THE EXPENDABLES 2
** SPOILERS **
"Good times with weapons for the males over-fifty crowd" is the selling point of The Expendables 2. Its returning band of oily misfits, Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, and Randy Couture turn out to be very good salesmen. Already a grunting, snarling, leathery, sinewy, musclebound gathering of pumped-up action heroes, The Expendables 2 throws in more bang for your buck by including the previous movie's cameos of 1980s megastars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis in major roles where they get to murder dozens of bad guys with machine guns while wink-wink swiping each other's classic catchphrases. If that's not enough, The Expendables 2 throws in Chuck Norris, who seemingly went through the entire list of Chuck Norris jokes on the Internet and picked out his favorite one. Lundgren, Crews and Couture each get moments to banter and don't seem to mind being upstaged when Arnold, Bruce and Chuck roll in. Stallone anchors the whole thing with his gravelly gravitas, lightening up in scenes with Statham where they bust each other's balls. Arnold, Bruce and Chuck could have a splinter group of their own called Deus Ex Machina, which is the purpose they serve via how often they appear to save the Expendables' asses.
This time around, the Expendables must chase down a cabal of paramilitary Bulgarian roughnecks throughout the wilds of Eastern Europe to find and retrieve five tons of plutonium ("Great Scott!", Doc Brown would exclaim if he and his DeLorean were in this movie). Stallone's grisly crew are joined by a couple of novelties: a female CIA liaison, and a Chinese one at that, played by Nan Yu, and a young stud muffin sniper, played by Liam Hemsworth. Yu replaces Jet Li as the Expendables' token Asian as Li literally jumps out of the movie after the gonzo explode-a-thon that opens the picture. Hemsworth gets a backstory of a tour of duty in Afghanistan gone bad and a gorgeous French girlfriend waiting for him in Paris. He always addresses Stallone as "sir" and makes a positive impression right away. Which means this pretty boy has to go. And go he does, with his pretty pecs carved up and Stallone's own bowie knife awesomely karate kicked into his heart by the villain of the piece, Jean-Claude Van Damme. Katniss Everdeen would be as heartbroken as Stallone was.
In a movie where the characters have names like "Lee Christmas", "Hale Caesar", "Yin Yang", and "Toll Road", Van Damme tops them all as a villain named "Vilain". That's right up there with "Sinestro" and "Cy-Kill" for bad guy names. But it turns out Van Damme, sporting heavy bags under his eyes that Rocky Balboa would pummel in a different movie, is the real secret weapon of The Expendables 2. Relishing getting to play the heavy, and a heartless homicidal maniac at that, Van Damme completely upstages everyone with his Brussels badness and utterly hilarious line readings every time he's on screen. The main event fight between Stallone and Van Damme delivers the Balboa body blows and Bloodsport spin kicks 80's nostalgia junkies paid to see. It's always a shamelessly bloody good time with the Expendables, but The Expendables 2 is more rowdy and rollicking than its predecessor. Sincere thanks to The Expendables 2; I don't remember the last time I laughed so heartily at every single thing Jean-Claude Van Damme said and did.