Barney Ross and his rabble of expendable heroes return to avenge one of their own, while simultaneously saving the world from potential nuclear war. Bigger, bolder, brasher, and a hell of a lot funnier than the first, The Expendables 2 is an action movie that delivers again and again. And again. Prepare to be entertained.
Jean-Claude Van Damme
Yesterday, The Godfather Part II. Yesterday, The Empire Strikes Back. Yesterday, The Dark Knight. Today? Today they step aside. Today is the day of the Expendables. Part 2.
Rarely does a sequel improve upon its predecessor. Stallone knows this better than anyone. In a career that's taken in six Rockys and four Rambos, here's a man who knows a thing or two about making a follow-up.
Sure, none of the Rocky movies had the heart of the first, and none of the Rambos had anything to say like First Blood did. But in the 30 years Stallone's been a filmmaker, he's matured. Like a loaf of bread.
And now, now that he's stale and rock hard, Stallone's crafting movies together with a dollop of irony larger than the pools of blood that frame each set piece.
As much as anything, he's learned to deliver motivation. In Ex 2, it comes in the form of death. Much like Rocky and Rambo's last outings, he knew his lead character, Barney Ross, had little reason to pick up the oversized bowie knife. Until JCVD's uber-villain plunged it into the chest of an Expendable.
Now it's payback time.
After an opening sequence that puts most action movies since Face/Off into the Dolph Lundgren-sized shade, Mr Church (Willis) comes along to call in a favour - recover the cargo of a crashed plane in Eastern Europe and all Barney's previous indiscretions will be forgotten.
Only, when they get to the cargo, JCVD's Jean Vilain (seriously) is on hand to nab it, and kill the aforementioned Expendable.
Swearing vengeance, and with a potential nuclear crisis to avert, Barney and his team decide to "track him, find him, kill him."
And that is the plot of The Expendables 2. But it delivers so much more. To describe exactly why the film works would spoil the surprise. Suffice to say, the knowing winks, nods, and blatant quotes work in a script that occasionally has the audience chuckling at it, rather than with it.
Stallone's dialogue, clunky and lacking the depth he thinks it achieves, will elicit a tenth of the laughs. But to not give him the credit he deserves for the other 90 per cent would be an injustice.
The action, so well handled by Con Air helmer Simon West, is rip roaring. The increased budget on show for multiple explosions and shoot-outs. Remember Rambo's giant gun finale? That's just for starters here.
The editing is swift enough to earn the movie a 15 rating, but the volume of dead bad guys, killed by bullets, knives and missiles, must be close to a record.
The finale, void of any real danger, delivers something else - a "f*** yeah!" assault on the eyeballs. It's the heroes of yesteryear, shooting bad guys and cracking wise. And the fun they have is infectious. Past movies are referenced with such bravado at one point a character even name-checks Arnie's biggest franchise. The plotholes are huge, and at times, the movie's logic is no stronger than, say The Naked Gun. And yet, it works.
Perhaps there are concerns over the shares of screen time - Jet Li's fleeting appearance is the biggest clue to the amount of time each actor could dedicate to the piece while Couture, Crews and Lundgren fight for every camera shot they can. Willis, Schwarzenegger and, almost unbelievably, Chuck Norris swan in and out of the movie stealing scenes with abandon.
And then there's Van Damme, a man who has finally come to realise his limitations after refusing the call of the original, and to live within them. Although his eyes carry more baggage than an overworked bellboy, JCVD enjoys his role as Mr Nasty, mumbled dialogue and mispronunciations notwithstanding.
Every pore of The Expendables 2 screams "three-star movie", so much so, so knowingly, so intentionally, so utterly ridiculously, that it earns a fourth. It sets out what it aims to achieve, and then blows it sky high. In a year when Ridley Scott attempted to bring fire to the people, but delivered a soggy baguette, Stallone's loaf makes great toast.
To not enjoy The Expendables 2 is to take life too seriously. This is an action movie that wears its heart on its sleeve, before plunging a knife into it, twisting it, shooting it and then blowing it up.
With an airplane.