When one of the team is mercilessly killed on a what should have been a routine assignment, The Expendables – comprised of Barney (Sylvester Stallone), Lee (Jason Statham), Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), Hale (Terry Crews), Toll (Randy Couture) and new recruit Maggie (Nan Yu) – are driven to exact revenge on Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme). However, when his savagery prove too much even for them, they’re forced to call upon past friends to achieve their objective and put Vilain in his place and stop a plethora of plutonium from falling into the wrong hands.
Expanding upon the favourable, yet frustratingly thin first instalment that hit our screens two years ago, The Expendables 2 presents itself as more hearty and streamlined follow-up; a less cluttered version of itself that’s undoubtedly far more in sync with audiences’ expectations and fantasies. The narrative may be as thin as they come, and the emotionally heightened scenes more intermission than a cause for heartfelt sorrow, but screenwriters Richard Wenk and Stallone have made a noticeable effort to at least attribute some kind of purpose to the never-ending violence and bloodshed.
Freed of the need for tiresome exposition, the film is able to cut straight to the chase, literally, with a heart-stopping opening sequence that’s as exhilarating as it is a perfect snapshot of what’s to come. From here, we’re lead into the ever-familiar territory of a revenge film. But, for a film that brings together some of the action world’s most memorable and beefed up stars and has them constantly trying to one-up each other through immeasurable humour (laugh-out-loud moments are more frequent than ever) and carnal butchery, the more uncluttered route that’s been adopted allows the other elements to thrive.
Appropriating the controls from Stallone, director Simon West increases the action, settling on a admirable blend of hardboiled liveliness, death-defying set pieces and far-and-wide locations that push the narrative forward in their own ways, discounting the need for unnecessary and clunky transitions that would immediately unbalance the brute force-like pace. It’s a decision that works wonders, with West assuming a scratchy approach that reflects the teams overwhelming desire to “track ‘em, find ‘em, kill ‘em”.
It’s the waning action heroes and the superbly wisecracking interplay they share with one another that’s the film’s most champion asset, though. Stallone and Statham are first-rate as the team’s top dogs, while Arnold Schwarzenneger and Bruce Willis make the most of their bolstered roles (the scenes they share are among some of the most entertaining). Van Damme shines in his villain role, hiding behind a pair of sunglasses until a fantastically hazy hands-only showdown with Stallone’s Barney towards the final act.
Where The Expendables provided mild snickers and sated an appetite for the recreation of classic 80’s and 90’s action-palooza’s, it unfortunately failed to capitalise on its endless potential and bring true elation to its baying audience. Thankfully, then, The Expendables 2, thanks mostly to West’s fresh, more capable eye and the almost melodramatic way in which action stars new (Liam Hemsworth more than holds his own) and old are meshed together. It’s a hit for those with a fondness for action and beyond-their-years stars butting egos – one that unquestionably induces loud whooping from start to finish.