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'Expendables 2' with Sly Stallone lacks elements of the original, but has its moments

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If you saw the original Expendables’ in 2010, you know what you’re getting into if you’re planning on seeing The Expendables 2: a plethora of middle-aged action stars who making a living out of kicking ass and taking names.

And yes, that’s pretty much what this sequel provides, albeit in a slightly different way and tone than the original film offers.Photo: Expendablespremiere.com

Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his band of merry men (Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Liam Hemsworth) are at it again. After saving a chinese billionaire and fellow operative Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in Nepal, the group returns home, where Ross has an encounter with Mr. Church (Bruce Willis).

Church reminds Ross that he owes him $5 million in confiscated money from a previous mission, and assigns Ross and the group to retrieve a package on a plane that was shot down in Albania. There’s only one condition- technical whiz Maggie (Yu Nan) must accompany the all-male group on the trip because she can crack the sensitive (and potentially explosive) safe containing the package.

The group succeeds in their quest, but are forced to surrender the item to Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), who has kidnapped one of the members of  the Expendables. Begrudgingly, the group complies with Vilain’s request, but then Vilain executes the captive in cold blood and escapes. It is revealed that Vilain is part of a group called the Sang (which also includes the ruthless Hector, played by Scott Adkins), who terrorize villages and kidnap children and adults to work in a local mine. The item Vilain confiscated from the Expendables was a map that leads to the mine which stores plutonium. As the Expendables bury their fallen comrade, Barney vows to track Vilain down and kill him in an act of revenge.

Stallone, the world’s most jacked 66-year old, knows his place in the realm of action films- and The Expendables 2 is no exception. He’s featured in almost every scene and is the anchor of a film full of action heroes. Furthermore, his showdown against Van Damme during the movie’s final moments will make you want to put Rocky III in your DVD player the minute you get home (that’s a good thing).

As far as Van Damme is concerned, he might be the most pleasant surprise of the entire movie. In the spotlight once again after a decade and change of making direct-to-cable flicks, Van Damme usually plays the role of the protagonist. However, it’s possible he could have a new career playing antagonists. By the end of the movie, you long for the moment when Barney inflicts some serious pain on him, and his martial arts skills (except for when he’s squaring off with Chuck Zito) have not seemed to diminish with time.

When you compare the original Expendables to The Expendables 2, it’s almost a dichotomy of sorts. While the first film’s overall serious tone lacked the humor and star power of the recent offering, there were key elements missing from the latest installment (including an inferior script). The interplay with Stallone and Statham (a highlight of the original) still exists. However, the role of Statham (who never ‘phones in’ a performance) is not as prominent due to the emergence of Yu, and the film seems slightly off-kilter at times because of it. While Li was one of the stronger characters in the original Expendables, he appears in the opening montage and is nowhere to be found for the rest of the film. The same can be said for Mickey Rourke, whose presence is also missed.

Although vastly underused, the emergence of Chuck Norris as an ally of Ross’ is a welcome sight, especially when he reels off one of his legendary jokes. Oddly enough, Norris does not show off any of his world-renowned martial arts skills, choosing to silence his enemies by firearm (keep in mind the man is 72 years old). While Couture and Crews basically serve their purpose as group members, Lundgren steals some scenes in his expanded role of Gunner- the alcoholic Swede with a degree in chemical engineering.

As for the other two thirds of the Planet Hollywood trifecta, Schwarzenegger (while delivering some comical lines) is no longer jacked, almost seems out of place when firing a weapon, and his cheesy one liners derived from the Terminator series don’t have the same charm they did in 1991. It almost seems he is being paid homage to as opposed to taking him seriously in the role. Willis fires some weapons and offers his trademarked smirk on several occasions, but he and Schwarzenegger more than anything seem like complimentary side pieces in the grand scheme of the movie. Don’t get me wrong, it was neat to see all those action stars share some screen time together, but some of the cameos seemed forced at times.

Although clocking in at nearly the same time as its predecessor, The Expendables 2 was faster paced, and even could have been a tad bit longer. Although the humor in the film masks the violence level to make it seem toned down from the original Expendables, don’t be fooled- the blood and guts in both films are practically on the same level.

Overall, The Expendables 2  is a gratuitously violent, shoot ‘em up, testosterone filled, entertaining and humorous 102-minute action fest. But Stallone is really going to have to go back to the drawing board for the The Expendables 3 to really make it stand out.  

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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photo: expendablespremiere.com