By far the best scene in Expendables 2 is when Dolph Lundgren kicks a bad guy in the face off a balcony, casually shouting “Goodbye!” in the process. It’s an utterly ridiculous and over the top moment that caused me to burst out laughing, and it’s exactly what the movie needed more of.
The intentions of the movie are relatively clear: to be the ultimate action flick by cramming in all those actors you used to like in all those movies you used to like decades ago, mixed in with a dash of more recent talent for good measure. The posters and marketing for the movie boldly proclaims who to expect (Willis! Schwarzenegger! Li!) and yet not a single frame of the movie shows all the actors together.
This movie does have a very loose and tired plot, but the plot is irrelevant, because you’re here to watch old people mow down entire armies with very large guns. Here’s the thing: it doesn’t really work. There are only really two big action set pieces in the movie - one at the beginning and one at the end, with brief flirtations in between - and thanks to janky editing and pacing, they feel rushed. The director is so intent to make sure he fits all his eye candy moments in that he doesn’t give the audience any time to savour the action, and the use of bad CGI ultimately that nothing has any impact.
Characters disappear and reappear at random. Jet Li is in the film for approximately four minutes at the beginning before leaving and never coming back, yet has third billing, according to IMDB.
Chris Liam Hemsworth is set up to be a disgustingly likeable hero: he left the Army because they shot his dog (seriously), he can run up hills really fast, and he’s a pretty good sniper to boot. He’s dispatched during the first act in order to set up some sort of half baked revenge plot for Stallone. Some terrible dialogue is muttered at his funeral (“Why is it that the good people who deserve to live die, but the bad people who deserve to die live?”, or words to that effect.)
Crews and Couture have maybe one or two lines in the movie. They’re mainly there to shoot people. Chuck Norris shows up for around three minutes to shoot people too. He makes a Chuck Norris joke because he’s Chuck Norris, and we’re supposed to laugh, but we don’t, because that meme died years ago. Bruce and Arnold share a particularly cringe worthy exchange. At least they get to shoot people out of a moving SMART car for a couple of seconds.
The only two people who are having any fun in the movie are Lundgren and Van Damme. Van Damme is clearly enjoying playing the bad guy, hamming it up with insane body language and gestures while wearing wraparound sunglasses and a leather coat in just about every scene. Lundgren clearly realizes that this isn’t a movie to be taken seriously, and also recognizes that people think he’s a bit weird, playing to his strengths and getting a few laughs in the process.
All the other actors in the movie are unsure of how to play things out, resulting in a tone that’s neither worthy of a good or bad-good action movie. Stallone in particular looks fairly bored throughout the whole affair. His extremely dodgy mustache gives a great performance, at least. The only time he really lights up is during his exchanges with Statham, but let’s face it: they’re both going through the motions.
My expectations for the Expendables 2 were low, and yet I still left disappointed. Ultimately, the problem is that it has no charm. It's a movie designed to tick all the boxes on a financial sheet (famous action stars, explosions, more explosions), without any passion involved in the film making process by just about... well, anyone. I don’t want something of this calibre to be a good movie, but I do want it to be entertaining, and the film just doesn't provide nearly enough entertainment.