Spoiler: This post might use the word “freaking” a lot; it’s an eloquent word I utilize to accentuate something reeking of total awesomeness.
All of my complaints about the first installment of The Expendables in a rather unusually critical review — that we didn’t get enough of the Holy Trinity of Action (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone all together), that the action felt uninspired and typical, the dialogue and banter wasn’t that funny and rather stilted and that the story was weak — are all remedied by the 2012 sequel and then some. This was freaking awesome! Heck, the opening scene alone made me think it was a superior outing, and that they had learned their lessons.
We have the usual suspects back, including Schwarzenegger and Willis, except we actually get to see them do more of what I wanted, including with much funnier lines, and we also get a cameo from Chuck freaking Norris, including a Chuck Norris joke, and Jean-Claude Van Damme is a much, much better villain (sorry, Eric Roberts). But also, the usual suspects, like Jason Statham, Jet Li, and Terry Crews get to do more here, too. We see some fun fighting from all three of those names, although after the beginning, Li seems to disappear from the rest of the film, which was weird. We also finally get a female added to the group in Yu Nan to also kick some butt.
The action is far more inspired and innovative here. Like I said, the opening sequence alone showed that off, such as the motorcycle into the helicopter, the use of water to flood the bad guys, and then the neat zip lining while shooting. We then get some awesome action sequences on the water. Or Chuck Norris later shooting someone at the airport and then their body goes through the x-ray machine. Or that there’s a freaking tank! This film knows exactly what it is and is leaning into it in the most fun way possible.
Also, it’s just funnier. The lines and banter actually made me laugh, primarily between Arnold and Bruce, and Stallone and Statham. I mean, if you’re not laughing at Arnold and Bruce in that little vehicle at the end in the airport, where both rip the doors off while driving around, then I don’t know what to say.
Another element that elevates the film is what I mentioned, where Van Damme is a far superior villain. The reason he works as a great villain is because he establishes his dominance early on. He catches The Expendables off guard by taking Liam Hemsworth’s character hostage. When handing over a box that will lead to refined plutonium (with the hopes of selling it), Statham’s character drops it at Scott Adkins’ character’s feet (Van Damme’s right hand man), Adkins humiliates him by making him pick it up and hand it over nicely. Again, if that doesn’t get your action jollies off waiting for down the line when Statham gets his revenge, then I don’t know what to tell you.
On top of that, Van Damme establishes his dominance by killing off Hemsworth’s character brutally with a knife to the heart (by kicking it, no less). Now we’re excited for the clash of his men versus The Expendables. There was nothing comparable to that in the first film, as far as I’m concerned.
Everything works here. And best of all? Instead of feeling like a slog to get through as the first one did despite being about the same runtime, this one flies by. The pace and flow is great.
If you were as iffy as me on the first one, then do yourself a favor and give the second a whirl. They got everything right, and made this huge ensemble of action stars work.