Friday, September 28, 2012

The Expendables 2 (2012) Review

The Expendables 2

The first “Expendables” movie was perhaps not quite the triumph that everyone had hoped it would be back in 2010. It had some memorable moments and a great final action scene, but for the most part it left me wanting more. This is not the case with “The Expendables 2,” as the majority of the issues I had with the first one have been fixed and the film is just plain fun overall.

Seeing the first “Expendables” film isn’t necessary to enjoy this improved sequel, although there are some connections. Essentially we learn that our heroes, even though they succeeded in their own way (which basically means taking out every last villain in sight), didn’t carry out the previous mission like their employer, C.I.A. agent Church (Bruce Willis), wanted them to. In order to make up for this misunderstanding, Church wants Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his crew to locate missing nuclear launch codes and return them without fault. What should have been a simple in-and-out job becomes personal when the codes are stolen by arms dealer Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), forcing the Expendables to track him down before he can use them on hidden Russian missiles.

Just about every actor from the first movie, sans Mickey Rourke, returns for this go-around, and some of them get expanded roles while at the same time making way for new players. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Willis, previously only two-minute cameos, finally get in on the action and the shot of Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Willis standing side-by-side taking out nameless henchman in unison should give 80s action fans the kind of nostalgic wish fulfillment missing from the first movie. Jet Li unfortunately bows out early (not without an incredible display of martial arts skills beforehand though), making time for newcomers Liam Hemsworth, Chuck Norris, and Van Damme to get their due. Even when some actors don’t get much attention (more Terry Crews would’ve been nice, while Randy Couture is practically pointless at this point), everyone gets their moments to shine.

The humor and banter between our heroes gets a nice boost, as they spout off cheesy one-liners and joke about each other even in battle. The dialogue doesn’t work most of the time; a lot of it is flat out bad and painful to listen to, but every now and then someone throws out a line that will get a big laugh (including, yes, a Chuck Norris joke for good measure). This doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, since the core audience is surely watching this movie for the big action moments rather than the talking, but it is disappointing that the tough-guy talk (a staple of 80s action movies) could have been much better than it turns out to be. Arnold and Bruce exchanging each others’ famous quotes is fun; Hemsworth giving a laughably overdone story of his experience in Afghanistan is less so.

Thankfully, the film manages to strike the right tone of goofy outlandishness, and many of the players like Statham, Van Damme, and Schwarzenegger manage to slide by on their charisma. Van Damme in particular looks like he’s having a ball as the head villain Vilain (get it?) as he chews through the ridiculous dialogue with his thick accent and helicopter kicking Stallone in their mano-a-mano. The films use of Chuck Norris, who is not actually remembered as a good action star, is refreshingly self-aware and plays off of his recent inexplicable Internet fame. Director Simon West also plans out the action sequences with over-the-top glee as bullets fly and heads explode, thankfully with less obvious computer-made gore, starting out with a great opening set piece and then dolling out smaller fun moments before the explosive climax.

Those who wanted to see “The Expendables 2” and have already made up your minds about the movie will most likely not be swayed by my review. Despite any faults, the film gives the audience what it wants and satisfies on that level. Those who were disappointed by the first movie and were cautious about seeing this one though should know that the sequel is a marked improvement and gives action fans the all-out brawl they were expecting before.


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