Review: The Expendables 2 is a gratuitously violent film, almost comically so, made for the entertainment of fans of 1980s/90s action films and their stars. The film is about a group of mercenaries lead by Barney Ross who are hired to retrieve a delicate item from a plane crash in hostile territory. When the mission goes wrong and a team member is killed, the team turns their sights on revenge. Director Simon West basically only cares about portraying the action in the most entertaining and even fun manner as possible. Sure, there are some characters moments (or attempts at them), but they only sort of work and serve more the purpose of giving the audience a break from the aggrandized action set pieces. The story, too, is not really important. It just puts the characters in motion so they can shoot at lots of stuff and blow up lots of stuff and murder (what seemed like thousands of) bad guys in gruesome ways. For viewers that only somewhat like violent films, do not like them at all, or even only medium like them this is not the film for you. This is only for viewers who love action films, and to that point – action films that are only about the action and extreme violence (stuff like most of the pure action films of the 80s and early 90s, and this may even be more absurd than any of those). As a film, this is entertaining (though, I do enjoy action films to a degree, growing up with these actors and their films), but also is maybe a bit too much. There is so much killing and brutality that it loses all meaning and the viewer becomes completely desensitized, which is not really a good thing, as really films should strive to interact with their viewers and make them feel something real. This is not possible here, unless you hate violence and feel utter disgust towards this film (but then why are you seeing it in the first place when it is very clear what this is going to be going in). All the action gets a little tiresome, because it is all sort of meaningless. However, the film’s saving grace is the likability of the action stars (we all know) and the fun they are having in the film – bantering, throwing around references to their past franchises and making jokes at the expense of themselves (and their age). The charisma of these action stars is what makes the film work. It is okay for films to be mindless entertainment (be it action, comedy, thriller or whatever), but they are never going to be great. The Expendables 2 is mindless entertainment (mind numbing entertainment at that) that is enjoyable, but again it was never going to be great.
Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Simon West specializes in action, and this is probably one of his most entertaining films to date. What he does well is capture the right tone for the film. The Expendables 2 feels light and fun, but still has enough dramatic weight (giving the good guys a sense of morality, so that the audience gets behind them organically instead of merely supporting them because they are the presented as the protagonists) to give it a hint of seriousness (though all the murder in the opening scene sort of countermands any seriousness as it is fairly ludicrous). Composer Brian Tyler, cinematographer Shelly Johnson and production designer Paul Cross all get what the film is supposed to be, and their work goes into supporting West and the film’s tone. The film is filled with glorified visual staples of the genre, and it all works. Cross has probably the standout work of the bunch, however, with his fantastic Soviet Base set replicating a section of New York. As stated above, it is the film’s stars that really make The Expendables 2 fun. Dolph Lundgren and Terry Crews (unsurprisingly) have some of the best side-kick material, while Jason Statham, Jet Li and Bruce Willis are good too. Liam Hemsworth is not very good in the film. His dramatic scenes are clunky and forced, and he just feels out of place in general. Nan Yu, also new to the team, is somewhat awkward, but still works overall. Her chemistry with Sylvester Stallone is one of the better things in the film. Chuck Norris shows up, seems out of place, but makes maybe the best joke of the film (him being there is nothing more than a novelty). Jean-Claude Van Damme is a decent villain, and the sheer nostalgic aspect of his appearance is great. Arnold Schwarzenegger just commands the screen whenever he is on it. He sort of steals the movie. Stallone is good as well, playing the tough as nails soldier of fortune who looks back on his life with regrets but cannot do anything else.
Summary & score: You get exactly what you expect and what you want with The Expendables 2: a fun and entertaining highly violent action film filled with all the stars you love from the 1980s and 1990s (plus Jason Statham). 6/10