If you bought into the gory, glorious premise of The Expendables, but were disappointed by the slack plot and dull action, The Expendables 2 is here to win you back over. Boasting even more beefy action stars of various vintages and skills, plus an obscenely fun villain played by none other than Jean-Claude Van Damme, The Expendables 2 actually fulfills that original promise of an over-the-top, slightly tongue-in-cheek action movie that revives 80s macho bloodsport while poking just enough fun at it as well.
How much you enjoy all the CGI blood and flying bullets and goofy one-liners will probably depend on how much nostalgia you have for these guys-- though some things, like the charming rapport between Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham, or Van Damme's scenery-chewing baddie, translate no matter how many times you've seen First Blood. And while the plot is once again dead simple, that's a good thing here, getting away from the convoluted political dealings of The Expendables and diving into straight-up evil. Van Damme plays a notorious Belgian arms dealer who has unlocked a cache of plutonium buried in an old Russian mine. He's kidnapping local villagers and working them to death to get at it, but even worse, he's killed someone the Expendables cared about to get there. Clearly, they must stop him.
And that really is the entire plot, unless you count a few random asides about Statham's relationship with his once-cheating gal (Charisma Carpenter), Liam Hemsworth's fresh-faced Billy pining for his own French lady, or the icky blooming romance between expert safe-cracker Maggie (Nan Yu) and Stallone's Barney, which speaks more to the movie's bizarre gender politics than anything. We spend lots of down time with the guys, needling each other on cargo planes or hiding out for the night in a surreal fake-New York backdrop allegedly used for Soviet combat training, and it really is fun. Every member of the cast has a sense of humor (or, in the case of Dolph Lundgren, at least tries to) and gets in a good zinger or two, and when Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis show up in their limited roles, the constant nods to their own careers ("If I don't get this back, your ass is terminated!") earn guffaws both intentional and not.
Nothing's taken too terribly seriously here, though director Simon West doesn't keep quite a light enough touch-- the lingering on the stricken Russian village women is revolting, and one particularly harsh death feels too mean in this bright-colored blood universe. The action scenes occasionally look terrific, but they're too thuddingly predictable, all of our heroes magically dodging hailstorms of bullets, or aiming a gun into a crowd and only hitting the exact bad guys. These are the wobbly laws of physics that have driven a certain type of action movie for decades of course, but it would be nice to see The Expendables 2 at least acknowledge that audiences have changed, and allow the muscles on these old battleship heroes to actually creak a little bit, not just talk about how they're all seriously too old for this shit.
The Expendables 2 isn't nearly clever enough to operate as an actual action movie as well as a parody of one-- maybe they'll hire Edgar Wright to write the third one and seriously up their game-- but it is a good amount of fun, especially for those going in for the nostalgic thrills they've been promised. Maybe they're all geniuses for lowering the bar so much with The Expendables that we can't help but be grateful to this one for actually being a good time.