The Expendables 2 movie review
When The Expendables was first released in 2010, I saw it as a double feature with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Imagine my surprise when Michael Cera outdid an impossible cast of action meatheads at their own genre. Scott Pilgrim felt fresh, young, and energetic. The Expendables was old, tired, and run down in comparison.
The Expendables 2 is a reason to believe in second chances. The film opens with a rescue mission in which the team (Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, and Liam Hemsworth) assault what could pass for a Battlefield 3 map packed with armed bad guys. They plow through the defenses in vehicles that should be sold in G.I. Joe toy sets, firing guns that sound like cannons and do about as much damage. The action is kinetic, exciting, and absolutely hilarious.
Whatever notions the first film had of telling a serious story are mostly gone here, and that's great because it didn't work at all. The original was bogged down in exposition and tough guy sentimentality. That, combined with some flat action led to a film that was often dry and boring. Many lessons were learned between the first and second film, resulting in something that takes itself much less seriously. The Expendables 2 is dumb, action-packed fun assembled in a way that's incredibly smart and self-aware.
I can't think of a comedy in 2012 that provided as many laughs as The Expendables 2 does. Whether its from some overly dramatic delivery from Stallone, silly quips from Lundgren or Crews, or Van Damme chewing scenery as the film's villain, there's just a ton of goofy stuff to chuckle at here. When Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis are added to the equation, the action movie one-liners flow like wine. There are references to the old action films, so-bad-they're-good puns like "I now pronounce you man and knife," and some genuinely clever jokes to boot.
The action is fast and loud. The aforementioned bullet cannons don't just put holes in the bad guys, they turn them into blood and flesh confetti through over-the-top CG effects. Yes, it's cheesy and not necessarily in the spirit of 80s action films, but the CG massacres are so over-the-top that it's an even trade-off. There were too many audible "Ooohs" and bursts of laughter from the audience to complain.
While The Expendables 2 brings an amazing cast of retiree action heroes to the table, one of my only complaints is the film's choice for the heroine of the group. Bringing a lady into the fold is a great idea, but Nan Yu simply doesn't hold her own against the rest of the cast. Actions veterans and UFC-fighters-turned-actors get a pass when they deliver their lines poorly, but a relative unknown like Yu isn't going to get the same treatment (newbie Liam Hemsworth, conversely, is probably the best actor in the film, so he gets a pass).
It feels like a lost opportunity to bring a real female action star into the fold. Michelle Rodriguez, Gina Carano, or Lucy Liu are just a few off the top of my head that would have brought some credibility to the role.
Small gripes aside, The Expendables 2 is the film we should have had the first time around. It's wildly entertaining, equal parts hilariously idiotic and cleverly hilarious, and the action is completely bad ass. Compared to the majority of films released this summer, this one is sure-footed and accomplishes exactly what it set out to do. In that sense, against all odds, The Expendables 2 is a nearly perfect film.
And I can't believe I just said that.