Can a bunch of long-in-the-tooth action stars still substitute muscles, guns, and wisecracks for super heroes and special effects? Sylvester Stallone & Co. respond to that question with a resounding “hell yeah.” “The Expendables 2” is a “go-bigger” sequel that works and it does so because of exciting familiar faces.
This time a debt Barney (Sylvester Stallone) owes to Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) leads him and his team of mercenaries to Albania in order to recover a lost safe. Only once there they are ambushed by a villain named Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), a cold-hearted bastard enslaving people from a neighboring village to mine weapons-grade plutonium. This of course cannot stand.
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Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris (making cheer-worthy entrances and deftly satirizing their old action movie personas) just complete the classic eighties/nineties action nostalgia this movie is going for. And while Bruce Willis is really the only one of this cast (which also includes Jet Li, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crewes, and lone woman Nan Yu) you could really call an actor, there is also something to be said for charisma and these guys could make even the cheesiest line or dumbest plot twist seem all part of the campy fun. They’re very funny together (loved a scene where they discuss what they would want their last meal to be), especially a surprising Lundgren whose like Lurch from “The Addams Family” but also brilliant. Stallone leads this thing beautifully and I gotta say the anticipation of a final showdown between him and Van-Damme made me feel like a kid again and he doesn’t disappoint.
This of course is all formula. The meager plot about saving villagers (but who doesn’t want to get behind rooting for the guys saving the impoverished?), the cheesy dialogue, and over-the-top villains are all there but director Simon West creates non-stop adrenaline from all the bullets, explosions, fight choreography, and blood splatters until we roll into the final confrontation. It isn’t good filmmaking, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s still summer action season, and who’s more “action hero” than these guys?
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