Movie Review: 'The Expendables 2' -- 3 Stars
The Expendables 2
Directed by Simon West
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Liam Hemsworth, Dolph Lundgren, Jean Claude Van-Damme, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger
The gang is truly all here in "The Expendables 2," a cinematic old-timers' day that one-ups its star-studded predecessor by adding Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris and a bigger part for the "Governator" himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, into the mix.
With its sheer quantity of aging, leathery muscle on display, the movie plays a little bit like a trip to a tired Gold's Gym. The sequel is also a surreal experience: Few could have imagined, just a few years ago, that we'd be able to sit down in a movie theater, in 2012, to watch Sylvester Stallone fight Van Damme.
Stallone returns as Barney Ross, leader of the mercenary Expendables unit with right-hand man Lee Christmas (Jason Statham, the closest thing to an '80s action star we've got these days). Handler Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) sends the crew (also including characters played by Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews and Liam Hemsworth) after a valuable device that's utterly immaterial to the actual story, serving as the ultimate example of what Alfred Hitchcock termed the "MacGuffin."
Van-Damme, chewing scenery as psychotic baddie Vilain (ha ha), interrupts the crew and sends the plot into motion when he kills one of them. From then on, it's butt-kicking revenge time, and all bets are off.
This is total nonsense, of course, but Stallone and company, weirdly bulging arms and all, are at their tongue-in-cheek best throughout. The movie is imbued with a self-reflexive spirit that's manifest in an abiding awareness that these guys "belong in a museum," as one character puts it. Sly, Bruce, Arnold and the rest are riffing on their big-screen personas, not playing parts, and it's an entertaining nostalgia-driven shtick.
The action scenes themselves are of the over-the-top, machine-gun blaring, frenetic cutting variety. Simon West ("Con Air"), taking over the directorial reigns from Stallone, is no stranger to big, broad onscreen violence. He keeps the film rooted in the larger-than-life tradition, at a fundamental remove from the grittier sensibility that's taken hold in the genre.
Of course, "The Expendables 2" is really the world's most expensive midnight movie. The film's probable commercial success doesn't change the fact that Hollywood has left many of these guys behind. Studios don't typically spend a reported $100 million on personality-driven films starring a bunch of men over 50 (or 60), but with producer Avi Lerner telling website Total Film that Clint Eastwood and Harrison Ford are in talks for "The Expendables 3," let's hope they keep it up.