Last weekend I stumbled upon a girly web site where a bunch of girly girls created an Expendables poster by replacing all of the old, grizzled icons with hot young Hollywood up and comers. Gosh, if only someone had thought to cast sexy boys in the movie instead of a bunch of established action stars who carry AARP cards! If any part of you thinks this is a better idea, you are missing the point of the whole thing and you may as well skip The Expendables 2.
No, it does not make a lick of sense that a bunch of middle aged men known as the Expendables use their collective badassness in the fight against evil without so much as packing a tube of soothing Bengay in their backpacks of badassery, but if you grew up on the films of Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, or even Bruce Willis, there is undoubtedly some part of you that feels nostalgic for the past and wishes movies like those were still being made… with the original actors… in some sort of studio time machine where the years 1980-1990 repeat in an unending loop. The Expendables 2 (like the original) is not only a throwback to those classic action films (authentically duplicating the look and feel of 80s and 90s movies), but it is a knowing wink to the careers of its stars.
Like any action film worth its salt, The Expendables 2 centers on a semi-convoluted plot which clearly establishes good guys vs. bad guys. This means a whole lot of complicated shit can go down that no one understands very well (things blow up, villains come and go), but you always know who you’re rooting for. In this case, Bruce Willis (yippy kay ay!) sends Sylvester Stallone et. al to Eastern Europe with a combat trained lady named Maggie (Nan Yu) to settle a debt. There they encounter an evil plutonium lord (Jean-Claude Van Damme) who murders their youngest member. They quickly learn that he has also kidnapped a village full of men to work in his mines so that he can (presumably) build bombs and try to take over the world. In essence, The Expendables have to win back control of the world’s plutonium, free the slave labor from their hellish work pit, avenge the death of their friend, and kick Van Damme’s ass. It is not clear why Maggie has to go. She is young. She is a girl. That is probably reason enough.
What follows is a ridiculously enjoyable ride involving motorcycles crashing into helicopters, hand to hand combat, wry humor, and general awesomeness. We get to know the pivotal characters well enough to care what happens to them (Dolph Lundgren is especially endearing and funny in these movies), and the story itself is handled seriously enough that we actually care when those poor men stumble out of the mines and into the arms of their wives. The movie works because it’s good testosterone laden fun, but what truly makes it pop is the fact that all the key players are in on the joke. You can’t look at Schwarzenegger with his unkempt, obviously dyed hair or Stallone’s bizarrely cosmetically “enhanced” face without thinking they’re a bit past their prime and hanging on a bit too hard to the past, but they seem to know it too, and it only takes one “I’ll be back,” from Arnie to remind us that they’re playing. They may be vain, they may be egotistical, they may be on the verge of being has-beens, but The Expendables are here to have a good time.