The Expendables 2 review

Banana Rating: 2 out of 5

Who knew that adding Jean-Claude Van Damme to a movie helps improve it? Well, okay, any action movie fan worth his salt knew this. But he’s wal­lowed for so long in direct-to-video hell, it’s some­times easy to for­get. The likes of Lun­d­gren, Van Damme, and Seagal are not just a vic­tim of poorer scripts (the scripts don’t have to be Oscar worthy, just a little bit intel­li­gent, a little bit witty), but advan­cing years and chan­ging times. Like most of the big action stars of the eighties and nineties, theirs feels like an era long since passed, fondly remembered through misty eyes.

They’re misty because you’re win­cing at the memory of your favour­ite action stars punch­ing someone in the throat. Prob­ably before kick­ing them into a meat grinder.

The Expend­ables 2, like The Expend­ables before it, attempts to recap­ture that action hero good­ness. The first one wasn’t that great, des­pite seem­ing like a recipe for suc­cess. What could be bet­ter than see­ing a bunch of old and new action stars in one film? It must be, like, ten times the excite­ment, right? Wrong. And The Expend­ables 2 suf­fers from the same prob­lems, albeit to a lesser extent.

An evident lack of passion

The team, the Expend­ables them­selves, still don’t seem to gel as a unit. They’re still saddled with a lum­ber­ing script full of weird one liners and strange team banter that doesn’t feel entirely nat­ural. They fare bet­ter than the first film, because they now have the famili­ar­ity from that movie to draw on. We know there’s a his­tory with these guys, because we saw them kick­ing arse in The Expend­ables.

But there’s still an evid­ent lack of pas­sion in the eyes of some of the older stars. Arnie, save for an amus­ing incid­ent with a car door, comes off worst. It must be tough for him. He left the world of movies at his peak to seek new chal­lenges in the world of polit­ics. His return to film has a resigned feel to it, like he’s tak­ing a step back­wards in his career. He com­ments about how they all belong in a museum, and rather than being funny, it has a hint of sad­ness to it. He’s a guy who’s sur­vived a beat down with an eight foot tall alien, and ripped a phone box out of the ground with the bad guy still in it. Now he just looks a bit tired.

In his new film, The Last Stand (out early next year), he plays a failed cop with a shot at prov­ing his mettle again, and that feel­ing of sad­ness, of look­ing a bit shattered, might be a bene­fit. In the con­text of The Expend­ables 2, it doesn’t really work. The one liners are as creaky as Arnie’s aching joints.

Van Damme steals the show

Some of the stars do okay with what they’re given. Dolph Lun­d­gren is as good as he was last time, and Jet Li shines in a brief scrap using some fry­ing pans. But the real rev­el­a­tion is Jean-Claude Van Damme. From the very first moment he appears out of the mist with his hired goons, he steals the show. He’s handed lines of dia­logue as clunky as the worst of them, but is clearly rel­ish­ing play­ing a bad guy. The film really bene­fits from hav­ing a mem­or­able vil­lain, some­thing that was miss­ing from The Expend­ables. It’s a shame then, that Van Damme doesn’t get enough screen time.

The Expend­ables films seem con­tent to just use our fond memor­ies of action movie stars rather than the actual movies they starred in. The Expend­ables 2 is viol­ent, but it’s viol­ence for the sake of viol­ence. Plot takes a back seat so that a pro­ces­sion of age­ing stars can march on-screen, fire some guns and march off again. It’s a film that says, “Look! Here’s Chuck Nor­ris! He done that film you saw!” as if just hav­ing Chuck Nor­ris walk down a street out of nowhere is enough.

Don’t get me a wrong, it’s a small improve­ment on The Expend­ables, mostly because of Van Damme. They’re get­ting there, slowly. The third instal­ment (and there will be a third) could do with hir­ing a script writer to craft a good, genu­inely witty story (maybe Shane Black?). Keep the viol­ence. It’s needed. But if it’s inter­weaved with a story that seems to be con­tent with noth­ing more than tick­ing boxes on a list of who’s who in the action movie genre, what’s the point?