When I heard that Jean-Claude Van Damme was going to be in The Expendables 2, I immediately looked forward to it. Yeah, we all know the first Expendables wasn’t very good. At all. Sylvester Stallone’s direction was amateurish at best, and he never seemed to bring out the fun in the movie’s concept. How, then could a second movie go right? Many ways. We get more of Arnold Schwarzenegger. We get more Bruce Willis. Chuck Norris joins the crew! And Jean-Claude Van Damme as the villain? Why yes, sign me up now!
The reviews I’ve seen of The Expendables 2 are more enthusiastic than for the first Expendables, and I concur. The Expendables 2 is what the first movie should have been: the plot is predictable as hell, the dialogue is cheesy, the moments of “characterization” are awkward and rather silly, . . . but the action is more than worthwhile, and the movie gives us one hell of an ending!
Here’s the plot: Stallone and his crew are back and have to recover a safe from a wrecked airplane. But they’re beaten to the punch by the deliciously named Jean Vilain (played by Jean-Claude Van Damme). Vilain humiliates the crew and then murders one of them in cold blood. (You can tell who is going to die as soon as he brings up the fact that this is his last mission and he wants to join his girlfriend once he leaves.) This makes Stallone angry, of course, and he vows to track down Vilain and pay him back.
Vilain’s master plan is to sell five tons of plutonium via the black market and get seriously rich. And Jean-Claude Van Damme is awesome. He is ridiculously bad-ass instead of overacting as he usually does, and it works. It also helps that the composer, Bryan Tyler, came up with a great theme for the character, using sinister strings that really help to underscore his evilness. As a huge fan of Van Damme, I was very pleased.
Let’s face it: people are going to see this movie for one thing only, and that is to see Van Damme duke it out with Stallone. It’s a great fight, and Van Damme saves all his overacting for it. He starts out by taunting Stallone, asking him if he wants to kill him “like a man” or “like a sheeeep.” So they cast their weapons aside and go at it, and it’s a delightful fight. It’s detailed, has some good kicks and punches, and damn it all, it is fun! And when the fight seems like it’s over after 20 seconds, Van Damme mockingly asks “Is that it? I want my money’s worth!!!” before restarting the whole thing.
The movie is plenty of fun throughout, with just enough action to keep us interested until that last great fight. Chuck Norris shows up in one scene and then comes back for the ending, accompanied by the theme to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. They’re great moments. Arnold and Bruce Willis get into the action, and the best lines of the whole movie come in an exchange between them at the very end, where they swap signature one-liners. (Don’t get too used to them, though—Arnold is there for two scenes, and I think Bruce Willis has only one more than that.) Jet Li is unfortunately dropped off in China at the ten minute mark and we never hear from him again—a shame because his fighting was the most entertaining of the opening ten minutes.
Of the returning cast members, the most fun to watch is Dolph Lundgren, who seems like he is having plenty of fun, hamming it up as a borderline psychopath who is convinced that a female member of the team desires him. Stallone is competent. Crews and Couture are fun enough, although Couture is pretty unimportant to the movie and often seems like an afterthought. Jason Statham is second to Dolph Lundgren as the most fun to watch, delivering some fun one-liners and having two kick-ass fights in the finale. In the first, he fights while dressed as a priest, using various items you can find in your local Ukrainian Orthodox church. In the second, he takes on Scott Adkins mano-a-mano beside a helicopter with propeller blades conspicuously a-swirling.
What more can be said? The director, Simon West, does a competent job, and the composer adds to the fun with his terrific villain theme. The rest of the music accompanies the action very well, without overwhelming it. In short, it’s a great action movie score.
If you’ve seen more than a couple contemporary action films, you know exactly what to expect from The Expendables 2. A lot of action from old, familiar faces. Some cheesy dialogue. Overacting as far as the eye can see. A terrific villainous performance from Jean-Claude Van Damme (who, apart from his eyes, doesn’t look like he’s aged a day!). And a movie that serves as an enjoyable setup for the final fight between Van Damme and Stallone, in which Van Damme unleashes all his wonderful powers of overacting.
If you’re a fan of those fun, mindless ‘80s and ’90s action movies, this is your kind of film. The Expendables 2 delivers what you expect and what you really want. It’s not classic cinema, but boy, is it ever fun to watch! In fact, I’d love to see it again. It’s not The Dark Knight, but nobody expected it to be. And I have no problem with that.