"Track 'em, find 'em, kill 'em."
The sequel to The Expendables (2010), an Avengers-esque coming together of action heroes old and new that struck box-office gold two years ago, comes with the expectation that it shall be brawnier, louder and cornier. Well, it does deliver what audiences want - a blockbuster starring a bunch of famous muscular guys whom are past their expiry date, but are still able to punch, kick, and of course, shoot their way through hundreds of armed bad guys.
Sylvester Stallone once again heads the cast as Barney Ross, who gathers his team of fighters and gunners for another mission, this time to prevent plutonium from falling into the wrong hands. The baddie is played by crowd favourite Jean-Claude Van Damme, who will inevitably spar with Stallone in a one-on-one fight scene.
I grew up on an exclusive diet of 1980s and 1990s action films like First Blood (1982), The Terminator (1984), and Hard Target (1993), admiring not only the action stars, but also how action was shot at that time, which centered on brute strength, immense firepower, and a high body count. These days, action stars are leaner, stealthier, and it appears that action filmmakers prefer to eschew the traditional visceral approach for a more stylized one.
The Expendables 2 is a throwback to the Hollywood action films of the past. It is aware of the legacy of being badass. Characters spout hilarious one-liners, often self-referentially. They are nonchalant about violence. It's not about killing the guy next to you, but whether you would come out as more badass than the others. Which is fine by me.
Considering all that, The Expendables 2 is indeed a relentless, visceral, in-your-face action blockbuster. However, it entertains for the wrong reason, which is that it entertains because it seems to somewhat fulfill audiences' expectations that the legacy can still be relevant in this day and age. Unfortunately, and this is a key point (albeit a fairly ironic one), it fails to entertain in the same way action classics of that era so proudly and memorably did so. This is precisely why I feel The Expendables 2 is only deserving of two stars.
Much of the camerawork in the film is done in poor taste, with several sequences such as the one that sees an airplane flying into a tunnel sorely lacking in any form of visual coherence. The climatic act sees a flurry of action as Ross' team of burly men rack up the body count in a bloody shootout that is done in a way that feels more perfunctory, rather than being skillfully manipulated to achieve some kind of artistic reverence to the genre's past - the idea of delivering good old-fashioned action that will be remembered for years to come.
Think of a picture like Commando (1985). It is similar to The Expendables 2 in many ways, yet despite its weak script, appalling acting, and non-existent character development, it still gives fans action sequences that they want to see again and again. Can The Expendables 2 make that claim five or ten years from now?
Verdict: Extremely loud, and incredibly pointless, this shoot-em-up extravaganza doesn't blow you away, but to pieces.