Having halved the population of Nepal during a successful sortie, Barney Ross (Stallone) and crew are ready for a break. But CIA wonk Church (Willis) has new orders, which will force them to go face-to-foot with the Keyser Soze of kickboxing, Jean Vilain (Van Damme).
The Expendables 2 — a film which could have been titled Arsekickers Assemble — should have made Marvel’s team-up look as tough as a lollipop ladies’ book circle. Starring as many kettlebell-heaving action gods as they could cram on the poster, it boasts fight sequences with Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chuck fuckin’ Norris — all that’s missing is Steven Seagal as a merc called Mince Shrapnel. In the havoc department, meanwhile, the jacked-up budget allows for crashing planes, leaping jet skis, tanks and a Virtua Cop bodycount. Everything you need for a fist-pumping Friday night, right? Well, no.
As with the original, the movie’s tone lurches between genre-lampooning humour and earnest drama. Neither is done well. One of the ‘serious’ story strands involves a new member of the team (Liam Hemsworth, filmed almost entirely in Doe-Eye-Vision), whose special skill is telling boring stories about how bad war is. He’s adamant that he’s only going to do one last job. Hmm…
There’s also a new romantic interest for Stallone, in the shape of Maggie (Nan Yu), who replaces a departing Jet Li, suggesting The Expendables have a one-in/one-out policy for Chinese people. Each time the pair flirt (“I like Italian,” she purrs during a weird conversation about food, despite the fact there’s no indication Barney Ross is Italian), the film grinds to a hideous halt.
The comedy is, on the whole, equally painful. It’s fairly funny when Terry Crews hands Schwarzenegger his gun near the start and says, “If I don’t get this back, you’re terminated.” Or when Chuck Norris hoves into view, like Ned Flanders with a Heckler & Koch, and relates a Chuck Norris Fact AS DIALOGUE. Less so 90 minutes on, with the cast still relentlessly referencing their glory days. “You’ve been back enough. I’ll be back,” Willis squints at one point. “Yippee-ki-yay,” comes Arnie’s grinning retort. It’s like being forced to attend a Planet Hollywood boardroom meeting after a great quarter.
More unforgivably, it fails to mint iconic dialogue and carnage of its own. Stunt gags are yoinked from the likes of Die Hard 4.0, Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade and The Losers, while there’s little of the preposterous, colourful action that characterised director Simon West’s Con Air. Instead it’s all a bit drab and dreary.
There are high points, like Jean-Claude Van Damme’s grandstanding, plutonium-crazed baddie, the return of Dolph Lundgren’s action-troll Gunnar Jensen, and screwy lines like, “We keep it light until it’s time to go dark, and then we get pitch-black.” But mostly it’s a morass of dodgy plotting, indifferent brutality and limp character-work. It’s bargain-bin bouillabaisse.
A huge, bulging disappointment.