Of the multitude of self-referential comments throughout the hyper-aware sequel to Sylvester Stallone’s creation The Expendables, the most enjoyable was what one heavily muscled and accented spry action hero says to another: “I want my money’s worth!”
The exchange, between Jean Claude Van-Damme’s villain (named Vilain, of course) to Stallone’s hero takes place during the much anticipated, and expected, face off between the two, and by that time, you’re playing with a whole lot of house money.
The blood and cheese-filled sequel to a film that brought together some of the most famed action heroes in the world is better than the first, with a couple more welcome inclusions to the cast and some more face time for a few others. The Expendables 2 knows exactly who and what it is, and wastes little time with anything unnecessary, opting for a lengthy and explosive opening sequence, a loud finish, and plenty of craziness in between.
Movies tend to succeed or fail based on the expectations: what is anticipated ahead of time, and whether or not a film can deliver on what it is trying to accomplish, whether it is to scare or challenge or surprise. It would seem that this sequel, directed by Simon West and written by a few gentlemen including Mr. Stallone, is more of a celebration than anything else, delivering a fun and often hysterical action film with the right amount of just about everything. The stars all get their chance to show off, with much of the attention focused on budding bro-mancers Barney (Stallone) and Lee Christmas (Jason Statham).
You don’t need to see the first film to enjoy what is happening here, though it might help to be familiar with Die Hard, The Terminator, Delta Force, Rocky IV, Bloodsport, and maybe War, if you don’t know Jason Statham and Jet Li just yet.
With a violent tragedy overtaking a movie theatre in America just a month ago, a film about the death and destruction laid upon the Earth by this band of jacked-up, gun-toting maniacs may be a bit disconcerting. Yet, there is a wink to the audience every so often, and despite the blood and body count (all of whom are faceless nobodies save for the charming mug of Mr. Van-Damme and his goateed number two), there is nothing the least bit emotional or realistic here.
The look and feel isn’t cartoonish, but when you look upon the screen, you’re not seeing Barney or Lee or Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) or Church (Bruce Willis) or Booker (Church Norris) or any of the characters. You aren’t seeing the actors too much either, but instead you’re seeing the people we know them to be when they are on screen, and that in there is why it is one of the most satisfying movies of the year.
They all make eye-rolling jokes at one another’s expense, referencing their places in pop culture lore. It is clear they are having fun, you should be too. In a summer where some big blockbusters, rightly or wrongly, went super dark and dramatic, (The Dark Knight Rises)¸ others played it safe (The Amazing Spider-Man)¸ and others were simply too serious (The Bourne Legacy), it is refreshing that one film knows how to have fun, making you jump in your seat and leave with a smile.
It is a celebration, so enjoy it, for it may too be a finale, as one or two lines may suggest later on in the film. As well as the fact the most of the cast can be cashing Social Security checks by now. And after all, the group calls themselves the expendables—some of them have to die, right?