Two years ago, Sylvester Stallone brought us one of the most disappointing action movies in years, The Expendables, a movie promising us a reunion of our favorite 80’s action stars. It turned out to be a wildly absurd and already-dated movie featuring far too much Stallone and all but ignoring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. Without those two contributing anything beyond a quick cameo, the film relied on Dolph Lundgren to provide nostalgia (fail) and a deluge of bodies, bullets, and explosions. Walking out of the theater, we were mystified by the wasting of Arnie and Willis and wondered where the rest of the 80’s action stars were in a film promising just that. No Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, or even Tom Cruise, Kurt Russell, or Mel Gibson. So, when they announced a sequel was coming, I prepared for the same lack of real star power. Boy was I wrong.
The Expendables 2 succeeds in every place The Expendables fails. Not only were Schwarzenegger and Willis given more screen time and actual characters; they were given guns. And they used them – a lot. Between the two of them, they racked up somewhere in the neighborhood of two hundred bodies and the fun didn’t stop there. In what is probably the funniest scene in the film, Willis and Schwarzenegger turn a Smart Car into a death machine. Trust me – if you aren’t laughing during this scene, you’re dead inside.
Speaking of comedy, E2 makes a valiant attempt at incorporating humor where E1 didn’t even try. The problem is that most of the comedy comes in the form of cringe-inducing one-liners that fall flat on their face. Case in point: after rescuing Arnold from a hostage situation, Arnold asks Terry Crews for a giant gun. Crews hands it over growling “I better get that back or you’re terminated,” to which Arnold responds “In your dreams.” Yikes. There’s more, in the form of catch phrases uttered at the actors who said them twenty years ago and enough puns to employ an orchestra’s worth of rim shots. It literally hurts your soul to hear some of them.
Luckily, the film brings another comedic angle in the form of comic-book-style violence that induces genuine laughter simply through pure absurdity. In the opening act of the film, bodies fly, blood splatters everywhere, heads explode, while the good guys are plowing through Nepal at top speed in armored trucks mowing down everyone and everything with an unending supply of ammunition. They even bring down a helicopter by launching a motorcycle at it. It’s so preposterous that five minutes in you realize this movie is not going to take itself seriously – unlike its predecessor – and you can’t help but cackle in delight.
And just when you think they’ve made you happy enough to forget the first film, Chuck Norris appears. Chuck freaking Norris. From the previews, I knew he was in this film, but that just made the anticipation grow and the payoff even sweeter. He’s in two scenes in the film, both times mowing down dozens, if not hundreds, of bad guys and practically smiling as he does it. But nothing was better than Chuck Norris telling a Chuck Norris joke. If you aren’t familiar with those jokes, they all tell the same story – that Chuck Norris is awesome. For example, Chuck Norris counted to infinite…twice. That’s not the joke in the movie (I won’t spoil it for you), but it might just be the most clever bit of screenwriting this decade. If there was any doubt that this movie was light-hearted, that bit destroys it.
Almost as great as Chuck Norris’ appearance is the casting of Van Damme as the super-villain bent on selling nuclear weapons (that’s the whole plot). He’s so corny you actually root for him at times and applaud when he round-house kicks a gigantic dagger into a guy’s heart. I told you – preposterous.
Of course, I’m not saying this movie was flawless. Things happen that are just beyond the realm of physics and they repeat a mistake of the first film by under-using Jason Statham and Jet Li. Don’t get me wrong, they each get their one fight scene, but these two guys are awesome and deserve better than having to watch an ancient Stallone get the lion’s share of the action. They also error in the use of Liam Hemsworth, a sniper and new addition to the team, who is killed far too early when he should have been the difference maker in the climax. On the bright side, Mickey Rourke and his giant lips were mercifully left out of the film and Lundgren, Randy Couture, and Crews all take a back seat to the stars while killing their fair share of baddies. And when I say fair share, we’re talking a combined body count in hundreds, maybe even thousands. That – and Chuck Norris – will leave you with a smile on your face.
Rating: If you have five dollars and Chuck Norris has five dollars, Chuck Norris has more money than you.