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The original Expendables film, which opened exactly two years ago this weekend, was something of a disappointment for me. Common criticisms usually cited are an alarming lack of Schwarzenegger and Willis (featured heavily in marketing), fairly weak script and direction (Stallone may have taken on just a bit too much), and a lack of general character development (why exactly am I supposed to care about Statham’s girlfriend?). My biggest beef with the film, however, was that it generally lacked fun and entertainment despite its awesome premise. I’ve written about this before, and I find that The Expendables was the least interesting “let’s get a crack team together!” of all team-up movies of 2010. It should have been the best.
Expendables 2 had the opportunity to make up for the mistakes of the first one (which I still found enjoyable – just largely disappointing), and it has done so tenfold. I’m happy to state Expendables 2 is one of the most entertaining films of the year. The big winner here is Stallone, who is great as Barney Ross. The script for the sequel is much better as well, with more interesting action set-pieces, plot elements, and villains. Relinquishing direction duties to Simon West, Stallone is freed up to focus more on the writing and acting elements, and comes away from this film looking like an absolute winner.
The entire core cast is great here. In addition to Stallone, Couture, Crews, Lundgren, and especially Statham shine throughout (Li is largely absent from the film – a schedule conflict perhaps?). Newcomers Yu Nan and Liam Hemsworth are welcomed, but don’t add much to the great chemistry of the original team. The team’s primary motive in the film – payback – is well-developed and best of all, personal (this time, its personal!). In supporting roles, Willis, Schwarzenegger, and Norris are much-welcomed, funny, and clearly having a lot of fun. Van Damme steals the show as the villain, aptly named Vilain. It’s hard to take your eyes off his performance. He is exactly the type of villain this film needs, and delivers magnificently.
While the film works significantly better than the first, I still have my share of criticism. The aforementioned new supporting players, Nan as a high-tech ass-kicker (and believably so – finally a believable role for a female in an action movie) and Hemsworth as a dead-eyed sniper, are a bit underwhelming. This may be a function of the script, which is improved from the first but still not great. I would have appreciated more time spent with Van Damme and his lackies (one of which featured the greatest mustache not seen in porno movie). I also still can’t get behind the digital blood effects used in the film. Much like the first movie, the violence here is chaotic and brilliant, but that CGI blood takes me out of the movie. This is a complaint I had for the 2009 actin film Ninja Assassin as well. It just looks kind of stupid.
Action set-pieces are well-choreographed and surprisingly sporadic. But when they’re on, they’re on. The opening scene, amazingly choreographed and filmed, involves nearly every type of vehicle conceived by man. There are armored trucks, boats, planes, SUVs, jet skis, motorcycles – the only thing missing is a pair of rollerblades, but I’m guessing if you look closely you might even see them. In addition to the great action scenes, there are also a lot of solid character moments interspersed throughout the film. Crews and Couture continue to play off each other well, as do Stallone and Statham. Some of the work between Stallone and Hemsworth as well as Stallone and Nan, while cliché, are still well-done. The film’s tone is still largely self-serious, but there’s plenty of fun to be had, some good one-liners, and a couple of genuine laughs.
Expendables 2 may be the most purely entertaining film of the year. It is an enormous leap forward from the first movie. It is nice to have a film deliver on its premise and stay consistently entertaining and interesting. Putting a greater emphasis on Schwarzenegger and Willis was an obviously good idea, as was the addition of Van Damme as the villain. Stallone brought his A-game out for Expendables 2 and it shows throughout. This will be a day one purchase on Blu Ray for me.