stand awards shows is what Billy Crystal said back when City Slickers was out. He said that Slickers was the kind of film that was never going to win an Academy Award but that he doubted people had more fun seeing any other film that year. That’s what EXPENDABLES 2 is to me – it’s not nearly the best film of the year, but there hasn’t been many films more enjoyable to watch.
Here’s hoping this film is successful enough for a third film; if it happens, the rumor mill is already in full force, with talks of Steven Seagal, Nicolas Cage, and John Travolta perhaps jumping on board. (I can’t see Eastwood doing it.) There’s even talk of a female EXPENDABLES, which Simon West tossing out names like Angelina Jolie and Cameron Diaz. I suppose that West’s dream list shows the difference between men and women in Hollywood – when the male EXPENDABLES was made, it was largely filled with either guys who’s glory days were behind them, or guys that had never had glory days. Statham and Li were still viable solo stars, but of action movies and not considered A-list talent. When it comes to the female version, however, here’s West tossing out two A-list stars to come in. When A-list men get together, they make Ocean’s 11, but the women are supposed to make a fun explosion fest? That said, I hope a female EXPENDABLES is made with the same mix of ex-A-listers and current genre stars. We’ve been playing the casting game a bit over at the Better in the Dark Facebook page, and the team I assembled was Gina Carano and Sigourney Weaver in the Statham/Stallone roles, and rounded out with Carla Gugino, Michelle Rodriguez, Lucy Liu, Rhona Mitra, Milla Jovovich, Jamie Chung, and the Babysitter Twins. Pam Grier could take on the Scwarzenegger/Willis role, and Uma Thurman and Eliza Dushku would make great bad guys.
Playing FEMALE EXPENDABLES is a fun game and it makes you realize just how many viable female action stars are out there. Certainly, there’s not as many, but there’s more than enough to make a darn fine film. Whether we get a female version or another male version, however, I just flat-out want more EXPENDABLES films in my life.