Sadly the elements that prevented the first film from being anything more than a diverting action film are ramped up resulting in a film that makes you feel dumber as it goes on.
The plot as far as I could tell finds the wonderfully monikered crew (Hail Caesar, Toll Road, Lee Christmas, Gunnar Jensen and erm… Barney Ross) destroying half of an Asian country and encountering Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cameo on the way whilst being accompanied by the new recruit and sniper Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth). Once back in civilisation they find themselves goaded into a mission to retrieve a briefcase from a country which I think was somewhere between Russia and China, by Bruce Willis. The briefcase contains the location of a plutonium mine which in the wrong hands will lead to a crisis of immensely muscular proportions.
Jean-Claude Van Damme shows up playing an evil French-Russian mercenary and gives the team a reason to seek vengeance before making off with the briefcase. You can tell Van Damme is evil because he wears sunglasses all the time and has a special move which consists of kicking a knife into your heart. The crew go into the eastern European wilderness and find a town where Van Damme is using all the men folk to mine the plutonium which means that Bruce Willis is seriously mis-informed for a CIA honcho. Chuck Norris turns up because the plot needs a contrivance when things look bad for our heroes, as does Arnie…again.
At the start hopes were high. One of the major flaws of the first film was the confusing decision to film all of the action scenes in mid close up when they really should have pulled back. Here West does pull back allowing the scenes to unfold clearly in majestic wide angles. Jet Li is allowed a bonanza fight sequence with some frying pans but then wisely exits for the rest of the film.
In this first scene the violence is ramped up and heads are exploding everywhere and there is an impressive bridge explosion. It seems most of the budget went on this though as it never gets this good again. The film meanders with the awful dialogue mumbled and mangled through various thick accents and wooden deliveries. Most annoying and flawed is the screenplay which is truly by numbers this time out. The screenplay (credited to about three writers) is simply contrivances and unlikely turns of events so that they can shoehorn in Chuck Norris in a self-referential cameo which stops the movie dead.
When the characters try to emote it’s laughable and there is nothing like the touching Mickey Rourke monologue from the first film. Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis are also given more to do resulting in Arnie doing a riff on his ‘I’ll be back’ catchphrase about nine times each more groan inducing than the last. I’m not sure when it happened exactly and it could be because of his prolonged absence from the cinema but Schwarzenegger seems to be revered as some kind of thesp of the modern age, people are going to learn that shock horror, he really isn’t that great and sadly here he completely parodies his image and it’s embarrassing.
When your film has the best performance given by Jean-Claude Van Damme and he makes everyone else look bad then it’s time for an agonising re-appraisal of the whole franchise. This should be the end of this smug, shallow franchise but sadly Nicolas Cage is rumoured for part three, and he will do ANYTHING for money. This is the dreck that the first film threatened to be when ageing action stars think it’s enough to just show up. The Expendables 2 might be the best film you ever see after 15 beers and some Jagerbombs but anyone looking for depth, nuance and plot should steer well clear.