Putting such a crazy-epic cast together should really be enough to make a good movie. And yet the past has shown that no matter how many famous faces you cram into a flick, it's just not sufficient. Remember the original Casino Royale? Yeah, that had Peter Sellers, Woody Allen and Orson Welles: terrible.
Mars Attacks! had a crazy-big cast but that was a good, fun movie. The Expendables, however, was not.
The first movie really was a missed opportunity to say the least. You had a cast that included Stallone, Statham, Rourke, Lundgren, Jet friggin' Li and yet what we got was an instantly forgettable mess. Now with The Expendables 2 we've got more Arnie, more Bruce Willis, a good bunch of newcomers (Van Damme, Norris), how could that movie be anything BUT awesomeness itself?
Well, frankly I have no idea but this sequel certainly isn't "awesomeness itself".
That said, I gotta admit it is better than the first film in that it at least gives us a decent bunch of badass scenes. Finally, everyone is given a proper moment to kick ass! You've got Jet Li beating up a bunch of dudes with frying pans, Arnie shooting a gun whose sound just kicks your balls in with every bullet, Chuck Norris taking out like 20 guys and a tank by himself, Statham as a knife-throwing priest, Stallone taking on Van Damme in a one-to-one man-fest. This is all great and I gotta admit the opening sequence is absolutely fantastic. THIS is what an Expendables movie should be: tons of cleverly mindless mayhem with the team showing up somewhere and blowing things up Team America-style.
Unfortunately, very soon after we are given our first taste of why The Expendables 2 isn't the classic we were hoping for. We're introduced to Billy, some bland, young army kid who became part of the team at some point... for some reason. I'm guessing they couldn't get Chris Hemsworth so they opted for his younger brother instead in order to at least get that last name on the posters and Thor the movie up a bit. A lot of time is spent/wasted on this guy while Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom we met randomly in the opening, takes a shit off-camera and Jet Li leaves the movie never to return again. Bruce Willis then shows up and dumps new character Maggie (played by Nan Yu) on us and sadly we realise she's here to stay, for the rest of the movie at least. Now I'm all for adding a cool gal to the Expendables team, someone like Lucy Liu or Milla Jovovich would have been great but Nan Yu is frankly terrible. This is honestly the worst performance in any Expendables movie, and that's saying a lot. She makes Lundgren and Van Damme look amazing acting-wise. Her character isn't fun, useful or developed and every scene she's in ends up being awkward and weird. A bad, very bad choice.
The rest of the film is patchy as hell with a paper-thin plot, tons of unnecessary CGI and grainy, dull visuals. What happened? Everything looked so good in that opening sequence, how come now every shot looks like ass?! Well I suppose that's what happens when you spend your entire budget on the cast and cheap-ass your way through the rest of the shoot. On top of that, Mickey Rourke's absence is never explained and Jet Li is greatly missed.
Chuck Norris shows up about halfway through in what is a bit of an anti-climactic appearance. It's a big build-up that works really well but a couple of bad jokes later, he's gone. Like he's got something better to do. He shows up again near the end but it seems like a bit of a ripoff to have all these guys together in one movie and only spending a couple of minutes with them at a time. Arnie seems to only be there to spout out references, even going as far as to say "Yippee Ki Yay". Funny, I didn't think Bruce Willis was meant to be John McClane in this movie, clearly I was wrong. The rest of the guys are pretty two dimensional with several "jokes" recycled from the first movie. Were Jason Statham's girlfriend and Randy Couture's ears really meant to be proper character traits? Wow. Thankfully, JCVD is at his hammiest and gives a decidedly fun Nic Cage-style performance throughout. You don't see much of him but when you do, he's great. The final fight between him and Stallone should have have been mind-blowingly joygasmic but as it stands it's indeed very cool but also a bit anti-climactic.
Overall, The Expendables 2 is certainly an improvement on the first film in that it understands at least what makes a cool moment and that in order to enjoy the action on screen you need to actually be able to see it. Van Damme doesn't disappoint and it's good to see a bit more of Arnie and Willis in action. But we could have done without new entries Liam Hemsworth and Nan Yu who just seem to be in the way and a better story/more character development would have been nice. The Expendables don't really feel like a team a lot of the time, they're much too scattered. Which is why the opening scene alone is worth the price of admission: it's the only real moment where you feel these guys are working together and having a ball.
Uneven, with short flashes of badassness.