As befits a throwback to the righteous-kill, Reagan-era action movie, The Expendables 2 begins with most of the male population of a Third World nation being evaporated into red dew by superior firepower. So resumes the machine-gun etiquette and repartee-- "Oh, shit," "Arggghhh," "Yeahhh," "Whoo-rah"-- of the titular soldiers of fortune, returning from Sylvester Stallone’s 2010 nostalgia victory lap. This time around, the Expendables (Stallone, Jason Statham, and assorted beef) cinch on their trusses to chase a Great Whatsit across Cold War–istan, and race against a dastardly, curiously made-up Jean-Claude Van Damme, who radiates an amusing aristocratic disdain. Director Simon West has previously shown a knack for brazenly overinflating action clichés until they giddily pop-- notably in 1997 classic-of-a-sort Con Air-- and his Expendables 2 does admittedly discover some ingenious new methods for disassembling the human form. But any glee is offset by the film’s weakness for mechanical self-reference, encompassing joyless one-liner nods to the assembled actors' filmographies and a knowing attitude toward the film’s Hall of Fame, cavalcade-of-cameos nature-- Chuck Norris and a windblown and slightly spooked Arnold Schwarzenegger pass through—making a sour joke of flaunting its outright cash-in cynicism (actual exchange: "Thanks for stopping by." "My pleasure"). Has the parallel between the actor and the mercenary's trade ever been so overt?
Simon WestSylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Terry Crews, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Liam Hemsworth, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce WillisDavid Agosto, Ken KaufmanAvi Lerner, Kevin King TempletonLionsgate