Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Jean Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Liam Hemsworth, Charisma Carpenter, Yu Nan
The first Expendables film was a huge hit, uniting as it did some of the screen’s greatest legendary action heroes. It may have had an over-complicated plot and dodgy script but fans were delighted to see so many heavyweights on screen together. It was inevitable then that a sequel would follow and this time round Sylvester Stallone has turned the directing duties over to Simon West, who has more than earned his action credentials directing hits such as Con Air and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. This is apparently so that Stallone could concentrate on writing the script, and his performance and the movie benefits hugely from this change.
The Expendables, for those of you who haven’t seen the first movie, are a group of mercenaries for hire taking on the kind of jobs that official operatives can’t be seen to do. Hence they manage to find themselves in plenty of dodgy situations in the middle of hostile territories.
This time around they take on what seems like a relatively simple salvage mission for CIA agent Mr. Church (Willis). However, their in and out job turns into an epic battle when one of their team is captured and killed by rival mercenary Jean Vilain (Van Damme). I won’t tell you who dies but if you look for the person with the least action credentials in the cast list you’d be on the right track. Devastated, their leader Barney (Stallone) vows to track down Vilain and exact revenge and so the team embark on a seek and destroy mission, which turns into a race against time when it turns out that Vilain is shipping plutonium to the highest bidder in order to make weapons of mass destruction.
Yes, the plot is a bit silly and Cold War-esque. Yes, the bad guys all speak in broken English and wear black leather. Yes, there are dozens of plot holes. Yes, there is a serious lack of female characters (despite the fact that they are accompanied on their mission by a female agent). Yes, many of the cast still can’t act (I’m talking to you Lundgren and Van Damme). But who cares. This movie is all about the action and there’s plenty of it. If you cut out all the non-action scenes it would still come in at about 90 minutes as pretty much from the off, things are getting blown up, people are getting shot and our heroes are kicking ass.
Stallone knows what the audience wants and he gives it to them. He has bumped up both Schwarzenegger and Willis’ roles since the last film; he makes plenty of references to all the cast members’ previous work (including possibly the cheesiest Terminator reference EVER!), he includes plenty of fight scenes and dramatic shoot outs and he does it all with his tongue firmly in his cheek.
As with any film with a cast this big, some people don’t get the screen time they deserve. Much has been made of Chuck Norris’ inclusion in this offering but he is only in a couple of (albeit brilliant) scenes. Many of the crew, including Ludgren, only have a couple of lines of dialogue that seems to have been thrown in almost as an afterthought so we don’t forget that they’re there, and including the 22-year-old Hemsworth in the cast only serves to show how much some of the iconic screen heroes have aged (although his presence will no doubt serve to draw in the female audience). They also have a few Cold War reference that may go over the heads of a younger audience.
However, for lovers of good old fashioned action films, this is still a thrill a minute. It doesn’t claim to be anything that it’s not and it is entirely about the big set pieces rather than any sort of coherent plot. It is a bit of fun, compounded by the fact that in real life these guys all know each other and clearly had a ball making it, with plenty of nostalgia thrown in and (surprisingly for a sequel) it hugely improves on the first movie. Actually you get the feeling this is the movie they wanted to make first time round, but they were wary as they didn’t know if it would be a success.
Stallone is definitely on to a winner trading on the nostalgia of fans and if you just want a thrill a minute movie that doesn’t require too much analysis then you could do worse than check this out.