As pure summer entertainment, The Expendables 2 might be one of the best. It’s well paced. It’s jam packed with action. It’s got a couple of laughs here and there. It even has a movie star (or quite a few to be exact) in its cast. The film never strives to be something important and that might be its greatest strength. The Expendables 2 is a film that knows exactly what it is: a dumb, fun action film.
The Expendables 2 picks up right where the first one left off. Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his crew of mercenaries (The Expendables) find themselves in debt to Church (Bruce Willis) after they took all of the rewards from the mission in the first film instead of handing them over to the CIA. They now must track down a device that harbors the location of unused, Soviet Union weapon-ized plutonium. However, Ross and his team must get to the device before another group of mercenaries led by Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) get there first.
Simon West takes over directing duties from Sylvester Stallone (who said it would be too much to direct, write and act in this sequel) for this film. Surprisingly West brings some real visual flair that was missing from the first film. He is also a great director of action to boot. While the first film features a cool action-filled finale, West is able to fit in two memorable action scenes. They aren’t just any sorts of action scenes; these two are large-scale action set pieces that last for about ten minutes. Despite not being back as director, Stallone co-wrote the screenplay along with Richard Wenk. In a film like this, you wouldn’t expect a good screenplay. However, Stallone and company write a screenplay that knows what it is (a story about a bunch of aging action heroes). There’s no time spent on setting up a ridiculous MacGuffin, and the film wisely uses this extra time to put in some self-deprecating humor. Will the humor be a little too much for certain people? Yes, but for any fans of the action heroes on screen in this film, it will work.
It also helps that every actor in the film fully commits to his or her role. Everyone understands that it is a bit of a joke that they are still even on a big screen in the first place. Sylvester Stallone does a great job at being the straight men of the bunch. For being so involved in the creative process, you have to admire that he lets others have the big moments. Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and (especially) Chuck Norris predictably steal all of the scenes they appear in. The film is at its best when they are onscreen. Jason Statham, Jet Li, and (especially) Terry Crews continue to prove they belong onscreen alongside some of the bigger names here, and Dolph Lundgren benefits from better screenwriting for the character this go-around. Liam Hemsworth is a solid addition to the cast while Jean-Claude Van Damme is able to hold his own against the entire cast as the big bad. The only ones in the cast that don’t work are Yu Nan (who has no chemistry with Stallone) and Randy Couture (who is instantly forgettable).
The Expendables 2 ends a disappointing summer with a loud bang.