I liked The Expendables. It was a fun, goofy romp that was firmly rooted in all the right aspects of the best 1980s action films. Its follow up, The Expendables 2, has what every fan of 1980s action films could ever want. Arnold, Stallone and Willis all cracking wise and blowing stuff up like the good old days. And just like its predecessor, the rest of the cast is the who’s who of action films with Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, and Jean Claude Van Damme as the big villain, weirdly named Vilain. Unfortunately The Expendables 2 fails to understand what made its originator so much fun.
Yes, it has more explosions, more one-liners and more aging stars than you can shake a fist at but it fails to recapture the natural charm that the original film had. The original film was written and directed in such a way that it took itself seriously, just like the best 1980s action films. Films like Cobra, Rambo: First Blood Part II, and Commando did not realize that they were absurd and that is why they were such fun to watch. The Expendables 2 on the other hand makes it clear from the get-go that it knows it is not a serious film and it is going to run with it. And as such The Expendables 2 lacks heart and rooting it in the aspects of the worst 1980s action films.
Instead of trying to build off of the narrative foundation that The Expendables had built, the sequel takes the same group of characters and just says go blow stuff up. That is all fine and good from a visual stand point but it kills any sense of characterization that these people have. And while it is understandable that some characters are not going to be given any sort of narrative arc, especially with so many actors involved, it is odd that the only character that is given any sort of development is Statham’s Lee as his relationship from the first is expanded upon a bit and used for some comedic effect as well. Where is the development of Stallone’s Barry? And why is there so much allusion to character backstory if it is never going to actually be explained?
The lack of any meaningful narrative compounds and ultimately hurts the major selling point of the film, the action. Because so little time is spent on the story, action scenes are the bulk of the film, which sounds like a glorious experience. Except without anything to ground the action and give it meaning the action becomes sensory overload. There are only so many exploding heads that can be watched before a sense of fatigue sets in. Still there is a sense of fun to it all with the one-liners coming at a nice clip and being genuinely funny for those that have a history with the material that has inspired the franchise. It is not a great movie and a letdown when compared to the original but given the right mindset could be entertaining on the most base of levels.
2 / 5