Review: The Expendables 2

(MA15+) ***

Director: Simon West.

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Yu Nan, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Liam Hemsworth, Jet Li, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris.

JUST look at that cast. In the '80s it would have been an action movie producers wet dream - Stallone, Lundgren, Willis, Van Damme, Schwarzenegger, and Norris, together at last.

In the '10s it's a novelty and a gag. All those washed-up action stars and wrestlers with elocution issues in the one film, long after their glory days - it's a joke, right?

Yes, it is a joke, but it's an hilariously awesome one, where Arnie, Sly and Bruce reference their old one-liners, Norris guns down entire platoons single-handedly, and everyone tries to out-quip, out-grunt, and out-bicep each other.

But isn't this just the same joke from two years ago in the first film?

Yes it is, but this time it's funnier and has more Arnie and Bruce. And it's got Chuck Norris in it, who is the very definition of "hilariously awesome".

The largely irrelevant plot sees The Expendables travelling to Albania on the trail of stolen plutonium. In their way is the ruthless bad guy Vilain (see what they did there?), played by Van Damme, whose roundhouse kick is still as sharp as ever.

The ever-expanding Expendable line-up has some minuses but plenty of pluses. Unfortunately we get less of Li (the best fighter in the film) and not much of new guy Hemsworth (the most interesting character), but we get a lot more of Schwarzenegger and Willis, who share a suitably insane scene in which they drive a tiny car through an airport while blazing away on machine guns.

Norris' cameos are short-lived but gold, even including a reference to the Chuck facts that have filled the internet, while JCVD proves to be a wonderfully flamboyant villain, err, sorry, Vilain.

The addition of Yu Nan as a token female role is underplayed, and there is a lack of follow-up to Lundgren's character's actions in the first film, but we're not here for character development or to dwell on any thematic ideas. We're here for a ridiculously high body count and to remember the glory days of the '80s, when Rambo, John McLane and The Terminator were the zenith of action icons.

The Expendables 2 delivers by the truckload. It's laugh out loud funny, even in spite of how groan-worthy it is to hear Bruce and Arnie riffing on their old catchphrases. And it probably shouldn't be hilarious to see so many nameless baddies blown apart in a barrage of computer-generated blood spatters and enough explosives to sink a small island nation. But it is because we haven't seen this kind of movie for almost two decades and it has become funny in an artistically out-dated way.

This sequel is better than its predecessor because it's aware of the first film's shortcomings, particular the physical and dramatic limitations of its veteran cast, and hits its emotional notes better, without getting in the way of the massive action scenes. We care enough about the characters to care that they get out of the way of the explosions (unlike, say, in Battleship, where you just don't care).

The Expendables 2 was never going to be a great film, but it's undoubtedly great at what it does. And that's blow stuff up, '80s style.

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