Like the first movie, the second opens with a rescue mission of a hostage, and right away you know Stallone has turned the ridiculous action meter all the up to eleven. This opening action set piece and sequence are as big as the climax of the first movie. They decimate a small army, and rescue the hostage and Arnold Schwarzenegger (who also took on this mission but was captured and now owes one to Stallone). There’s downtime back home at the bar, and then Bruce Willis shows up to call in a debt Stallone owes him.
Sidenote: I haven’t been able to keep track of all of the character names, and I don’t really care. Most aren’t even really playing unique characters anyway, more just their larger-than-life action star roles of old & not so old. So I’m going to keep referring to the actors throughout this review.
There was a plane transporting an item, a very important item, in a safe. The plane crashed somewhere in Albania, and Willis wants Stallone and his team to go retrieve the item. It should be a walk in the park, which you just know means something will go wrong. Enter Jean Claude Van Damme, one action star noticeably absent from the first film, as the Big Bad. He’s the leader of a group/cult of terrorists for hire also interested in the mystery item. They get the drop on Stallone’s team, take the item, and kill the youngest and newest member, Liam Hemsworth. The item is a computer with blueprints of a forgotten and abandoned Soviet plutonium mine from the Cold War. Van Damme and his team are planning to steal several tons of enriched plutonium hidden in the mine, which is why they need the blueprints, and sell it to the highest bidder.
So there you have it. Van Damme kills the one member of the Expendables who didn’t “deserve” to die, plans to sell A LOT of plutonium to other bad guys, and the good guys’ mission couldn’t be any simpler than as Stallone puts it, “Track him, find him, kill him.”
Chuck Norris shows up at one point to help out, and there’s a genuinely funny scene where they poke fun at the admittedly dated meme featuring Norris that was popular several years ago. Schwarzenegger and Willis also return to help fight the bad guys, and they each get plenty of hero shots and opportunities to spout off one-liners, even trading their signature catchphrases, which was a delight. Indeed, even though the story is improved, The Expendables 2 still feels more like a variety show than a narrative, again with Stallone as emcee (this time sporting a ridiculous mustache rather than a ridiculous goatee). Jason Statham gets to show off some martial arts and knife work, Randy Couture gets to display his MMA badassery, Terry Crews gets to be even more over-the-top, and Dolph Lundgren again shines as the drug-addled, unbalanced, and formerly brilliant scientist turned soldier. But it is Van Damme who steals the movie, who plays the villain with the perfect amount of sinister charm. He genuinely seems to be relishing in the role, and it was great to see him back in action.
Speaking of action, there was talk of getting a PG-13 rating for this movie, which I believe was one of the stipulations Norris had before joining on. The Expendables 2 is rated R, and for good reason. Stallone is still enamored with the gore-infused violence on display in Rambo and The Expendables, and the sequel is saturated with it. And yet, the violence lacks any brutality. The best way I can describe it is CARTOONISH. And not G.I.JOE/Transformers cartoon violence, but Looney Tunes violence. The violence in The Expendables 2 is SO ridiculous, SO outrageous, I get the same feeling I used to get watching Bugs Bunny tie Elmer Fudd’s shotgun in a bow and seeing it explode in his face. Or from watching any of Wile E. Coyote’s various demises, which you can sample in the following video (pardon the Chumba Wumba music, you can mute the sound and get the same effect):
It’s really no different. Sure, it looks more realistic, and there will be those who denounce this movie and others like it for glorifying violence and desensitizing the public to it, but to those people I say BOLLOCKS and POPPYCOCK and OH PLEASE, SERIOUSLY? If you are dumb enough not to keep your children from watching this movie, shame on you. If you are not so clear-headed and rational and smart as to see that the world the Expendables inhabit is as alien and fantastical as anything in Star Wars or Star Trek or Avatar, then the fault too lies with you. The Expendables’ world is pure FANTASY, where the good guys don’t have to aim and shoot from the hip and always hit their target, where despite shooting thousands and thousands of rounds of ammunition, not a single stray bullet hits an innocent bystander. Where the bad guys are as numerous and faceless as any army of clones or robots, and you feel as little toward them. This is a world that only exists in movies, and it’s a world where a bad guy is bad, and it’s as okay to laugh at him getting shot as it is to laugh at a bald hunter with a speech impediment getting smashed over the head with a mallet by a talking rabbit.
This world is so out of touch with reality that we see several villages worth of men forced by Van Damme's thugs to work in the Soviet mine and retrieve the plutonium. We see them carrying hundreds to thousands of ingots of weapons-grade plutonium, transporting them by hand while wearing no protective equipment. Obviously, the bad guys don't care because they're going to execute them all anyway, but the Expendables show up just in time to save them and get them out of the mine. Even though a few milligrams of plutonium per kilogram of tissue is considered a lethal dose, and risk increases with exposure (and these men have likely had prolonged exposure), our last image of them is a joyous renuion with their wives and families. The Expenndables' actions shold be for naught; these men should already be showing signs of radiation sickness, and likely they all should be dead men walking with only days (and painful, horrible ones at that) left. But that's reality. In the world of the Expendables the bad guys always lose and the good guys always win,
The Expendables 2 won the box office in its opening weekend, and that probably means there will be at least one more of these movies. There’s even talk of doing a version with an all female cast, which I could only get behind if they can actually convince Sigourny Weaver to sign on, but I digress. I can’t honestly say that The Expendables 3 is something I can argue for; this idea was fun, but it seems like a well you just can’t go back to too many times. Two may have been enough; a third may not be a charm. The characters of this franchise may be expendable, but the actors certainly are not. The Expendables 2 is a good note to go out on, and it may be time for them to return to retirement.