The Expendables 2 (2012)

Rating: B

Dir: Simon West
Star: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Scott Adkins 

I was initially unsure why we’d not bothered with this when it came out. But then I read our lukewarm review of The Expendables, and it made sense. It seemed thoroughly mediocre and, true enough, we couldn’t remember anything about it at all now. This sequel, however, is considerably better. I think it was wise of Stallone to step back from the director’s role here, and turn the reins over to West, who has a solid track-record of helming high budget mayhem, dating back to Con Air in 1997 [Fun fact: he also directed the music video for Never Gonna Give You Up, which launched a billion Rickrolls]. The result is consistently entertaining, and feels considerably shorter than its 103-minute running time. Though maybe that’s just the nine minutes of closing credits. 

The plot sees Barney Ross (Stallone), Lee Christmas (Statham) and the other Expendables go to Albania, on a mission to recover the contents of a safe from a downed aircraft. There, they cross paths with local mercenary leader Jean Vilain (Van Damme) and his sidekick Hector (Adkins). It’s a clash with lethal consequences, which sets Ross on the path of derailing Vilain’s plan to recover and sell a cache of buried plutonium. Will there be giant fireballs, many blood squibs and hand-to-hand battles between Barney + Jean, and Lee + Hector? Of course there will, along with a host of more or less extended cameos, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris and Jet Li.

This feels more light-hearted than its predecessor. As well as some recycled one-liners, we get some new ones, likely peaking with Christmas, disguised as a priest, yelling, “I now pronounce you man and knife,” before getting all stabby on the enemy. There are some well-executed in-jokes, referring to the pasts of a number of the characters, er  even the actors. For example, Gunnar Jensen, played by Dolph Lundgren, has an unexpected degree in chemical engineering – as does Lundgren. If the plot is not much beyond functional, it all meshes nicely, with no particular sense of hierarchy among the actors; it feels more an ensemble piece than a Sylvester Stallone movie.

It’s very easy on the brain, yet is executed with energy, and clearly no shortage of resources. The opening chase, where they rescue a hostage from Tibet, sets the bar high there, and it doesn’t drop much thereafter. I was surprised to read how much was done in post. Bulgaria stood in for Tibet, with CGI used to remove the snow and replace the flora. [Yeah, this is why the cost reached nine digits!] The crash of the Expendables’ plane was also CGI, and even the heavy squibbing was enhanced, after it was decided they weren’t going to bother going for a PG-13 rating. Yet everything looks very physical and has impact, exactly what a film of this scale needs to succeed – and succeed, it largely does.

This review is part of Project Adkins, covering the movies of Scott Adkins.