Do you remember the first Expendables film? No, really, do you? Because after racking our brains for a good day or two we’ve struggled to recollect more than a handful of pieces of information about Sylvester Stallone’s first group outing for the Old Age Actioners. We can vaguely make out Dolph Lundgren going mental, Sly and Statham flirting to the point of ejaculation and a brief appearance from Cordelia out of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and latterly, Angel, the spin off series which is set in LA. We do, however, remember it being reasonably enjoyable action twaddle. The same goes for The Expendables 2.
After killing more people than cancer in order to rescue a Chinese billionaire – and Arnold ‘Sexual Harassment Panda’ Schwarzenegger – Sly’s team of mercenaries congratulate themselves on a job well done. The celebrations are short lived when government spook, Church played with waxy indifference by Bruce ‘Madame Tussauds’ Willis, insists the Expendables track down a safe containing important security, blah, blah, blah. Things get slightly more exciting when JC ‘Gave Kylie’ VD shows up as dastardly villain, Jean Vilain and proceeds to off one of the crew. Taking a leaf out of Liam Neeson’s revenge handbook, Stallone announces the next hour’s entertainment, “We’re gonna track ’em, find ’em, kill ’em”…
From the get-go The Expendables 2 sets out to up the ante of the original. A blistering attack on a Nepalese(?) village throws blood and body parts at the screen with so much gleeful merriment you’d be right in thinking the film is challenging the audience to try and take it seriously. If you did think of the movie as anything other than a ridiculous, tongue-in-cheek, love letter to beefcake machismo, you wouldn’t make it to the opening titles.
You’re also not giving Sylvester ‘Mumblecore’ Stallone enough credit. Cleverer than he looks, the leader of the pack and the man responsible for bringing the series to the bigscreen in the first place, knows exactly what the audience wants and delivers it in plasma drenched spades. The memorable coquetry between him and Jason ‘Poe-Tay-Toes’ Statham remains, the extended cameos are extended and the body count topped.
Choosing Simon ‘One Good Movie’ West to helm also reveals intent. A director who never really bettered his lovably ridiculous Nicolas Cage bunny loving début, West can stage a set piece of carnage with the best of them. It’s shame he doesn’t bring to the table his ear for knowing dialogue (evidenced in Cyrus the Virus’s put downs) instead letting his stars simply throw each other’s catchphrases around like they’re playing ‘one-liner’ keep away. This ‘wink-wink’ nature does grate pretty quickly and for the most part events wouldn’t be overly affected if the whole film was dialogue free. But then Chuck Norris appears and nails the hapless tone to perfection, proving the completely made-up adage that one man’s groaner is another man’s boner.
And Cordelia? Buffy (and Angel) fans will be happy to know she’s back. They’ll be less happy to know she’s only in one scene. And even less happy to know she’s there purely for Sly to call her a whore.
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With a death toll to rival Dr. Strangelove, action fetishists will be harder than Chinese algebra at the prospect of Sly, Arnie, Bruce and Statham finally delivering on the action the first film promised. Whether it’ll live longer in the cerebellum than the first remains to be seen. Chances are we’ll have forgotten everything that happens by the time The Expendables 3 inevitably stumbles into view.