The Expendables are back and this time it's personal! Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture), and Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) -- with newest members Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) and Maggie (Yu Nan) aboard -- are reunited when Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) enlists the Expendables to take on a seemingly simple job. The task looks like an easy paycheck for Barney and his band of old-school mercenaries. But when things go wrong and one of their own is viciously killed, the Expendables are compelled to seek revenge in hostile territory where the odds are stacked against them.
THE EXPENDABLES 2 is one of those rare sequels that not only improves on its predecessor but actually blows it out of the water. Easily the purest action movie I've seen this year and a great way to wrap up the summer movie season, EX2 is THE GODFATHER PART II of action movies.
Too bad that awesomeness is slightly hampered by the fact EX2 is totally lacking in the plot department. There’s the appearance of one, some minor character moments and tiny twists to indicate there actually might be one, but I guarantee you there is not one. There’s a setup of Barney (Sylvester Stallone) and company retrieving a hard drive for Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) and avenging one of their own but neither thread goes anywhere. The hard drive is a blatant MacGuffin (one immediately dismissed once baddies Jean Claude Van Damme and Scott Adkins enter the picture) and the gang’s desire for revenge never really registers because it is for a character the audience has barely had a chance to warm up to.
Outside of that minor (cutting back on the plot after the excessive amount in the first film was smart) but major (cutting it completely out will probably cause this flick to be easily forgotten) faux-pas, EX2 is a blast. The actors, even though they are playing one-note characters (JCVD’s motivation for destroying the world is “I want to be rich!!”) who spout punchlines (Arnie drops three variations of his signature “I’ll be back” line, Willis spoofs his DIE HARD persona, a RAMBO reference is tossed out, Dolph Lundgren lampoons his real life chemical engineering degree, and CHUCK NORRIS actually dispenses a “CHUCK NORRIS Fact”), exude machismo (EX2 might just be the manliest movie EVER) and mass execute disposable baddies (the airport where the final battle takes place must’ve had enemy closets installed along with the metal detectors), are all spot-on. The wall-to-wall practical action, mostly gunplay but there was some solid hand-to-hand courtesy of JCVD and Jet Li, was a breath of fresh air after all the CG-heavy action audiences have had to deal with all summer.
Director Simon West, who directed CON AIR many moons ago, smartly ditches the morose tone of the first film for a more upbeat and peppy one. Kudos to him for packing more action into the first fifteen of EX2 than any other movie released this year. CHUCK NORRIS and JCVD, both of whom have been away from the big screen for far too long, rock the hell out of their extended cameos.
The plot, if you can call it that, is a joke. Not enough Jet Li (dude literally bails ten minutes in and never comes back), Charisma Carpenter (so hot), Liam Hemsworth (decent but an ill-fit for this motley band of badasses), or CHUCK NORRIS (awesome cameo but they should’ve gave him more to do). Too much bad CG. The final mano-a-mano between Sly and JCVD should’ve been longer. New “Expendable” Yu Nan is just a shameless carbon copy of “Co” from RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II. Terry Crews and Randy Couture have been completely sidelined in favor of the big name cameos (Schwarzenegger, Willis, NORRIS). Sly gratuitously pimping his ridiculously expensive “Chaos” pen (one he designed for Montegrappa following the release of the first film) was a little embarrassing.
Those looking for a coherent plot and intelligent dialogue should probably steer clear of THE EXPENDABLES 2. But if you’re in the mood for oodles of old school action featuring badass actors being 100% badass then EX2 is for you. Lots of flash (that’s what you get when you ditch plot and go all action) and sizzle (so many explosions and dead baddies) but no substance.