The Expendables 2 is a shot to the arm of pure, silly action-movie fun, and it stars so many heavy hitters it might break your brain to keep up with what's happening onscreen at various points during its slim 103-minute run time. Sylvester Stallone has obviously worked to hone the chemistry of this particular team-up, as the sequel fires on more cylinders than the first one's engine could handle. This time, Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, and Jet Li are given more individual moments to shine alongside Sly, as are glorified guest stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and, yes, Chuck Norris. The icing on the cinematic cake comes in the form of Jean-Claude Van Damme, who hits a home run with his villainous character, Jean Vilain (get it?). Knowingly funny, yet still a little clunky, Expendables 2 is B-movie glee made by past-their-prime A-listers -- and anyone who knows what to expect will undoubtedly have a blast.
This time, the mission for Stallone's ragtag group of mercenaries is to recover a secret box from a crashed airplane. Along for the ride is Maggie (Yu Nan), a military-trained soldier who throws a gendered wrench into the team's manly ranks. Cue Van Damme, who defeats a new member of the team and runs off with the mysterious box. From then on, it's hunt and kill for the crew, who are aided time and again by their liaison (Willis) and fellow mercenaries played by Schwarzenegger and Norris. Thousands of rounds of ammo are shot, along with bazookas and plane cannons, while a whole lot of bad guys explode in a cartoonish fountain of blood similar to the ending massacre in Stallone's fourth Rambo film.
The movie has a lot for red-blooded audiences to chew on: Arnold blows away endless amounts of villain fodder with a giant thumping gun, Couture throws dudes around, Lundgren acts like a Frankenstein beast of a brawler, and Statham gets a fine moment in the spotlight with a fight in a church. Even Jet Li (underused in the first film) gets a kick-butt hand-to-hand (and cooking-pan-to-face) fight, expertly directed by Simon West (not usually known for being the tightest helmer in town). He wisely widens the lens and lets the audience see what's happening, with hardly any in-camera or post-production shaking added to the picture -- a definite improvement over the last film. The sequel raises the humor ante as well, with Terry Crews leading the pack in an amped-up role sure to tickle anyone who takes pleasure in this muscled genius' comedy style.
For everything it gets right, the sequel can't help but stumble a bit. The few times the movie slows down, it's a noticeable drag. Much of the humor errs on the obviously corny side, but if you are wooed by the picture's mix of Cannon Films-style mayhem and Hollywood nostalgia, you'll most likely end up laughing along with it. Stallone has effectively raised his own bar for the geriatric team-up, yet it still feels like there are more milestones to hit. The Expendables 2 is not perfect by any normal rubric, but it more than makes up for it in delirious charm and macho gusto. For now, that is more than enough. Oh, and Van Damme is just fantastic as Vilain. He really gives it his all in a performance that must make him proud. Along with the rest of the celebrated cast, we, the action-movie crowd, salute you!