The Expendables 2

Bigger, better, faster is usually the go to phrase when crafting a sequel to an earlier hit, but when your first film contained the most awesome action cast ever assembled – where do you go from there? How about add a couple more and then use the ones you already have much more effectively?No slight to the talents of mountainous man monsters Randy Couture and Terry Crews, but while The Expendables was still an entertaining bloodbath, people felt a little short changed by legends Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis merely popping in for a brief chat and openly questioned when exactly Mickey Rourke was ever an action hero… That being said, the addition of further action stars aside, something else a sequel would have to address would be the smoking dumpster fire that was it’s plot – a direct result of director Sylvester Stallone constantly having to roll with the punches of having such a large and elusive cast and in 2012, The Expendables 2 landed, boasting more bullets, bigger biceps and possibly a collection of action egos you could probably see from space…

We join our group of aging mercs as they noisily liberate a Chinese hostage (plus Schwarzenegger’s Trench Mouse) from a terrorist stronghold in Nepal. A new addition to the team, sniping prodigy Billy The Kid, makes everyone yearn for the days when their joints didn’t creak like the doors of a haunted house, but their celebration is cut short with the arrival of the substantially pissed off CIA spook Mr Church who insists The Expendables still need to pay some dues.Heading into Albania to retrieve a secret computer from a downed CIA airplane, the group runs into Jean Vilain (What, naming him John Villain was too fucking obvious?), a deranged loony who needs the computer to find the location of a ton of nuclear crap so he can do lots of evil things with it. Killing Billy with the admittedly awesome method of spin kicking a knife the size of a bagette into his chest, boss man Barney Ross vows to get revenge on their most latest nemesis and the group track him across the land, pausing every now and then to kill clusters of Vilain’s acolytes and free various groups of downtrodden villagers. As Vilain’s rather ill defined plan starts to come to fruition (or at least, I think it does… I honestly had no idea what he was up to), the gang doubles down and unleashes the one weapon he has no defence for: more cameoing action stars! As the final showdown tears apart probably the only major airport in the country, Ross finally has a chance to avenge his young protege by gently beating Vilain to death with chains, but is this overacting maniac going to go down that easily or will he spin kick his way to a terrible victory?

The Expendables 2 is one of those sequels that greatly improves on it’s predecessor in many ways (not exactly hard when the first movie was a smoking hot mess) but somehow underachieves in others. Firstly, the weird, we’re-literally-making-this-up-as-we’re-going-alone vibe that made the orginal so morbidly fascinating to me has been exchanged for a far slicker feel thanks to Stallone mercifully lightening his filmmaking load by handing over directing duties to Con Air’s Simon West. The budget is bigger, the plot is less chaotic, but when the dreaded scheduling conflicts that always loom over a cast this size strikes, various cast members suddenly drop out of the plot at odd moments for random reasons (Jason Statham vanishes for 20 minutes because he has run an errand and Jet Li quits while he’s ahead before the title card even appears) that prove to be quite jarring. Also, with the need to give Schwarzenegger’s and Willis’ slightly expanded roles room to breath, not to mention time required to introduce lesser Hemsworth Liam’s doomed Billy and Yi Nan’s CIA agent means that once again Crews and Couture are wallflower in their own franchise. However, this unholy merging of The Dirty Dozen and Cannon’s The Delta Force ultimately proves to be a far smoother ride than the orginal and sports two massive, bookending action sequences that manage to finally live up to the boasts.The film starts of with a truly monstrous sequence that’s as perfect an action sequence as the franchise has ever given us. Impressively blowing it’s load with an opening sequence that contains pimped out juggernauts ploughing through buildings, helicopters crashing and Jet Li finally getting to have a half-decent fight scene, we move on to our boys trying to escape by zip lining through a jungle, machine gunning every fucker in their way like someone desperately wanted to merge Predator meets Alton Towers. The finale brings everyone into the action to mostly stand still and shoot machine guns into the camera but we are still gifted with the sight of Willis and Arnie swapping catchphrases before climbing into a minute smart car to exterminate even more people while on the move…Oddly, despite being a step up from the first film thanks to it’s far more stable production (the first one was apparently like trying to do push ups on two broken arms), it also leads to a slightly less fascinating result, but as I seem to be the only one who’s relentlessly obsessed with how amazingly disjointed the original was, you may well disagree. Still, we get two more legitimate action movie immortals to add to the growing rosta as the Lone Wolf himself, Chuck fuckin’ Norris, mystically wanders in and out of the film like some bearded eldritch god while spouting out Chuck Norris toughness jokes as actual dialogue and Van Damme’s rambling bad guy prattles on about goats for some reason and wears sunglasses on overcast days (bonus points for casting the absurdly athletic Scott Adkins as a henchman too).

Being noticably a more silly movie ultimately proves to be a wise choice; where else are you going to see The Stath dressed as a monk before announcing “I now pronounce you man and knife!” before flinging blades in every direction, but despite it’s many improvements, The Expendables 2 contines in the same highly flawed vein.Still, it’s genuinely fun to spend more time with Sly and the family Stallone…

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