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The Expendables 2

August 19, 2012
The Expendables 2

Let’s get this out of the way right at the top: The Expendables 2 is an objectively terrible movie. It is, if at all possible, a worse movie than the first one. And yet director Simon West seems to understand that better than Sylvester Stallone did before him, which gives this installment a schlocky, campy edge that was missing from The Expendables. Don’t get me wrong: it’s still awful. But this one has a chance to make it as a cult classic.

We pick up with our motley crew of grizzled mercenaries with corny names played by big-budget action stars — leader Barney Ross (Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), Toll Road (Randy Couture), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), and new hire Billy, the kid (Lian Hemsworth) — as they assault a paramilitary encampment in Nepal to rescue a captured Chinese businessman. They pick up Ross’ rival leader, Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) as a bonus cameo that does absolutely nothing to advance the plot before Yang leaves the group to return the businessman to China.

The shady Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) forces Ross to accept a quick mission to recover a mysterious case from a downed plane in Albania, and gives them Maggie (Yu Nan) to help retrieve it. Of course, whenever something “should be a cakewalk” it never actually will be; waiting to let the team do the hard part of getting the case out of its safe is a group calling themselves the Sang — “blood”, for them what don’t talk French good. And the chief villain among the Sang is named — and I am entirely not joking here — “Jean Vilain” (Jean-Claude Van Damme).

The writing is simply awful, composed of comparable measures of clichés and catchphrases. I’m not sure if there’s a single trope from over-the-top ’80s action movies not on display at one point or another. Corny doesn’t even begin to describe the dialogue, and the only real thought is who, exactly, is going to say “I’ll be back” or “yippee-ki-yay” or whatever.

But this is a mindless action film; it specializes in mindless action. And boy, is there a lot of mindless action, gunfire, and stuff getting blowed up real good. It makes the Rambo sequence from UHF look positively realistic in comparison. What came as a surprise was the blood. All these tent-pole action flicks are ratcheted down to the PG-13 level so there’s tons of explosions and firefights and crunching metal, but this film eats the R and sprays gouts of blood left and right. Which, hey, might be somebody’s thing.

The action is largely as chaotic as most action is these days. Vehicles crash into each other — and many other things — with no sense of what is where. The same goes for the gunfights: split-second shot after split-second shot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

But I must give credit where credit is due: the hand-to-hand combat is actually done pretty well. Whether it’s Statham playing with knives, Li showing off his wushu moves, or Stallone and Van Damme in their climactic face-off, the shots actually fit together pretty cleanly and coherently. Why West couldn’t do the same for the rest of the action, I just don’t know.

Worth It: no, but it could have been worse.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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