The Expendables 2 (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
Right after a successful mission in Nepal, Church (Bruce Willis) approaches and informs Barney (Sylvester Stallone) of a mission, one that cannot be refused because he and his team have stolen five million dollars from the man who works for a secret but influential organization. Barney, his group of mercenaries (Jason Statham, Dolph Lungren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth, Scott Adkins), and Maggie (Nan Yu), specifically chosen by Church, head to the mountains of Albania to retrieve an item from a case in a plane crash. On what is supposed to be a clear-cut assignment turns complicated when the Sangs, gangsters within the area, appear from the fog and demand that the item of interest be handed over.
“The Expendables 2,” directed by Simon West, is a mostly fun, exciting, and transporting ruckus that set the bar so high during its first scene–tackling land, air, and water in a span of fifteen minutes–that it is unable to rise above it. The rescue mission of a Chinese billionaire in Nepal should have been the blueprint of the picture in that it makes no pretense about being an action picture with former and current major action stars at the helm: tanks demolishing supposed lines of the defenses erected by the enemy, guns of various shapes and sizes being fired at will, making no discrimination as to who or what is hit, rocket launchers extirpating balconies when another weapon would have sufficed, utter chaos and overkill abound.
There is certain poetry, a highly satisfying comedic ridiculousness, not just in the images of deaths and destruction unfolding on screen but also in the use of rousing music and energetic–but never dizzying–editing. The synergy among the techniques employed shows how excellent a Hollywood mainstream picture can be given that the proper elements are carefully measured and executed.
Unfortunately, nothing as thrilling happens up until just about after the halfway point. When the characters converse via joking around and teasing one another, there is a deadness in the dialogue. At times the exchange of words feels forced which, I suppose, can be taken as campy most of the time but the sour notes are certainly there.
However, there is one lighthearted scene that works quite well. That is, when Hale Ceasar (Crews) asks his team what they would like to have as their last meal given that they were to die the next day. I wished the scene had gone a little bit longer because a sense of camaraderie, one that felt natural, is finally put on screen.
Furthermore, the picture could have benefited from a more interesting villain. Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), the leader of the Sangs who wishes to gather an astonishing amount of plutonium in an abandoned mine, is a bit boring to deserve our hatred. We learn nothing special about him outside of the fact that he likes to wear sunglasses indoors. The writing is mostly to blame but Van Damme could have done more to make his character stand out by perhaps injecting a quirk or holding a secret about his character in his own mind to make us more curious about Vilain.
“The Expendables 2,” based on the screenplay by Richard Wenk and Sylvester Stallone, shows promise by rising above mediocrity but only in unpredictable convulsions. If there is going to be a third one, which I believe is the right avenue, I’m excited at the prospect of it getting every single thing right.