Two years ago, I hated “The Expendables”. Well, maybe “hated” is too strong a word, but the film that had a killer cast and was supposed to be a tribute to the great action movies of Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Willis didn’t live up to expectations.
Now we have “The Expendables 2”, which is directed by Simon West this time rather than its star, Sylvester Stallone. And my, is it a vast improvement over its predecessor.
In this film, Barney Ross (Stallone) and his gang of mercenaries, which includes Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), Caesar (Terry Crews), Yin Yang (Jet Li), and Toll Road (Randy Couture)—as well as a young new recruit named Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth)—are given a job by Church (Bruce Willis) to withdraw a computer file of some value from the wreckage of a plane crash. But the job takes a turn for the worse when Jean-Claude Van Damme shows up. He plays the villain in the movie, who is aptly named Villain; hey, I didn’t say everything in this movie was an improvement. What happens turns a failed job into a quest for vengeance as Barney tracks down Villain, intending to kill him once he finds him.
This time around, the Expendables also have a woman in their crew: Maggie (Nan Yu), who Church has tag along with Barney to make sure the job gets done. At first, this actually seems like a bad idea, as Barney’s initially deprecating remarks about having a woman on his team and that he will have to babysit her are a little cringe-worthy. But their relationship grows so that by the end of the film, Barney has a great deal of respect for Maggie, and it’s actually rather nice to watch.
“The Expendables 2” also features Arnold Schwarzenegger back in a slightly larger role, and the addition of Chuck Norris. This is part of why “The Expendables 2” is so much more successful than “The Expendables”. Whereas the first film was very dark and serious, this one, while it does have its darker scenes, has a lot of lighthearted scenes and funny banter that makes it that much more enjoyable to watch. As Barney and his crew hang out, there’s a feeling of closeness between them, like they are really a family. Norris and Schwarzenegger are kind of stuck in there at odd intervals, their only real purpose being to show up out of nowhere to get the Expendables out of a jam, but it’s fun to see them in action. This movie also serves as a better tribute to them, even in the Norris jokes and “Terminator” references are corny and overdone.
There’s also, of course, some great, authentic-feeling action scenes here, from chases to fist fights to shoot outs. The fact that CGI is not heavily used adds to the feeling that this is a throwback to the action films of the seventies and eighties.
Perhaps the story is the one major issue this movie has. Whereas in the first film Barney was fighting for a cause, this time he wants revenge. Still, while the gang appears unflustered when invading an enemy base or engaging in a shootout, there’s always that feeling in the background that the life they’re leading is not the most appealing one, and that helps make them humans rather than ruthless killing machines.
“The Expendables 2” is immensely enjoyable, and seems to have found a formula that works, combining gritty action and tension with humor to make for a flick that lets the summer 2012 movie season go out with a bang.
Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:
- Wehrenberg Theatres
- AMC Theatres
- Regal Movie Theatres
- Galleria 6
- Chase Park Plaza
- Granite City
- Moolah Theatre
- Hi-Pointe Theatre
- St. Andrews Cinema
- Plaza Frontenac Cinema
- Tivoli Theatre
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