Having completed a mission to rescue a hostage in Nepal, mercenaries Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), his right-hand man Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), and their crew of specialists return to New Orleans to celebrate a successful mission and prep for their next one. Ross though is approached -- and basically blackmailed -- by Church (Bruce Willis), a mysterious CIA agent who Ross knows well from his past. The mission? Ross and his team must head to Albania and recover something from a downed plane. Now what that object is, Ross isn't told, only that he'll have someone along for the ride, Maggie (Nan Yu), to help accomplish the mission. It seems and sounds like a simple grab and bag job, but deep in enemy territory, anything could happen.
Here we are again. The make or break part of the review. The complaints/compliments I'm going to throw out there now come down to one simple thing; do you like-to-love action movies? If you even remotely like action movies, you should find something enjoyable about this....at least a little. From director Simon West, '2' improves on the formula laid out in the first one (for the most part). Assemble a ridiculous amount of action stars, give them lots of cool one-liners and lots of people to kill/maim/shoot/stab on a ridiculous mission. To its credit, '2' is more self-assured it knows what it's doing. The crazy amounts of action are still there on top of some more humor -- more on that humor later. It's the same more, but I enjoyed this one more than the first shoot 'em up flick.
What was never in question is the casting here. Still chugging along as a believable action star at 66 years old, Stallone is and always will be a badass. His Barney Ross is that requisite tough group leader, burned and warped for years by the death around him and the suicidal life he leads. Statham is once again, a great sidekick. The two bitch and moan at each other, reflecting a partnership that goes back for years. It seems in all his movies Stallone knows what his fans want to see, and he doesn't disappoint. Filling out Ross' team is returnees Jet Li (making basically a cameo), Randy Couture, and Terry Crews. Also returning from the first one and given more of a role is Dolph Lundgren with newcomer Liam Hemsworth joining the team as Billy the Kid, a disillusioned Army sniper. As more and more bigger names join the cast, Couture and Crews are given little to do and left in the background, but Lundgren and Hemsworth both represent themselves well.
Putting these movies together though, Stallone's goal has been to assemble any and all action stars. Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger return as Church and Trench, fellow personalities in the mercenary/espionage underworld, with both stars getting more screen-time and more to do. One of the huge names in action movies in the 1980s and 1990s, Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a villain named....Vilain (pretty original, huh?), an Eastern European hired killer with a gang of killers, the Sangs. Not enough? Chuck Norris....yes, CHUCK NORRIS....plays Booker, a loner mercenary content to work by himself but helping out the Expendables as needed. Scott Adkins plays Hector, Vilain's brutal right hand man while Yu holds her own in the testosterone-fueled action pic.
So what stops this ridiculously action-packed movie from being the classic that it wants? As was the case with the first movie, there's just something missing. I can't put my finger on it. In an attempt to craft a story full of action, badass characters and funny one-liners, everything else gets left by the wayside. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. Scenes lack any sort of transitions, bouncing from one location to the next without even an establishing shot or two. Oh, the story stalls? Enter Norris, Willis or Schwarzenegger out of nowhere, no explanation provided. The music score is anything but subtle and far from memorable. It's fun from the start, but several reviews point this out. An action movie doesn't have to be HUGE, but some scale certainly helps. Both Expendables movies are missing that scale. At times, it even feels like a straight-to-DVD action flick, and that's never a good comparison for any theatrical release.
More than that though, '2' feels rushed, much like the first film did. It clocks in at 103 minutes, but if you take away a 10-minute credits sequence, it's just 93 minutes long. Deep on story it is not, but in just over an hour and a half, this film covers a lot of ground. Yes, I know an action movie like this isn't going to be Shakespeare, but slow down even just a little. And then there's that script. It just has too many references to previous movies the cast has been in. We get it, Arnold was the Terminator, Bruce was in Die Hard, and Norris was in Lone Wolf McQuade. For goodness sake, there's even a Chuck Norris Fact dropped during his introduction. Humor is one thing, some clever references another, but one after another becomes downright tedious and even annoying.
Now if you're still reading, you must sorta like action movies....kinda, maybe, I could be wrong. The action here is pretty cool, and thankfully, director West doesn't utilize the ultra-schizo technique used in the Bourne movies. For the most part, we see the action. All the cliches/stereotypes are there. We've got small armies of bad guys who can't hit the broad side of a barn, the heroes who can hit every single thing they aim at, and so on and so forth. It's a pretty good movie, just know that it's mindless entertainment at its best, nothing else.
The Expendables 2 (2012): ***/****