“The Expendables 2” doesn’t come in on a wave of high expectations. Its predecessor, “The Expendables” set the bar pretty low two years ago, demonstrating that aging action stars could all get together for a fun time, make a few bucks, and produce a real stinker of a movie. Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, et al, proved that guys who started their film careers in the ‘70s and ‘80s were capable—with the aid of legions of stunt men and doubles—of getting back that old feeling that comes with slicing, dicing, blowing up, garroting, and mowing down their fellow human beings. But past that, there wasn’t much to recommend #1.
This time around, the crew has added Chuck Norris (also alive and kicking), Jean-Claude Van Damme as the villain (helpfully code-named Vilain), and, in a blow for gender equity, a woman, Nan Yu. Stallone was savvy enough to hire director Simon West, whose credits include “Con Air” and “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” instead of relying on his own behind-the-camera talents, as he unfortunately did in the first number. West brings #2 in at a brisk 102 minutes, about the same as #1, but feeling a lot faster. (I didn’t nod off even once.)
Stallone also considerably expands the roles of Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger and, in his writer’s hat, gives them some laugh lines. The addition of humor (the intentional kind) is the best addition of all: the film becomes sporadically witty and self-parodic. Towards the end, one of the characters allows that they all belong in a museum. The musical track features Golden Oldies, too, most of which wryly comment on the action and comically relieve us from the thunderous sound that predominates.
And this is a very LOUD movie, from the opening scene until the Big Shootout at the climax. Every type of weaponry imaginable is employed and then amplified. Add in helicopters, armored cars with clever slogans like “Bad Attitude” on them, old prop planes, rockets, and you have plenty of ambient sound. Even giant knives with skulls on the handle somehow become noisy.
Most of the cacophony occurs during the various rescue or search-and-destroy missions that underpin the plot, such as it is. The only question is who dies first, and for that Stallone drags in young Liam Hensworth—the love interest from “The Hunger Games”—who is forty years Sly’s junior. His character, Bill the Kid, does the only emoting in a movie that basically doesn’t have time for that kinda sissy stuff.
For this is, after all, a buddy (or buddies) flick, with the attendant joshing, sarcasm, and tough guy arm pumping and fist bumping. When it turns self-aware of the genre it’s simultaneously promoting and parodying, it can be fun and funny. For instance, none of the legions of bad guys can hit the proverbial side of a barn with their multitude of automatic weapons, not even when they’re trying to gun down Willis and Ahnuld in a tiny Smart Car the two oldsters press into service.
Rated “R” for “strong bloody violence throughout,” “The Expendables 2” will be a hit with its target demographic of twenty-something males and with international audiences, who will not need much in the way of translation. It’s likely to have stronger legs than the first one; however, if Stallone attempts another sequel, he and his cohorts might need canes.