REVIEW: Stallone & Co.'s Shtick Gets Old Fast In Hammy, Lazy The Expendables 2

Movieline Score:
Dax Shepard disses 'Expendables 2' cast

To even describe The Expendables 2 as a movie seems to do both the medium and this strange, smirking effort a disservice. It isn't a movie — it's more like the world's most expensive, elaborate viral video, making a detour to the big screen before being broken up into more easily consumable segments to be consumed on YouTube.

2010's The Expendables, directed by its star Sylvester Stallone, was built around the meta-joke of its cast being a who's who of past and current action stars, particularly ones associated with the more iconic of '80s muscle movies. But it also had characters with rough personality designations, it had settings and a plot that actually crescendoed toward its violent conclusion. Helmed by Con Air's Simon West, The Expendables 2 has none of these things.

Instead, what it has is Chuck Norris making a cameo as a character named Booker (a hat tip to Good Guys Wear Black) to shoot a few dudes and then recount a Chuck Norris fact (it involves a king cobra). It has Arnold Schwarzenegger, who also briefly appeared in the first film, showing up to joke about being back and terminating people, and ending a bickering session with Bruce Willis by muttering "Yippee-ki-yay." Whatever throwback charm the first film had has been utterly Snakes on a Plane-d by this sequel, which from the start is far more pleased with itself than audience members are ever given a chance to be.

So Stallone is back as Barney Ross, leader of the mercenary group of the title, who've become (with one key exception) hammily invincible in the time since the last film ended. Along with his bantering best bud Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Ross heads his team up on a mission to rescue a Chinese billionaire in the opening scene, a sequence that turns into an orgy of automatic weapon fire, armored vehicles smashing through walls and a chase that eventual takes to the water, no element of which sustains even the illusion of putting the preening main characters in harm's way. If you've been in the game this long, it seems, you no longer need to even pretend you could get shot by those extras gamely firing blanks.

Dolph Lundgren is still on board as Gunner Jensen, gone from turncoat to comic relief, while Jet Li has a fight scene or two before making a shrug of an exit. Terry Crews and Randy Couture are given little to do other than flex their biceps and fill in the background in this iteration. And Liam Hemsworth shows up as the new team sniper, whose place as "the kid" in a film that's all about decidedly grown (and slightly creaky) men suggests he's in a position of peril even before he ends up taking one last gig before retiring to start a new life with his girl.

The Expendables are given a mission by Willis' CIA agent Mr. Church, and head off to retrieve a valuable object from a downed plane at the direction of token female Maggie (Yu Nan), a motorcycle-riding Chinese agent who charms Ross with her ability to efficiently torture information out of informants. When the plan goes awry, Ross and company set out for revenge, targeting a swaggering villain who's actually named Vilain, and who's played by a scene-chewing Jean-Claude Van Damme in sunglasses, a duster and a Satanic neck tattoo.

In an age of overabundance of CGI, in which neither physical presence nor prowess is required to take the lead in an action film, the appeal of something like The Expendables is clear. Stallone and his buddies aren't just waving the banner of nostalgia, they're a stand-in for practical effects and martial arts training, for being able to hold the camera with bulk and charisma (if not necessarily acting range) while delivery cheesy one-liners with a dearth of irony. They represent an outmoded form of the blockbuster, one that's become replaced by something even more slick, calculated and forgettable — consider the new Total Recall versus the feature on which it was based, the remake a film in which everything is possible and yet nothing seems to matter.

The longing for more tangible entertainments is what makes The Expendables 2 feel so damnably lazy — it trades on the quirk of being able to assemble cast-members who've devalued enough over the years to become affordable in a single movie, and then barely bothers to actually make that movie. It's not a joyless effort, but it's one in which (with the exception of the always admirably present Statham) most of the joy feels self-directed — just a group of guys pounding each other on the back between takes and reassuring themselves that they've still got it. Maybe they do, but there's little evidence of the fact on screen here, in this smug attempt to power a franchise on novelty value alone.

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  • Having the villain called 'Vilain' ranks up there with the material that the humans were having trouble obtaining in Avatar actually being called 'un-obtainium.'

  • "it trades on the quirk of being able to assemble cast-members who've devalued enough over the years to become affordable in a single movie, and then barely bothers to actually make that movie."

    Wow...harsh words. Completely true of course, but harsh nonetheless!

  • Matt Hunter says:

    Who cares what this snob thinks? It wasn't made for her. It was made for fans of 80's action movies. Any true fan of the genre will absolutely love it!

  • ryvrdrgn14 says:

    Herein lies the difference. I didn't watch the trailer. Didn't read about the movie. I looked at the poster, read the cast and automatically set aside the money for the movie ticket. This is a movie you watch. Nothing else matters.

    In the theater while watching this with friends someone asked, "What's the story?" and someone replied, "Who cares?" then we all laughed and watched it and had a great time. 🙂

  • ILDC says:

    I think the point she was trying to make was "on paper it sounds like a good time, but after 80 min. it gets tiresome."

  • If true fans of 80s action are absolutely going to love this film, why are they getting so wound up about reviews?

  • Jose Robledo says:

    This movie was meant for the generation of us that grow up watching these action hero legends at work and appreciate it it wasn't meant not for people from mars.....go back to which you came.

  • pasha pook says:

    The fact that youtube is even brought up in her review makes me sick. Way to contribute a valid film critique, lady. Sorry your attention span sucks.

  • sweetvalleyguy says:

    I grew up watching 80s action films such as The Terminator, Total Recall, Bloodsport, Kickboxer, Rocky, Rambo - ie, all of the best movies by these actors. Let's face it - The Expendables sucked, and everything this reviewer claims here is backed up by reasoning and solid explanation. It's a perfectly good review and I am very sorry to hear that The Expendables 2 sounds like it sucks too, and I am grateful for the warning. I will still see it, as a die hard fan of Arnie, JCVD, Sly, Dolph, Statham and Willis. I saw most of them in person at Comic-Con last month - which was freakin awesome - and while I am still keen to see the sequel, I suspected it would be pretty average, just like the first one.

    Just because I like action movies, doesn't mean I like dumb, illogical action movies with no plot, character development or meaning. The Terminator is probably my favourite movie of all time, because it is a clever, sharp, fascinating story - and T2 is possibly just as good, due to it's near-perfect action scenes in which everything makes sense, and the characters have motivation, meaning and heart. The Expendables had none of this. I couldn't give a crap about any of the characters - it was really bad.

    I get tired of people saying 'action movies are supposed to be dumb' - because the good ones never are. I'm glad that some people can have a good time watching dumb movies that don't make any sense, and waste the talents of their fantastic casts, but it doesn't mean the rest of us have to like them. Hoping that the upcoming Arnie/Sly movie The Tomb will put them to better use. In the meantime I will rewatch the Terminator or Alien movies - classic examples of intelligent, original, thought-provoking action movies..

    • Eli says:

      You make a point there, but remember, Terminator 2 is about 2 and a half hours long, with only one main action star. This movie has like 10 of them, and is 1 hour and 40 minutes, do you think its even possible to have their character fully developed? no time for that, they're all there, the best action stars, and they do what everyone want them to.

  • Helmi says:

    This movie is for guys. It doenst try to have a deep story. It focuses on action and 80s style jokes. Every man who likes pure action movies will love this one. But why the fuck do you let a woman write a critic about a movie like this ? Im sure as hell not gonna judge movies like the notebook or Sex and the city. Movies like these are made for women, i cant say one good thing about them.I`m just not in a point to criticize them. And so is this female critic not in a point to judge a movie like Expendables.

    • desert_myrrh says:

      Dude, I just loved your comment. Every time i say that, some crazy chick accuses me of machism.

  • BitchinBob says:

    It's true Balls are required to enjoy this film, Alison come scratch them and I will try my best to explain why it's a guy thing
    PS "trim your nails first plz" 😉