Stallone, Statham, Li and the action heroes who should have settled nicely into retirement by now are back together for more guns, explosions and bank balance top ups in Expendables 2, an inevitable sequel to the moderate success of the first film. That had cameos from Arnie and Bruce Willis to build the hype which turned out to be little more than walk-on roles, so writer/director/star Stallone had to up the ante to come close to matching the clamour for action fans to get to cinemas. By handing the director’s chair to Con Air and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider helmer Simon West, bringing back Arnie and Willis in expanded roles then adding Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme to the mix seemed enough on paper to guarantee interest, but does it add up to a worthy film?
The first was like a star vehicle with a straight-to-DVD script so they’d need Stallone to buck his ideas up. This time the team are out to stop the villainous Van Damme – called, hilariously, Vilain – from getting his hand on some nuclear devices. It all means there’s more shoot ‘em up fun and all the intended audience will care about is how their favourites hold up. So, what better way to review this genre-flick than present a verdict on each of the stars. Don’t worry, a debrief follows at the end.
Sylvester Stallone. There would be no Expendabes without the Italian Stallion, yet few would argue that he’s not well past his prime. With a face that looks like it could fall off at any minute and as incomprehensible as ever, he leads the show with a dodgy pencil ‘tache and an odd bromance with Statham who somehow manages to show up his new on-screen BFF in the (limited) acting stakes. Stallone gets to take all the glory, mind, including duking it out with JCVD, just don’t expect the intensity of Rocky or devastation of Rambo on form. Average – 5/10.
Jason Statham. Obviously Stallone admires the British action star who seems to be in a film filling body bags every month or two. He keeps his head down, delivers some moderately humourous lines verbally sparring with Stallone and generally plays the dogsbody. He’s even away on an errand during one of the biggest gunfights mid-movie. Perhaps he lost out on a repeat of the number two status he got for The Expendables becuase the 80s stars are back. Wasted – 4/10.
Jet Li. Sorely consigned to the background in The Expendables armed with a gun for the most part, this time Li gets a good fight scene in then checks out with dignity. Seems he could come back if there’s a third part in the series, for this entry he’s like Willis and Arnie in the first: there to make up the numbers on the film poster. For what he does on screen: 7/10.
Arnie. Can the big man still make fun of himself and look cool while shooting very large guns? Yes. And, of course, he is most certainly “back” in business with more movies lined up. All the time the action is frenetic and Arnie is involved he looks like he’s having a whale of a time with that twinkle in his eye. He and Willis have a blast trading catchphrases and nods to their movies until the last scene where Arnie seems to forget all his lines and lets Stallone and Willis hog the limelight. Welcome back: 8/10.
Arnie and Willis have a blast trading catchphrases and nods to their movies.
Bruce Willis. The man who never went away and seems to be in an odd limbo between his past glories and still doing this kind-of-thing has fun and relishes a role in which he has leverage over Stallone. Given he’s regular appearance on the screen armed with a gun there isn’t much novelty value, it’s just nice to see him. Solid – 7/10.
Jean-Claude Van Damme. The roundhouse king makes for a superb bad guy as the Muscles from Brussels delivers his lines with a meandering tone and strange gestures just so you know he’s evil. Doesn’t actually do that much and would have benefitted from a few more of his signature moves, however Stallone probably didn’t want him to take too much of the limelight and is probably paying him back for turning down the first movie. Unfulfilled potential – 6/10.
Chuck Norris. No one saw this coming and the swagger with which he appears from the smoke of a defeated battlefield is priceless. Delivers a few classic lines, looks in great shape and lights up the screen when present. A 1980s action fan’s dream – 10/10.
Yu Nan. Ensuring the token girl in the sequel isn’t some banal love interest for Stallone, Yu Nan kicks ass and holds her own in a room full of men. Should definitely consider returning for a sequel and perhaps Sly might add a few more women to his roster. Milla Jovovich would surely be a good start. Decent debut – 7/10.
The others. With Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews and Liam Hemsworth there is plenty more testosterone on screen in some parts to make up the numbers (the dud of a role for Lundgren and cheesy Hemsworth) or provide a couple of younger action starts (Couture and Crews). They say and do nothing remotely interesting, but may have had little say over that. Filler – 4/10.
So, based on the ratings above we have a score of 58/90 which equates to roughly 6/10 and is largely accurate. As you can tell, there’s plenty to root for a few of the old boys and shoot with a grin on their faces. West directs effectively, if unspectacularly, though the script has very little to say for itself, the action does deliver what you’d hope it does: empty rounds and dead bodies. If the thought of Norris, Arnie and Willis obliterating an airport with heavy weaponry appeals, see The Expendables 2.**