The Expendables 2 review

Review Duncan Bowles 13 Aug 2012 - 07:29

Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham lead their army of action heroes into battle for The Expendables 2. Here’s Duncan’s review...

Saying I love the first Expendables movie is like saying that its body count is a little high. Yet despite my enthusiasm for both its execution and concept, even I couldn’t admit that it was perfect. Sure, it contained all the right elements, including the long-awaited moment when Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger finally appeared on screen together, but it struggled a little under the weight of expectation.

If you’ve seen The Expendables documentary, Inferno, on its Blu-ray, you’ll appreciate that Stallone almost killed himself trying to get it made, while both starring and directing. My hopes were high, then, that by handing over directorial responsibilities to Simon West (Con Air), The Expendables 2 would surpass the original. What I could never have predicted was how superior Expendables 2 would be in every single way.

It’s bigger, better and bloodier, even nailing the humour this time. From start to finish it’s a joy to behold, especially as the much-needed sense of the ridiculous that permeated West’s Con Air is present throughout.

I’m used to action movies starting with bombastic openings - after all, anyone who’s grown up with James Bond simply expects such things - but the opening scene for The Expendables 2 is excellent. If ever there were doubts that the level of violence would drop with the addition of Chuck Norris, then those are soon assuaged in seconds, as Stallone and the gang decimate an entire army with guns, knives and Jet Li.

If you were one of those people who delighted in the explosive pay offs in Rambo 4, then be prepared for the entirety of that film to be surpassed in the first ten minutes of Expendables 2. It’s as if the film’s mission is to build a higher amount of exploded bodies than any of the cast's previous movies. Indeed, as expected when Liam Hemsworth was added to the cast, he seems to have inherited Matthew Marsden’s weapon of choice from the fourth Rambo, too.

Expendables 2 is relentless in pace, with no time to lost to anything other than setting up a new threat and a couple of new additions to the team. And when there’s finally a momentary ceasefire in the action, the comedy prevails. Every one of the returning cast members seem so much more relaxed, as they set about ridiculing each other, lending a much greater sense of camaraderie to the team, from Toll Road’s ears, to Christmas’ ego and Gunnar’s pulling technique.

It’s an inspired choice to make Gunnar a more comedic foil, with Dolph Lundgren eating up his chances to play for laughs – his seduction face has to be seen to be believed, though it’s an image that no amount of mental scrubbing can remove.

Thankfully, in the midst of the chaos both Stallone’s Barney Ross and Statham’s Lee Christmas still get a few scenes together, which were a definite highlight of the first film, and their relationship combining brothers in blood with a father/son dynamic provides a solid core for the film and a lot of the humour. Their reversion to an old ‘classic’ style of interrogation is a highpoint. Christmas’ love life is also still a mere set up for ribbing and jokes, so poor Charisma Carpenter has even less to do this time, leaving Buffy fans disappointed once more.

Nan Yu, by contrast, as Maggie, fares a lot better. Despite having a character one sheet released, Yu sadly seems to be absent from the final poster line up in order to make way for the bigger names, which I guess makes sense from an advertising point of view, but is in no way representative of her role. She makes a great addition to the team, quietly dispelling any fears of becoming a token female with enough verbal and physical sparring to stand on level pegging. I’m assuming her link with Dolph Lundgren in Diamond Dogs put her on the radar, and rightly so, but I’m still hopeful that the likes of Cynthia Rothrock (who’s just recently returned to acting) and Gina Carano will even the sexes at some point in another sequel.

I did have concerns that, with Expendables 2’s increased line up, the film would become cluttered and unfocused, but the use of every major new name was shrewdly done for maximum effect (and it worked too, as the packed cinema I saw it in cheered and laughed at each reveal). I won’t spoil anything here but everyone was used very, very well. My wife said she felt sorry for Chuck Norris, though, as it did appear that he wasn’t in on the joke, but that’s no bad thing.

Reprising his role as Church, Bruce Willis is still effortlessly cool, and still steals every scene he’s in. His part in the story's well reasoned, and his character is quite the shit, which is by far the best way to exploit Willis’ sly charm and sarcastic nature.

Now, I have a confession to make - and one which will pain me far more than you - but if there was a weak point in the film, it was Arnold Schwarzenegger. There, I said it.

I was absolutely thrilled to see him back where he belongs, but his absence from the big screen does seem to have made him a little rusty, and his part doesn’t help matters. His character, Trench, has dialogue that's little more than self-referential quips, something he once excelled at, and some, not all, come off as a bit forced. Maybe it’s abandonment issues on my part, but there’s still only so many ‘I’ll be back’ jokes that can be made in the space of 102 minutes.

Then we come to Jean Claude Van Damme. He’s an actor that I’ve stood by since the beginning, so it was a crushing disappointment when he turned down Stallone’s offer of a part in the first film. It turns out it was the wisest decision Van Damme could’ve made, since the subtly-named Jean Vilain provides him with a plum role here - JCVD burns up the screen in what is arguably a career best performance.

The rivalry shared by Stallone and Van Damme in real life doesn’t just stop at name calling. The tension between them is tangible, and when the inevitable time comes for a face off, things snaps in the most brutal and exhilarating way.

I grew up at a time where action movie franchises spawned sequels on the straight-to-video market, mostly without their original stars (just look at JCVD’s own early vehicles such as Bloodsport, Kickboxer and Cyborg) with even the bigger franchises such as Lethal Weapon, Rambo and Beverly Hills Cop deteriorating over the course of several films. This makes The Expendables 2 an anomaly in the best possible way.

It’s hysterical, explosively violent, full of references to its cast’s work (and even real life experiences) and it's all handled exceptionally well by Simon West, a director who’s already given us one excellent action movie in Con Air. With The Expendables 2, he's delivered again: it's a rollicking action movie, one of the most downright enjoyable of recent times. And, for me, The Expendables 3 can't come quickly enough...

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Disqus - noscript

What's the animosity between Van Damme & Stallone? I've never heard about it until reading this review. What form has it taked?

I've never read about the animosity either. I'm tempering my expectations for this film as the reviewer liked the first film.

"taked"??

As is tradition on DOG, a statham film earns at least three stars for his presence in the movie and then an extra one if the film is not considered the worst film ever made. I used to value this websites opinion, oh how the times have changed

Have you seen The Expendables 2 then? I have, and it's brilliant. And I hated the first one.

I read Empire and Total Film
reviews and they hated it. I havnt seen Expendables 2, but I couldn't help but thinking 'get your heads out of your @sses and enjoy it for what it is.'

really enjoyed the first one, cant wait for the second!

There is a lot of animosity between Van Damme and Steven Seagal but I'm not sure about Van Damme and Stallone. It's the first I've heard of it as well.

I'm not sure what is wrong with your analysis. 3 stars just for being the Stat seems fair to me ;)

Statham is a glorified b list action actor and this sites fetish with him is cringe inducing

Well Paul, you seem to be the only one i will listen to here. I thought the first movie was one of the worst movies i had the agony of watching in recent memory followed closely by Piranha 3d!! If you hated the first and liked the second - then i will definitely give it a try ;-)

Most better known critics will hate this movie because they're cynical liberals who are looking for the latest kid-friendly PG-13 movie. I'll trust real action fans and their reviews.

How about you keep your bullshit politics away from this site? We get enough of that crap, oh, I don't know...EVERYWHERE ELSE.

Couldn't stand the first one. As bloated and dead-eyed as its straight to DVD stars........but number 2 is terrific fun. Simon West knows how to handle an ensemble to orchestrate ridiculous action, and the laughs, intentional or otherwise, are plentyful.

There's less wood in my local B&Q store than in most Statham movies,however,i'm a big fan of Sly, and that man can do no wrong in my eyes... AIDDDDDRRRRIIIAAAANNN

The Stath is glorious cheese! He's not pretending to be Hamlet and, frankly, no one really wants him to be.

Back when Stallone was putting the first film together Van Damme declined, at the time saying that he wasn't offered a good enough character, which didn't go down too well. When speaking to Lundgren he said he was keen for Van Damme to be in part two and Stallone had said something along the lines of 'you can rip his head off'. It was nothing too serious, just a bit of friction. Though bear in mind Van Damme's character is called Jean Vilain - hardly subtle!

Jason Statham is one of the few actors to remain loyal to the action genre, especially during a time when fellow stars like The Rock and Vin Diesel (both of whom I like) were attempting to make mainstream childrens' films and failing. There are very few actors who make consistently entertaining action movies and Statham is at the top, so that's one of the reasons why I and this site triumph the man.

I agree - the sobbery and elitism towards action films is really starting to get tiresome, The Expendables 2 has no pretensions and achieves exactly what any long time action fan could ask for, so I hope you enjoy it!

Snobbery and elitism are the arguments used by people who don't understand the medium of cinema, or critical thinking, when stating why their lack of knowledge or experience make them right. The first film was a crushing disappointment in every way, and this whole series is the wet dream of a twelve year-old boy from 1990... and the only way anyone could enjoy these films is if they comprehensively failed to grow up. It is every bit as bad as the 'Sex and the City' films, but this time appealing to the lowest common denominator audience for the masculine, rather than feminine, audience. Pathetic, pathetic, pathetic, a thousand times pathetic.

I wasn't enthusiastic about the first movie but had an absolute blast with this one. It might have been a mood thing with the first flick and I'll have to revisit it. Regardless, if you like action cinema and fancy a good time with a ensemble cast of action stars, a lot of fighting and explosions and some hilarious banter, go and see The Expendables 2. Excellent review Mr Bowles...

In your own way you're actually giving my point more weight. What I mean is (and I should've perhaps elaborated) that there has always been a critical standpoint which provides a distance from certain genres, action in particular, so terms like 'guilty pleasure' or 'dumb fun' exist so that there is no serious risk of being thought of as stupid for enjoying and praising entertaining spectacle. You've applied a mass generalisation to a couple of blockbusters, without any sense of who it might offend (I know intelligent, mature women who can still enjoy S&tC), just because you didn't enjoy them. I love arguing over movies, good and bad, but don't be so keen to dismiss everyone - action movies have their place and as such should be rated according to their own criteria, for me at least.

i'd say the reason the that Statham is loyal to the action genre is because he doesn't get offered any proper acting jobs

wow whats up with the stath haters statham is the best action star in the past decade u all should be greatful he dont make comedies hes a beast!! and the best thing about this film behind van dammes return so hate on losers

I thought the first Expendables was an average action movie, which happened to have a handful of big names thrown in. Expendables 2 is the Expendables I wanted the first one to be. The action scenes are fun and exciting, and the self-referencing jokes between the cast make it feel like the celebration of action cinema it wants to be, as well as feeling much less forced and more like the banter you'd expect between this bunch of guys in the movie. It's not a huge improvement over the first movie in terms of being a good film in general, but I think it's perfect for what Stallone had in mind for the Expendables idea.

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