After the phallic onslaught of cheesy one-liners, miscalculated, albeit tongue-in-cheek, melodrama and desultory action of the original Expendables, which was, in itself, little more than a nostalgic ode to the hyper-realized masculinity of all things pre-Last Action Hero, the sequel expectations were at a bare minimum. This is why the sickly amusing, substantially tighter second instalment surprises with its self-conscious humour and brutally violent, well-choreographed action sequences.
This isn’t to imply that Con-Air director Simon West’s interpretation of the material is reinventing the wheel, per se. It’s still ostensibly about the exact same thing — a group of missionaries led by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) kill a shitload of people and blow a bunch of stuff up in the name of completing a mission involving evil foreigners with nefarious plans. But this time out, it’s a bit more fun.
Owing Church (Bruce Willis) a ton of money, Barney and the gang attempt to repay their debt by finding a crashed plane and reclaiming a mystery item from within. Along for the ride are surly torture specialist Maggie Chen (Nan Yu) and sweet-natured, corn-fed middle American Bill Timmons (Liam Hemsworth). Inevitably, something goes wrong, leading everyone onto a path of vengeance fuelled by a plutonium-stealing villain aptly named Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme).
Expectedly, this plot is secondary to the zip-line shootouts, flying motorcycles, routine decapitations and helicopter explosions. Just as the characters are little more than their archetypes, making gags about who might bang the new chick, “I have a craving for Chinese,” when not delivering hilariously on-the-nose dialogue, like the Chuck Norris assertion: “I’m a lone wolf. I fight alone.”
Inevitably, every cameo is showcased for purely cheesy comic effect, just as references about Arnold Schwarzenegger saying, “I’ll be back” are injected for the same nostalgic purpose as the statement, “Yippee Ki Yay.” With all of the actors in on the joke, cracking “We belong in a museum,” it’s easier to enjoy the second Expendables film for what it is: irreverent, irresponsible violence with comic pun referencing aplenty.
It also doesn’t hurt that West managed to put together far more compelling action sequences than Stallone did in the original.
The middle-aged motley crew of mercenaries is back with a vengeance in The Expendables 2, a fine continuation of the franchise that actually manages to surpass the original.
The plot revolves around the crew from the original Expendables revenging the death of a fallen friend at the hands of an oily Euro-villain named Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), but honestly, who is buying a ticket for this film in the hopes of watching a life affirming film played across the screen? Anyone walking into a theater this weekend is expecting lots of explosions, hand-to-hand combat, and if it’s not too much to ask, some vintage 80s style one-liners.
Sylvester Stallone doesn’t disappoint, handling screenwriting duties deftly. Whereas the first film had its moments of confusion (seriously, was that Mickey Rourke scene written for another film?), here everything gels into a cohesive whole. Stallone knows that the audience expects certain things from the special guest-stars, and he provides them in spades. It’s not a question of whether Schwarzenegger will say “I’ll be back,” but how many times. Why hire Chuck Norris, if not to shoot off a Chuck Norris joke in the middle of the film for no good reason? At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that I missed Bruce Willis muttering “Yippee-ki-yay…” in the background of a scene.
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