The '80's was the golden age of action hero B-movie franchises, featuring 'one-man armies' like Sylvester Stallone in 'Rambo,' Chuck Norris in 'Delta Force' and 'Missing in Action,' and Dolph Lundgren in 'Red Scorpion.' In the Ronald Reagan era of tough talking anti-Soviet rhetoric, I must admit I watched more than my fair share of these disposable action movies released by companies like the aptly named 'Cannon Films,' with lots of explosions and high body count factors. It was great, bloody, over-the-top fun for a teenager who simply didn't know better.
'The Expendables 2' is the much anticipated, bigger follow-up to the inexplicably successful but ultimately disappointing 'The Expendables,' which brought back some of these '80's action staples as well as contemporary stars like Jason Statham, Randy Couture, Terry Crews and Jet Li. Since I thought the first movie sucked, I really can't say why I saw this sequel, other than that I was curious and wanted to see how JCVD (Jean-Claude Van Damme) fared as the villain in the movie. Suffice to say, I felt a bit like a cat afterward.
So how was 'The Expendables 2'? I thought it was marginally better than its predecessor, but then my expectations weren't exactly very high. The movie followed the same formula as the big and dumb '80's action movies it paid homage to. You know, the heroes always prevail against overwhelming odds and win the day, making war seem like fun and games in the process. Just don't forget to take your thinking cap off when you watch the movie's countless 'realistic' action sequences.
Here are but some examples of the movie's cartoon-like high jinks: Sly Stallone flies this big lumbering transport plane (not a C-130 'Herky Bird' but like it) with a big gun mounted in the nose toward a bridge with lots of bad guys on it, and co-pilot Jason Statham fires it and hits the bridge with one shot. They hoot and high-five each other like a couple of kids. Nice. Oh, and there's the scene where our heroes get pinned down by superior numbers in a small town, and then you see a T-72 tank get knocked out as if by magic and the baddies start dropping like flies, then of course out of the smoke Chuck Norris strides into the picture, even though you don't see anything resembling even a LAW rocket tube on him. People in the theatre hoot and holler like adolescent boys. Very nice.
The movie isn't entirely without any redeeming feature. It is at its best during the slower and lighter moments, especially those 'wink-wink' moments in which our heroes trade classic one-liners from their old movies. The best example is when during a shoot-out with Van Damme's goons at an airport, Arnold ran out of ammo and said "I'll be back!" and next to him Bruce Willis replied "You've been back enough, I'll be back!" and runs off. Arnold then shook his head and uttered "Yippie ki yay." And in a rare moment of cleverness, Dolph Lundgren's 'big dumb brute' character recounts his real life, of how he was an MIT-educated engineer and a Fulbright scholar who later worked at a night club (before becoming part of Grace Jones's entourage and coming to Hollywood).
And when it's time for the final face-off between Stallone and Van Damme, the scene can't escape looking overly 'set up' and anti-climactic. I so wanted Van Damme to kick Stallone's butt, but there's no way that was going to happen. The good guys ALWAYS win, after all.
5 out of 10