Anyone who got hyped up for the first Expendables can’t be faulted. A big cast of famous action heroes, all together as a team, in a gritty/goofy throwback to action movies that had guns and bombs instead of aliens and robots and superheroes. Stallone brought the project together and should be commended for that. The movie itself, while fun, didn’t quite live up to what it should have been. Yet it did well enough for a sequel, and it’s like they took all of my problems and addressed each one.
The Expendables 2 is bigger and better in nearly every way. The cast lost only Mickey Rourke, kept Stallone, Statham, Li, Crews, Lundgren, Couture, and got Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, more Bruce Willis, more Schwarzenegger, and…Liam Hemsworth. Who? Exactly. Hemsworth has no business being in the above company. At first this bothered me, but then the movie smartly wrote that as part of his character–the new guy in with the old veterans, and how fits in or not. It was handled well enough to flip my opinion on his inclusion in the movie.
So the cast is better, and the action is amped up just as much. The action scenes are pretty crazy, and they try to give each character a signature moment. I can’t remember all of them, but there are clearly hero moments for the majority of the cast, where they are prominently featured in a bit of action. The fighting still sticks to that old-school motif of guerrilla/militia warfare. No CGI ridiculousness, with an exception I’ll get to later. This time out, they add some battle vehicles and interesting Eastern European locations that look better than the jungle/mansion that were the main features of the previous one.
The audience I was with clapped repeatedly throughout, laughing often at the jokes, and cheering the appearance of each character. It was thoroughly enjoyable throughout. Perhaps nostalgia did goose the reaction a bit, but that’s certainly forgivable. I did have a couple problems though. Nothing big, just noticeable points deducted from the overall.
First, the CGI exception I mentioned above. There is lots of digital blood. The movie is so violent and over-the-top that in many of the scenes of grunts getting mowed down by machine guns, there are clearly digital blood spurts instead of squibs. This movie didn’t have a huge budget, so the quality of the effects isn’t quite up to snuff. I have to assume that it was cheaper than using all practical effects for the dozens (hundreds?) of people that get shot, but it does take away from the believability a bit. For a similar, super-violent movie that DOES look real, check out Rambo from a few years ago, Stallone’s swan song as the character. Now THAT looked real.
The other main problem was the script. Anyone interested in this movie likely knows going in that the script won’t be top-shelf. There are several clunky one-liners, backstory exposition, and awkward transitions. Largely, because it’s Schwarzenegger, or Lundgren, or Van Damme, or someone else who’s never been considered a good actor, you don’t care much, but you still notice. After the movie, a friend and I picked a couple of those out as good efforts, but not very smooth. It’s like the script could have used another polish, but they didn’t try because “Hey, it’s an action movie, nobody will care.”
Overall, though, this movie totally fulfills the potential of the concept and fixes almost everything I thought was wrong with the original. If you’re interested in it, but concerned if it can deliver, then you can be assured that it does. After this, I’m really hoping for an Expendables 3, especially after I read a rumor that they wanted Clint Eastwood for the next one! It’s a very long shot, but it’s fun to think about.