The Expendables 2

At last, the former backers of Planet Hollywood had reunited ©Lionsgate

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5
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There’s a scene in Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993), that uber-spoof of spoofs, where Topper Harley (Charlie Sheen) has run out of ammo while taking on the bad guys in a flurry of explosions and blood. As three villains rush toward him, he grabs a fistful of bullets from a nearby ammo box and flings it at them. The trio then do the decent thing by falling down and dying.
That  is exactly what The Expendables 2 feels like: big, dumb, fast, furious and most of all, fun. The bullets will fly, the bodies will fall and the brains will be irrelevant, with heavy emphasis on the bullets. I honestly don’t think there has been this much ammunition expended since the Allies invaded France. Think of it as The Avengers minus the sophistication and the CGI, with an extra dollop of nostalgia. I’d summarise the plot for you, but it would be pretty pointless. I missed out on The Expendables 2 panel at SDCC 2012, but I’m glad I didn’t miss out on the movie. Gathering a group of fellow has-beens (again) is probably the best idea Sylvester Stallone has ever had, and may well turn out to be a life-saver for the likes of Jean-Claude Van Damme.
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The Expendables 2

Stallone wonders where his glory days went  ©Lionsgate

It all feels like a fever dream of all the bad 80s action movies you’ve ever seen. In fact, most of its stars actually look like they’re in their 80s. Just think eye bags, saggy jowls and bad skin. But it’s pretty telling that I came out of the cinema unable to recall the key characters’ names. The likes of Stallone and Bruce Willis are so iconic that they cannot escape the baggage of their previous work, but the audience I was watching it with lapped it all up. In one hilarious scene, Chuck Norris comes to the rescue to the tune of classic Western music, gamely playing up the persona created by the countless jokes about him circulating on the Internet (sample: Chuck Norris threw a grenade and killed 50 people. Then the grenade exploded.)
The Expendables 2 is a rare case of the sequel being superior to its predecessor, and I suspect that much of this is down to Con Air (1997) director Simon West taking over directing duties from Stallone. The movie signals its intentions right from the get go with a bloody opening sequence that is impressively orchestrated. The good guys ride in on armored vehicles that literally have “BAD ATTITUDE” and “KNOCK KNOCK” stenciled on them, and the action that ensues is gloriously, gloriously over the top. Bodies literally fly apart under the assault of heavy weaponry, while Stallone stops a helicopter in mid-air with a flying motorcycle (no joke). In what is guaranteed to be a fan-favourite, you almost cheer when Jet Li runs out of bullets because its time for him to start KICKING ASS with his bare hands. Which is much more preferable to him choking out lines in his strangled accent.
The young blood here – Liam Hemsworth, Jason Statham , Terry Crews et al – prevents it from spilling over into unintentional parody, though TE2 can hardly be accused of taking itself too seriously. When asked to hand over his weapon, Crews exclaims: “My big weapon’s hanging right where it is.” And when Dolph Lundgren asks Li who he would pick on if he left the team –  in what may be the movie’s funniest moment – Li nonchalantly replies: “You will find another minority.” The humour is key here, since it can all feel like a group of uncles trying to recapture their lost youth by hanging out with the kids, and there are plenty of laugh out loud moments. But as hard as he tries, Stallone can’t help but look very, very past it.
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Appropriately, the Macguffin that drives the plot along is also a legacy of the all-purpose enemy of that much longed-for decade: the Soviets. Cue a swaggering JCVD, who puts in an impressive turn as the bad guy out to threaten the safety of the entire world. Despite the crows feet, he is still in impressive shape and more than capable of doing his own flying kicks. His final showdown with Stallone, while obviously largely done by stunt doubles, is still impressive.
The Expendables 2

The former Muscles from Brussels ©Lionsgate

 But there are stars, and then there are stars, and there are few more iconic than the triumvirate of Stallone, Willis and of course, the Governator himself. They look like they are having the time of their lives, painfully and lamely stealing iconic lines from each other whenever they share a scene. Willis aside, who is still doing quality work, their glory days are well and truly over. But as last hurrahs go, The Expendables 2 is not bad at all. You won’t even need to have watched the first movie. Just check your brains at the door, and enjoy. Until the next sequel comes along.
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Did you watch The Expendables 2? What did you think?