The Expendables franchise is like a Make A Wish Foundation program for retiring gunslingers, a chance at a victory lap for a an aging generation of stars who once provided audiences with the finest macho entertainment steroids could buy. Any one of these guys would find it difficult to open a blockbuster with their fading star power today, but put them all together and it’s a like a Dirty Dozen for the Regan era to warm the hearts of fans who miss the old days and kids who discovered the joys of the dearly departed R-rated action blockbuster on DVD. It’s also of course a completely absurd concept ripe with intentional and unintentional comedy potential for a style of action flick that was laughed at even at the height of its popularity. The first Expendables movie was a hit, but also a mild disappointment because the whole project was taken surprisingly seriously. The Expendables 2 on the other hand is the hilarious concoction of misplaced masculinity and explosions we were all looking for last time. Some credit can go to director Simon West (the man who gave us the hysterical 90s action cartoon Con Air) and the rest must be given to the cast who put ego aside to give their fans the bulging muscle caricatures they want.

Photo credit: Frank Masi

Sylvester Stallone wisely gave up his director’s chair this time, but returns as actor and screenwriter. He brought the whole gang (Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Jet Li, Randy Courture, and Dolph Lundgren) back, beefed up Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis’ roles and then tossed in Jean Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris for good measure. This time out Willis’ government stooge assigns the team to retrieve a package containing the location of stolen nuclear material, but uh-oh Jean Claude Van Damme’s subtly name Vilain beat them there, kills the youngest, newest, and most expendable cast member, and takes the prize. Macho guys like this don’t take too kindly to personal attacks and humiliation though. Revenge is immanent. Asian action starlet Nan Yu pops up as a new partner/love interest for Stallone. However, Stallone’s true lovers in the movie are his action movie brothers and just when it seems like The Expendables have been beat, Bruce, Arnie, and Norris join the party to lay a smack down on Van Damme and save the day. You know, exactly what you’d expect and with even more evil stooge corpses piled up along the way.

Photo credit: Frank Masi

From an opening assault in the jungle to save a kidnapped Arnie, it’s clear this movie has a much lighter tone. Yes, there were one-liners last time. However, this time that’s pretty well all that is exchanged between the characters. No one on screen ever feels like a human being, they are life-sized action figures of their former selves and that’s a damn good thing. West and Stallone plot the film as a globe-trotting adventure with the team blowing up a South America jungle, European airport, a fake New York street used as a Russian battle testing ground, and anywhere else that would let them fire off a few thousand rounds of ammunition during the day. Every action scene is slick and on just the right side of absurdity, while every actor gets a moment to shine like the blood-soaked stars they are. Stallone battles Van Damme (who is never without shades or at least a flying split kick) and bosses around everyone else like a B-movie fanatic’s fantasy. Lundgren plays knowing self-parody. Courture and Crews make a case for their own two-man spin off project. Statham drops cockney slang and bodies like it’s his job (come to think of it, I guess it is). Chuck Norris embraces his ironic internet celebrity by spouting out Chuck Norris facts and performing like the legend he never was. Arnold and Bruce thankfully pop up for more than cameos this time and while the Governator can sound a little rusty, watching him and Willis trade off their classic one-liners is trash culture bliss. None of these guys will win Academy Awards of course, but you wouldn’t want them to. Embracing their cheesey stature is more than enough.

Make no mistake this is a big, dumb, loud, stupid movie featuring a cast at least a decade past their prime. It’s a guilty pleasure at best, but thankfully everyone involved knows it and plays that note hard. After all the dour and dreary shenanigans of The Dark Knight Rises, Total Recall, and The Bourne Ultimatum it’s actually refreshing to see an action movie that revels in all the trashy excesses of the genre. You’ll check your brain at the door and be glad you did. Whether or not the series should be extended to another chapter is a reasonable question. On one hand, it feels like they’ve found the tone that eluded the series last time and can endlessly repeat the tired action formulas with a winking sense of humor (especially with rumors swirling about the likes of Nicolas Cage and Clint Eastwood signing up for round 3). Yet at the same time, these guys aren’t getting any younger and it’s a fine line between knowing B-movie trash and straight up trash. This would be a nice final goodbye to popcorn-fueled mass murder for everyone involved. They wouldn’t leave with a classic on their hands, but then how many movies in their back collective catalogue actually deserve that status?

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