The roster of talent involved with the Expendables movies means that – even if the first picture was pretty terrible – there’s a thrill that comes with the sequel. And it seems like The Expendables 2 knows the problems the first film had and decided that the best way to deliver a sequel is just make it a greatest hits of action icons doing what they do, believability be darned. Sylvester Stallone leads an all-star cast in what amounts to a pile of rare meat. And if that’s your thing, it’s very satisfying.

The Players:

The Plot:

The film starts with the gang (Stallone, Statham, Crews, Couture, Lundgren, Hemsworth, Li) rescuing a Chinese businessman, which gives Li’s Yin Yang a chance to exit the movie after the first action set piece. Back home, Bill (Hemsworth) talks of leaving the group at the end of the month, but before he can quit, Church (Willis) tells Barney Ross (Stallone) that his group needs to do a mission for him, or he’ll throw Barney in jail. And the catch is they have to take Maggie (Yu) along. They retrieve the package (which lists the location of missing Plutonium), but are intercepted by Jean Vilian (Van Damme), who takes the package and kills an Expendable for good measure. From there it’s all about stopping Vilian before he gets a bunch of plutonium, and – of course – getting some revenge.

The Good:

  • Delivery: This movie knows exactly what it is. And that movie is a eight year old boy’s description of an 80′s action movie that he read about in Mad Magazine. Characters are written into situations they can’t possibly get out of, but then something happens that’s completely ludicrous and makes no sense whatsoever that resolves their problem. But it doesn’t matter because that’s what this movie is. It’s nonsense. But it’s the sort of nonsense that’s fun to watch because it delivers the blood splatter and fight scenes that you want.
  • Jean Claude Van Damme: Many of the people involved seem to be going through the motions, but JCVD delivers the best performance in the film by having a fun time playing a bad guy. Yes, he does his signature spin kick (no splits, alas), but where some of the other performers are either phoning it in or playing the joke (read: Arnie), Van Damme nails what these movies should be – over the top but committed. He makes it worthwhile, and you hope his character (as has been the case with many Van Damme characters) has a twin brother somewhere. His solo fight against Stallone really gives the conclusion the juice it needs.
  • Chuck Norris: While the appearance of Arnold, Bruce and Sly in the frame together is supposed to be exciting,  (who admittedly, was always a terrible actor) Chuck Norris and his presence really does deliver the iconic nature of these somewhat tarnished 80′s icons.
  • Violence: Yup, there’s a lot of it.

The Bad:

  • Garbage: There’s no way around this: The movie is borderline incompetent. There’s a weird push-in during a talking scene that makes Stallone’s face go out of focus, sequences often don’t cut together particularly well, and the majority of the bloodshed was added in post. On some level this helps recapture the glory days of the 1980′s, when Cannon and other low budget companies were releasing similar action films that also got by on scraped-together budgets. It’s hard to find incompetence endearing in a film like this, even if it is fitting.
  • The Team: With Jet Li taken out of the game very early on, and Jason Statham running an errand in the middle, you have Stallone stuck with the second stringers. Part of the charm of these films is that you’ve got these larger than life actors bouncing against each other, but in the middle, there’s very little of that, and it makes the film feel cheap (which it already does). But the interplay between Stallone and the second-runners isn’t based on any interesting tensions. That said, Lundgren, while not a comedian, is sort of fun to watch in this because he’s so painfully unfunny.

Overall:

It’s not really worth celebrating fast food, nor when Burger King gets your order right, but The Expendables 2 delivers everything it should, and perhaps because the first film lowered expectations, this – with the help of Van Damme – is the exact sort of action nonsense that makes for good drunken/watching with fathers/watching on cable viewing. Some argue only great films can be considered art, and The Expendables 2 would fall on the “not art” side of that equation. It feels more like a conglomeration than passion project. But more than many of the summer’s biggest films, this delivers exactly what you want. And that’s something.

Rating: 7.9/10

The Expendables 2 opens everywhere August 17.

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