out of Five
Running time: 102
Lazy, ultraviolent sequel that does little to improve on the original film other than to up the count of famous faces; it's still watchable enough, but you can't help wishing they'd put a little effort into it.
What's it all about?
Directed by Simon West, The Expendables 2 sees the return of Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his team of mercenaries, including Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and young newbie Bill The Kid (Liam Hemsworth). When Barney's ex-boss Church (Bruce Willis) coerces them into their latest mission, he insists that they bring a woman, Maggie (Nan Yu) along with them and the team are soon deep in hostile territory, blowing away bad guys while looking for a top secret electronic doohickey.
However, things go horribly wrong when the team are ambushed by the villainous Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme, pun intended) and he murders one of Barney's men in cold blood before making off with the gadget. Devastated, the gang embark on a violent revenge mission, during which they receive help from Church, Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and lone wolf Booker (Chuck Norris).
There is an undeniable appeal to seeing this many battle-ravaged 80s action stars kicking ass on screen together once more, but that's pretty much all the film really has going for it, so it starts to feel increasingly like a one-joke movie held together with lashings of the old ultraviolence. Still, the performances are fine (Van Damme, in particular, is clearly enjoying himself) and the individual fight scenes are enjoyable enough (especially the climactic and hilariously homoerotic Van Damme vs Stallone smackdown), even if the relentless shoot-outs quickly get monotonous.
The main problem with the film is that so little effort has gone into it that it's practically insulting. The plot is paper thin, the dialogue is largely terrible (much of it consists of wisecracks referencing each actor's most famous films, so bone up on Chuck Norris movies before watching) and the action set pieces are unimaginative, mostly involving big guns and CGI extras exploding in unconvincing showers of red.
On top of that, the film's best character (Jet Li) bails early on, which is a shame, as his fight scene is one of the most exciting sequences in the film. In addition, while it would be churlish to deny the pleasures of Schwarzenegger and Willis blowing bad guys away while driving around in a tiny car, that visual joke is basically the funniest moment in the film and doesn't make up for the laziness of the rest of it.
While the first film at least had the original idea going for it, The Expendables 2 is essentially an extremely lazy retread featuring all the people that said no the first time round. As such, it's watchable enough, but it's neither as enjoyable nor as funny as it thinks it is.