I'm sure everyone that watches any of The Expendables films knows what to expect: pure retro 80's, macho adrenaline, lots of explosions and mindless action. And that's exactly what they deliver. Each of them to varying degrees of success, but never really straying from that formula of being a tongue-in-cheek, action-filled vehicle for "faded" 80's action stars, or wrestlers-turned-action-stars.
The Expendables follows an elite team of mercenaries led by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone). The team is completed by actions stars of then and now like Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Terry Crews, and Randy Couture. Stallone also serves as screenwriter, and director of the first installment.
This first one was the "experiment", for lack of a better word, and hence the less unpolished one, IMO. I saw it earlier this year and, although I enjoyed and respected its intentions, I felt it missed the mark in some aspects. First, I thought Stallone and Co. didn't take advantage of the opportunity they had to play off the concept and premise and make a really fun film. As a result, the film feels a bit dull at times. Second, Stallone's direction was a bit muddled, particularly in the last climatic fight, which should be key to this type of film.
The sequel corrects most of those flaws. First, Stallone brought director Simon West who, although far from a great director, has a more sure hand in handling the action. The scenes flow with a better pace and there's a better control of the camera. Second, I felt the approach to the film was more tongue-in-cheek, which makes the film feel more relaxed and less interested in achieving anything beyond what is intended.
There's little to look for here performance-wise. The joy comes from watching these 80's old stars duke it out and kick-ass together while exchanging witty one-liners. Stallone does a decent job carrying the lead role, and the expanded "cameos" of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis work well. Plus, there's a pretty funny appearance by Chuck Norris. Does it feel forced? Sure, but I was still chuckling at the absurdity of it. What little drama there is comes from Liam Hemsworth's role. Despite being predictable and a bit of a cliché, he does it well and sells the part.
Like with the first part, I think the most fun comes from the villain. Eric Roberts did a pretty good job in the first one and, surprisingly, the same happens here. I think this will be the first time I say this, but Jean-Claude Van Damme was easily the highlight of the film. He played the villain (appropriately called Vilain) with the sort of swagger and cockiness that all those cool, 80s villains exuded. His final fight with Stallone was also pretty good.
Overall, a pretty solid action film. Not much more, but I'm sure that's exactly what Stallone had in mind. It gets a solid B from me. (For what it's worth, my wife kinda liked the first one more :-D)
(All pictures belong to Lionsgate and its affiliates)