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Overall Rating

Awesome: 10.34%
Worth A Look: 13.79%
Pretty Bad: 20.69%
Total Crap: 3.45%

3 reviews, 11 user ratings

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Expendables 2, The
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by Brett Gallman

"Almost a worthy addition to the Cannon canon."
3 stars

Well, this is more like it. While “The Expendables 2” isn’t really that much “better” than its disappointing predecessor--it’s still a corny, bad action movie--it at least knows that it’s a corny, bad action movie. Maybe it’s not “very aware” as Jean-Claude Van Damme might say, but it’s just aware enough, and, when combined with the increased star power, this self-awareness almost makes it everything the original should have been.

I hesitate to call it a Cannon extravaganza for the new millennium, but a Bond-like opening prologue hints that it’s pretty close. Like the original film, this one picks up in the middle of a mission, only instead of the crew jawing with bad guys aboard some battleship in the middle of the ocean, they’re barreling through some ramshackle village. “The Expendables 2” careens right out of the gate with guns that don’t blaze so much as they just explode and leave a trail of CGI gore and corpses in their wake. It’s chaos set to the tune of machine-gun fire, dirt-bikes, helicopters, jet-skis, sweat, and one-liners that culminates in a moment that leaves little doubt that everyone gets it this time, as Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his crew rescue a rival mercenary (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who’s told he’ll be terminated if something happens to Terry Crews’s beloved big fucking gun.

Almost the entire movie like this--in fact, it’s not so much a movie as it is a parade of quips, winks, nods, and cameos, which automatically makes it better than the first one. Whereas that film was almost in denial of its shitty action movie roots and drearily proceeded with an unearned profundity, this sequel figures out that there’s very little that can be said by a movie that’s mostly concerned with trotting out relics to display in is own menagerie that’s full of boneheaded swagger, macho faux-introspection, and lots of things exploding. The result is something like the cinematic equivalent of a Tapout shirt: gaudy, loud, and tacky, but functional.

Occasionally, some residue of that unneeded profundity seeps through whenever there’s down time (of which there’s probably too much, all things told) and the guys confront their own mortality by imagining their last meals. Something about it is charming in its own way since one gathers that these guys are really living this gimmick in a sense, with Dolph Lundgren especially hanging loose as a brute with an unappreciated genius, a reflection of the actor himself. A lot of the same sort of chatter and dynamic from the original returns--Dolph still busts Jet Li’s chops, while Stallone and Jason Statham act as the main duo who chit-chat about the latter’s love life (which again goes nowhere). Randy Couture and Terry Crews still fail to really exist outside of being a mass of cauliflower ears, absurd musculature, grunts, and expletives.

Which is probably okay--these guys aren’t playing characters so much as they’re playing personas. Character arcs or plot are indeed expendable. It turns out that the guys are tracking a villain named--get this--Vilain (Van Damme), a megalomaniac who’s hunting down some untapped weapons-grade uranium in the former Soviet Union and has pillaged the men, women, and children from a local village to excavate it. This allows The Expendables, a melting pot of mercs from around the world, to do the right thing in a post-Cold War world where America is far removed from it white knight status to which so many 80s films were desperately clinging.

Smartly, the film itself doesn’t muse on this stuff--the original might have pondered on the turmoil of a mercenary’s soul via weepy sermonizing and Mickey Rourke’s crocodile tears, but this one reduces it all to a one-liner: when the newly-added female component (Nan Yu, wading admirably in a sea of testosterone) asks Stallone how one copes with death, he offers that “we keep it light until it's time to get dark, then we get pitch black.”

And then they blow things to shit. Playing hero to the local village, Statham pronounces a victim “man and knife.” Amidst the carnage, Chuck Norris wanders in as a lone wolf named Booker (two references for the price of one) and tells a Chuck Norris joke, a gag that reeks of desperation, as if your dad finally caught on to an internet meme five years too late.

Of course, that’s probably fitting for something like “The Expendables," a concept that’s at least a decade past its shelf-life. In an alternate universe, this sort of thing happened back in the 90s when these guys could still get around and actually do things. Everyone involved here is at least aware of this fact, too, and that self-awareness is like a nitrous injection that spurs the film to its finish line; it’s hard not to crack a smile as you watch all of these guys share the screen and hurl familiar one-liners at each other like they’re participating in some kind of pop-culture roll call. Seeing Van Damme return to big screen glory is particularly a delight and brings a charming menace to an underwritten role (all told, he gets about three scenes to truly shine).

Unfortunately, showing up with charisma in tow is about all these guys do, as the action doesn’t require them to do much besides tote guns, shoot them at legions of faceless extras, chomp cigars, and mug for the camera. I’m not sure if director Simon West just threw in the towel after considering the age of most of his stars, but there’s a distinct lack of imagination to most of the sequences. Some cool moments are peppered in, but it’s a mostly flavorless procession of over-the-top violence. It’s fun but rarely awe-inspiring outside of the spectacle offered by lots of famous guys showing up and sharing the screen together.

The action isn’t nearly as disorienting or unpleasant as the original--it’s still quite shaky at times, but it’s much less like you've been bludgeoned by someone doing a bad Paul Greengrass impersonation. Such an approach would help the hand-to-hand combat sequences if there were any of note--Jet Li has a neat scene where he pummels opponents with frying pans, and there are a few other brawls here and there, but this is where “The Expendables 2” fumbles the ball as it reaches the end zone.

As busy as the multi-pronged climax is, neither the script nor West have a concept for how this stuff should flow into something, and forget any kind of flair for the dramatic. Somehow, you’ve got a film that features Van Damme, Jet Li, and Jason Statham, yet none of the three ever share the screen for what should be dream fights. Maybe some of them would be past their prime, but it’d be more creative than the uneventful tussles that help the film wheeze to its conclusion. By the end, one can’t help but think that they’ve kind of blown it again in terms of sheer opportunity.

Mostly, it feels like "The Expendables 2" is swinging for a solid double instead of the fences, and it gets in just under the tag. Maybe next time, they’ll knock it out of the park and trot the bases with a well-earned strut by making an action film with great action instead of just great action stars.

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originally posted: 08/18/12 14:06:58
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User Comments

8/24/14 Charles Tatum Bloodier than its 80s lineage, and that kills the "fun" 3 stars
1/16/14 Sugarfoot A lot of fun in a low expectations kind of way. 4 stars
11/09/13 bored mom Like how Arnold says 'AHM RUNNING LOH ON AHMO' and then immediately kills ten more dudes. 4 stars
1/06/13 JosieCottonisagoddess Great action and humor 5 stars
9/03/12 Courtney Better than the first, with some pretty good action scenes. 4 stars
8/30/12 matthew wood a decent sequel besides the fact that sylvester stallone needs to retire he is way too old 3 stars
8/25/12 mwildema Killer... 5 stars
8/22/12 Man Out Six Bucks They killed Bobby&his puppy! Who will protect Afghan smack for the CIA now? 1 stars
8/22/12 KingNeutron It was better than the 1st one, almost came across as parody of itself with humor n action 4 stars
8/21/12 action movie fan they did it better this time around good action and action legends 5 stars
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  17-Aug-2012 (R)
  DVD: 20-Nov-2012


  DVD: 20-Nov-2012

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