In the thick of the 1980s when one man army action films were a sure fire guarantee for box office gold, it wasn’t unusual to find cinemas littered with the type of high calibre trash that was until recently delegated to the straight-to-video dustbins. But in time and with the rise of action meatheads like Jason Statham, The Rock, Jet Li and (gulp) Vin Diesel, combined with the success of Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds (a film that re-ignited the men on a mission movies) The Expendables was born. Bringing together all of the muscle bound death machines of the 1980s into a deep pan meat feast with extra cheese (and an added layer of meat for good measure). For these were the superheroes of their time. And now, two years on following the success of the first Expendables, which was a celebration of these fallen war machines, comes the inevitable sequel.
The Expendables 2 finds Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) reuniting with renegade mercenaries Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) along with a couple of younger new members in the shape of Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth/ brother of Chris/ Thor) and Maggie (Yu Nan) to take on a new job from Bruce Willis’ Mr French. But things back fire and the crew are forced to embark on a revenge fuelled mission against the villainous Jean Vilain played by Jean Claude Van Damme and face an army unlike anything they have ever come up against.
The story is a standard action blue print with a generic macguffin, stereotype villains and strategically crow-barred set pieces that are so methodically choreographed they play out like dance numbers with the armed forces. And when sequences consist of ridiculous moments like the aging half of the action super-group mowing down an airport full of military drones, it is impossible to keep a straight face. Even the cast appear to be stifling giggles, but for the benefits of prosperity and comedy gold they hold it together nicely. It is also always a pleasure to see Schwarzenegger return to the kind of role that made him famous, and I never thought I would see the day when a cinema full of film critics applauded Chuck Norris but it happened. Twice. Probably out of fear. Chuck did have the best entrance out of all the characters and delivered one of the greatest one liners I have heard all year (please don’t kill me).
The Expendables 2′s familiar ham dialogue is so identifiable as a key characteristic of the 80s action sub-genre it has since evolved into a positive attribute, in the same way that we appreciate the hokey effects of 50’s science fiction films. The OTT violence and butch bravado are also traits that now seem hilarious when played with total sincerity. Even though the cast have tongues welded firmly into their cheeks for some of the duration, the majority of the lines and drama unfold without irony.
The action genre has become so self referential in its execution it has evolved into some kind of drama/ pastiche hybrid. It hasn’t quite sunk to the level of self-parody but is on the border, and The Expendables 2 is a film that captures that defining moment of a genres transition perfectly and in glorious Technicolor. Well not quite: one of the notable aspects is that Director Simon West (Con Air) has opted for a grainy, hand held style making the film look as rugged and tetchy as the cast. But this brings a welcome home video feel to the proceedings where a glistening depiction of war might have felt a bit stagnant.
For all of its flaws (without them it might not have been half as enjoyable) The Expendables 2 is a riotous, fun filled action caper successfully blending hyper violent set pieces with textbook plot development. It’s comic execution treads a fine line between pastiche and homage but is a wonderful love letter to the 1980’s action flicks and is a joy for anyone brought up on them. Played as a straight laced action film it is one of the greatest comedies ever made and is still pretty good when watched as a run of the mill action flick. While it is far from original in terms of story The Expendables 2 is still incredibly entertaining and moves at a steady pace due to a fairly tight structure and loveable rogue characters. Hopefully this isn’t the last we’ve seen of these haggard old gun brandishing bastards. But the stunts won’t get any easier.
The Expendables 2 is on general release 16th August.