Every now and then, a film idea crops up that is so crazy that it just has to work, and that gets the internet very excited.
It happened with Snakes on a Plane – Samuel L. Jackson battling an army of snakes in a sealed container a thousand feet in the air? Yes please! – and it happened with 2010’s The Expendables, which saw all of our beloved action heroes from the eighties teaming up to form a super-group of testosterone fuelled bad-asses. What could go wrong?
Well, plenty did, but, crucially, not the box-office, and so here we have a second throw of the dice, and The Expendables 2 more than makes up for the failings of the first film.
EX2 drops us straight into the action, with an extended assault on an enemy compound in Asia to rescue a kidnapped billionaire, immediately demonstrating that director Simon West (Con Air) has a much better grasp of action than Sylvester Stallone, who directed himself in the first film. It’s an outrageously overblown sequence – the Expendables use armoured cars, zip-wires, jet-skis and a weaponised escape plane all within the first few minutes – and it’s the film in microcosm – big, ludicrously dumb and giddily entertaining.
Stallone once again stars as leader of the team, while all the previous muscle from the first instalment return (Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews – with Jet Li’s hand-to-hand skills only featuring for a short cameo this time).
However, while the first film promised the ultimate action-hero team-up, big names Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger only appeared as cameos, and instead we were left with the physically formidable but cinematically unknown footballer and UFC guys Crews and Couture. It felt like something of a cheat, but the balance is more than restored here, as the big names all get more of a look in and even get to throw down together.
Joining them on the journey are Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games) as a young sniper and Jean Claude Van-Damme as a rival mercenary named – wait for it – Vilain (yep – that’s the sort of dumb flourish you can expect here).
While Van Damme makes for a much more charismatic baddie than Eric Roberts’ lightweight nemesis from last time, the real star of the stunt-casting is Chuck Norris. If you’ve ever spent any time on the internet, you’ll be well aware of the cult of Chuck, and the many, many outlandish facts that surround him. Norris’ introduction into the film is cheesy and hilarious, and it will put a smile on your face. By the time he delivers his own Chuck Norris fact, you just won’t be able to help yourself. It’s all just so endearingly, gleefully stupid.
I should make it clear at this point, that The Expendables 2 is not a good film. The story is virtually non-existent, and the script is, on the whole, atrocious. When it’s just the guys bantering with each other and generally being guys, that’s fine; you don’t expect great dialogue from these actors in a film like this – you didn’t even get that in their heyday! But it’s when the film tries to get serious that the clunkers really come to light.
Stallone, in particular, is given the worst of it, having to give a heartfelt graveside lament to a fallen comrade that is so overly portentous it will have you laughing in a bad way. This isn’t a franchise that should be attempting anything of substance, and you’ll soon be praying for Jason Statham to pronounce someone “man and knife” again (or any of the other countless moments when you’re back to laughing with the bad script).
The rest of the cast are as likable as they were in the first outing. Couture and Crews may not be huge stars like the rest, but they more than hold their own, while the chemistry between Stallone and Statham continues to be surprisingly warm (Statham is again the highlight). And, in a hilarious piece of character development completely absent from the first film, it transpires that Dolph Lundgren’s Gunnar Jenson is actually a genius chemistry expert. Because of course he is.
The Expendables 2 is an improvement in almost every way. The big names are all fighting together, against an equally big name, and there’s far more fun to be had. Everyone gets a chance to rip on each other’s careers and catchphrases, mostly in ways that are almost arduously obvious, but that somehow still manage to wring smiles.
The film has its tongue very firmly planted in its cheek, with the most telling moment coming towards the end. As the gang are gifted a new vehicle – an old, rusty and haggard plane – one character comments that “it belongs in a museum.” “We all do”, comes the reply. It’s that knowing nod-and-wink to the audience that makes The Expendables 2 such fun to watch, even as you’re fully aware that it’s utter trash.
With improved action, a superior villain, and more fan-pandering than we could ever have hoped for, The Expendables 2 is an outrageously entertaining slice of mayhem and silliness. This is the film that the internet wanted the first time around.
Released in UK cinemas on Thursday 16th August 2012 by Lionsgate.
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