The Expendables 2 Review

★★★★1/2

Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables was passable entertainment, which left many slightly disappointed – never fully living up to high expectations. Fortunately for the sequel, everything has been stepped up a gear, from the cast to the set pieces and humour. The Expendables 2 is a non-stop adrenaline rush fun that entertains whilst reliving the glory days of 1980/90s action cinema.

The sequel sees the Expendables recruited for a simply job in Albania – to obtain blueprints of a former Soviet plutonium mine. However, after one of their men is murdered and the location of the plutonium falls into the hands of terrorist mastermind, Jean Vilain, the team set out for vengeance.

Part of the success of The Expendables 2 comes from Stallone and Richard Wenk’s (The Mechanic) highly self-aware script. The action films in which these actors previously starred were certainly not critical darlings, but they were great fun – and this is something The Expendables 2 fully embraces, being filled with humorous homages to the casts back catalogue and on-screen personas. Lone Wolf McQuade, Die Hard, First Blood and The Terminator are just some of the films that the writers reference, as well as taking on Chuck Norris’ status a cult icon and Dolph Lundgren’s surprising intellectual background.

Director, Simon West (The Mechanic) thrusts us into the action with a well-crafted opening which sees the team rescue a mysterious hostage from war-torn Nepal. Here, the surprisingly violent, blood-splattered and bone-crunching tone of the film is established, striking immediate parallels with the gritty Canon Group productions of the 1980s. West utilises every star to the films advantage – devoting a solid amount of time to most characters and capturing the camaraderie between the team through several comic exchanges. The director shows a competence with large scale set pieces, mainly the film’s truly epic conclusion (which will send a shiver down the spine of any action aficionado).
West’s film adds more of an emotional tone, filling the characters with vengeance and guilt after their colleague, The Kid (Liam Hemsworth) is murdered by Vilain (Jean Claude Van Damme). This brooding sense of hatred between Barney (Sylvester Stallone) and Vilain makes the final battle between the pair even more engaging and powerful.

To any action fan it is a complete delight to see these cinematic icons back on the big screen, and this of course is the main selling point of the film. Stallone and Statham are back on capable form, with West further exploring the bromance between the pair (perhaps devoting too much time to this). It is also a pleasure to see Dolph Lundgren’s role as Gunnar slightly expanded, with the character no longer being regarded as a Frankenstein’s Monster type character but a valued member of the team. More time is also devoted towards Randy Couture and Terry Crews who are developed from simply being backing characters, with the pair delivering some comic exchanges centred around Couture’s ears. The only original cast member to feature less is Jet Li, who disappears shortly after the opening – disappointing as this may be it, does pave further screen time for the other supporting stars.

The Expendables 2 also expands the roles of Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s characters with the pair’s exchanges proving excellent comic value. A perfectly crafted, self-aware supporting role from Chuck Norris also delights. In fact it is completely surreal to watch Bruce Willis and Arnie blow away henchmen in a Smart car, whilst Chuck Norris takes them down with a machine gun – but it is these madcap moments that makes The Expendables 2 so enjoyable. Jean Claude Van Damme features on chief scene-stealing duties as the joyously evil villain, aptly titled Jean Vilain.

The Expendables 2 is a tremendous improvement on the first, surpassing the original’s narrative, set-pieces and star power. It proves to be high-octane fun from the onset, as well as an action fans dream – where else would you see Stallone, Lundgren, Willis, Schwarzenegger, Norris and Van Damme all in the same film?

Andrew McArthur

Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Damme
Director: Simon West
Certificate: 15 (UK)
Release: 16th August 2012 (UK)

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About Andrew McArthur

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Obsessed with all things film, TV and pop music. Worshiper of John Waters, Alejandro Jodorowsky, James Franco, and awful Madonna films. You can find me on Twitter at @AndrewSMcArthur