The making-of documentary included on the DVD of the summer action sequel The Expendables 2 references The Dirty Dozen as an inspiration for Sylvester Stallone’s late-in-life franchise about a team of muscular mercenaries. And while the film does return its impressive collection of high-wattage stars – Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, and Jet Li, to name a few – I think they might be getting that confused with The A-Team. That would be a more accurate description of its Saturday morning cartoon-meets-hard-R approach. But here’s the rub: Expendables 2 exceeds its predecessor when it indulges its cornier tendencies and better resembles a spectacular playdate for aging hyper-masculine film icons instead of a joyless, muddy slog through a third world shooting gallery.
The man replacing Stallone in director’s chair, veteran action helmer Simon West (Con Air), could have something to do with the sequel’s newfound savoir-faire. Also joining the squad onscreen are Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games) as Billy the Kid, a disillusioned U.S. Army sniper, and Chinese actress Yu Nan as Maggie, an electronics expert who predictably faces skepticism as the team’s first female member. (The lack of a punny nickname is just one of the slights she encounters in this boys’ club.) She’s also on hand to replace a departing Li, who takes part in the opening rescue of a hostage in Nepal before parachuting out of the movie entirely – a disappointment also noted by my colleague Kevin Taylor in his theatrical review.
Truth be told, the blandly heroic good guys are a weak point in both Expendables films. Most of them, especially the biggest names, are coasting on their personas, not playing characters. Adding Jean-Claude Van Damme to the mix as a sadistic rival mercenary, however, is a masterstroke. Playing a villain named – wait for it – Jean Vilain, the enigmatic Van Damme exudes an off-kilter charisma while wearing sunglasses that appear glued to his face and delivering ridiculous lines such as “Respect is everything; without respect we’re just people – common, shitty people” with a hammy flourish.
It’s pity that Van Damme can’t roundhouse-kick the rest of Expendables 2 into similar shape. The generic plot concerning a cache of stolen plutonium is a flimsy pretense to all the fighting, and a high percentage of its one-liners are surprisingly clunky for a film that’s supposed to be a throwback to the pithy, larger-than-life 80s action aesthetic. The film’s awkward rhythms could be a byproduct of splitting limited screen time among a large cast of international actors, but there’s no excuse for allowing Stallone to become the one millionth customer of the “Rest in pieces” quip. Evidenced by the DVD’s short documentaries profiling real-life security contractors and tracking the evolution of the action genre in the 1980s, The Expendables 2 has its beefy heart in the right place, but it’s still a repetitive buffet of destruction that could have used less meat and more cheese.
The cast of The Expendables, with newest members Billy the Kid (Hemsworth) and Maggie (Nan) aboard, are reunited when Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) enlists the Expendables to take on a seemingly simple job. The task looks like an easy paycheck for Barney and his band of old school mercenaries. But when things go wrong and one of their own is viciously killed, the Expendables are compelled to seek revenge in hostile territory where the odds are stacked against them.
• Deleted Scenes
• Gag Reel
• GODS OF WAR: Assembling Earth’s Mightiest Antiheroes
• ON THE ASSAULT: The Real-Life Weaponry of THE EXPENDABLES
• BIG GUNS, BIGGER HEROES: The 1980s and the Rise of the Action Film
• GUNS FOR HIRE: The Real Expendables
• Audio Commentary with director Simon West