The Expendables 2

Art & Culture

If you're looking for gritty realism, a romcom, or a passionate denunciation of male aggression, look elsewhere. This is a film without a shred of tenderness, empathy or subtlety. It's a bunch of old men who have sustained the illusion of masculinity with a combination of steroids, pumping iron and facial surgery, killing foreigners en masse.

And of course it's a sequel to the original which was an unexpected hit a couple of years ago. So, we're back with the same faces; Stallone as captain of the motley crew, plus best mate and second in command Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgen (once Stallone's arch enemy in Rocky IV nearly 30 years earlier), and a couple of blokes whose names you struggle to remember even after you've been told who they are – Randy 'Haut' Couture (my joke), and Terry Crews. Jet Li appears early doors and then makes a beeline for the exit, and so a couple of younger characters are introduced: Liam Hemsworth as an eager young ex-Army sniper, and Nan Yu as a young Chinese woman who is foisted on the blokes by Bruce Willis, turning up again as a slightly sinister but not downright wicked secret boss.
Villainy comes handily packaged in the form of a character called Vilain played by yet another straight to video action hero of the 80s, Jean-Claude van Damme, in dark glasses and with a permanent sneer. His role is to murder or persecute the innocent, collect weapons-grade plutonium that is handily located underground and, most importantly, come to a sticky end. Although his forces outnumber Stallone's handful, on two separate occasions, a deus ex machina (look it up) appears out of nowhere to save the day. The first saviour is Chuck Norris (even straighter to video than Jean-Claude); the second is the condom stuffed with walnuts, aka ex-governor of California known as Arnold Scwharzenegger. Which begs the question – where is Steven Seagal? He's the only 80s action hero missing from the film, which leads me to assume that the combination of his expanding waistline and his massive ego led him to pass up his invitation – or he never got one.
Clearly a film like this has no time for plot, logic, character development or anything much apart from violence. There are a few lame attempts at humour, with Arnie even trying a bit of post-modernism by saying "Yippy kay yay" to Bruce Willis (minus the motherfucker, of course), but essentially this is an extended male fantasy for men who like to think they still have what it takes. This even involves Nan Yu's character suggesting that if Sly tipped her the wink, she'd be happy to stick around. It's not clear which of his manly charms she has fallen for, but fortunately he fails to respond to her offer, so we don't have to find out.
Having said all this, it's impossible to actively dislike the film. It is loud, stupid, violent and clunky, but that's what it sets out to be, and how can you argue with that? It's not the kind of film you're going to go and see by accident, so I don't need to warn you off it, although let me make it clear I'm not recommending it. It is what it is, for better or worse.

Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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