Twitter Plot Summary: The Expendables journey to Eastern Europe to stop Jean Claude Van Damme, because it’s cheaper to film over there.
Five Point Summary:
1. Big explosive intro, then things quieten down. Get the flat caps out!
2. He’s dressed in black and wears shades. Clearly a bad guy.
3. Chuck Norris!
4. Schwarzenegger. Willis. Tiny car.
5. Obligatory fist fight to the death in an industrial setting.
The exercise in silliness continued in 2012’s The Expendables 2, with the titular team having to face off against Jean Claude Van Damme’s blatantly named villain called, er, Vilain. This is a man who comes from the classic, old school stock of bad guys, dressing all in black, always wearing shades and speaking in stunted soundbites as he plots to do something nefarious with a mine in Eastern Europe – a location chosen no doubt because it’s a cheap place to film in. Cue an intervention from The Expendables! On arriving in Eastern Europe the Expendables crew all don flat caps, as if they’re auditioning for The Expendables: Yorkshire Edition. Perhaps it’s best not to dwell on the possibility that this may one day happen.
This time round there is a now obligatory younger character who has joined the crew in the form of Liam Hemsworth (the one that isn’t Thor), although the more established names come and go in a cavalcade of increasingly brief cameos – Jet Li appears for at most five minutes. This time there is a little more for both Brice Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger to do, which is either a good or a bad thing depending on your perspective. Portraying Dolph Lundgren as a scientific genius is a highlight, more so because he’s actually a smart guy in reality. No, seriously, he has degrees and everything.
Despite all of that it all comes down to the bromance between Stallone and Statham, which picks up where it left off in the first film. Their interactions are the real selling point rather than the number of cameos from big name action stars, or the random woman who shows up to prove that this isn’t a massive testosterone contest – even though it is. How else could you explain the climactic fist fight between Stallone and Van Damme?
Much like the original, this is a film that isn’t as knowingly self-referential as it needs to be. With the exception of Chuck Norris, who gets to use one of the better Chuck Norris facts as his character’s introduction, and the exchange of catchphrases between Schwarzenegger and Willis, the silliness never reaches the appropriate level. That’s not to say the action isn’t very good, because it’s confidently done. Everything in this respect is explosively good fun, well choreographed and giving the audience bang for its buck. The dialogue is amusing enough, but it’s never brave enough to jump over the fence and know that it’s amusing.
The real issue here is that it doesn’t come close to being as good as the 80s action movies it’s emulating, providing the big explosions and the big names, but not much else besides. Stallone should have taken more inspiration from his 2008 Rambo movie which did precisely what The Expendables has attempted and failed to do. It marks itself out as an occasionally entertaining action film with old-school sensibilities, but pales in comparison to the genre it pays homage to, and sadly pales against the modern action film genre, forever stuck between those two worlds and never being as good as either. Much like its predecessor, The Expendables 2 doesn’t become fully aware of its own silliness, but it does at least make some progress towards being self aware, like some primitive action-based version of Skynet.