Release Year: 2012 | Directed By: Sylvester Stallone | Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren, Jean Claude Van Damme, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth, Scott Adkins, Yu Nan, Charisma Carpenter
The Expendables is one of my favourite movie action series’, partly because of what it is and partly because it represents that magic moment when OTT 1980’s-style action movies briefly made an explosive return to the big screen, spearheaded by Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Several highly entertaining movies came about as a result of this very welcome resurgence including The Last Stand, Escape Plan, Bullet to the Head and, of course, The Expendables.
I’m only going to be reviewing The Expendables 2 however because this is the best of the trilogy in my opinion. The original is still a fantastic action movie but was unfortunately placed in the shade when the sequel turned everything up to eleven. The third film, meanwhile, is also an exciting thrill ride but the high points come from two fantastic action sequences which are – unfortunately – placed at either end of the picture. There’s a bit of a flat spot in the middle where Barney Ross’ (Stallone) team is replaced by a younger generation of Expendables who proceed to make Stallone’s character look like the 80’s dinosaur he is…before being so intelligent and high-tech that they get captured by Mel Gibson and require rescuing by the old guard.
The Expendables 2 hits a sweet spot somewhere in between and that’s why I’m only going to bother talking about this one.
Sophisticated it ain’t but if you go in expecting otherwise then you’re a fool. Hulking, mens-men sit around in a bar smoking, drinking beers and shooting the shit before being given a suicide mission of a job. Said jobs in this series always take place in a fictional third-world country that riffs on somewhere real. The first film opted for South America while Expendables 2 surprised nobody by featuring Eastern Bloc countries such as Albania and Bulgaria. International arms dealer Jean Vilain (Van Damme) and his scumbag mercenary group are trying to steal five tons of refined plutonium, something that CIA agent, Church (Willis), doesn’t want to happen so he orders the Expendables team to stop them.
Having every action movie trope thrown into The Expendables 2 doesn’t hurt it though because the details exist purely as a vehicle for what this series is all about: an all-star group of big-screen action heroes blasting their way through a never-ending supply of enemy goons, none of which can shoot accurately to save their lives (literally) but all of which deserve to be iced.
Name another movie where you can watch Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Chuck Norris sharing the same screen and gunning their way through a room of enemies. It hadn’t happened before The Expendables 2 and unless there is a fourth installment in the series, we likely won’t see such a spectacle again. The Expendables 2 does sometimes get a bit too tongue-in-cheek to be taken seriously but that’s hard to consider a detraction when the stars are playing off of one another’s classic catch-phrases and one-liners. As far as I am concerned, the shootout scene in the airport at the movie’s climax is simply one of THE most entertaining sequences in any action film ever and never fails to raise a smile on this cynical face, no matter how many times I watch this movie.
[Trench (Schwarzenegger) and Church (Willis) are taking cover during the firefight]
Trench: I’m almost out; I’ll be back!
Church: You’ve been back enough. I’ll be back
[Trench (Schwarzenegger) is joined by Booker (Chuck Norris)]
Trench: Who is next? Rambo?
It’s absolutely brilliant and a love letter to old-school action movies like Commando. It’s big, loud and brash. You get mahoosive explosions and so much firepower that it’s almost like gun porn at times. It’s also nice to see a legend like Van Damme back in action in a decent, big-budget movie. His battle with Stallone at the end is a treat. You get Stallone dishing out some machinegun jabs, Rocky-style (I’d like to think that that was an intentional nod to Stallone’s boxing films), and Van Damme pulls off his famous helicopter kick.
There are only two things that I don’t like about The Expendables 2. The first is how the film almost becomes a parody of the genre it is attempting to pay homage to but as I’ve already said, I think they just managed to not go too far and maintain that balance between fun and bloody comic-book action. The second is the introduction of a female member to Ross’s team, Maggie Chan (played by Yu Nan). My issue with this is how they implemented her. Ross is initially resistant to having a woman shoe-horned into his team by Church and there are all of these small scenes throughout the movie where Chan gradually impresses the rest of the crew and gains acceptance. It’s clear from the outset that Maggie is both badass and capable so why go through the bullshit of trying to make some sort of statement about a woman being able to hold her own with the guys? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not intrusive or in-your-face but I’m not sure it was really necessary. Thankfully, The Expendables 3 redresses this with the seamless inclusion of Ronda Rousey’s character.
If I have to sum up The Expendables 2 with a single word then I’d have to use “fun”. These films are the ideal antidote to pictures that focus on social commentary or promoting some kind of politically-correct agenda. They aren’t clever or dynamic but sometimes, that’s not what you want. The Expendables 2 is simply a great time and benefits from having the most stacked cast of action movie greats (past and present) that we are likely to ever witness. If you love your old-school action movies then you owe it to yourself to watch this.