Expendable?… Perhaps.

Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone, left), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham, center) and Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) star in”The Expendables.” (Courtesy of Frank Masi/MCT)

By John Krepelka

The sequel to the 2010 summer action spectacle of the same name, The Expendables 2, which premiered August 17, promised fans of the genre a film which was bigger and bolder than its critically-maligned predecessor. With a more diverse cast, and larger set-pieces, The Expendables 2 largely succeeds in this regard, but familiar issues of plot development and characterization ultimately prevent the film from ever transcending the genre to which it belongs.

Directed by Simon West, and taking place an unspecified amount of time after the events of the first film, The Expendables 2 reunites the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, and Terry Crews as the titular team of mercenaries, who are this time joined by master marksman Billy the Kid (The Hunger Games’ Liam Hemsworth) and enigmatic CIA agent Maggie (Yu Nan, in the only significant female role in the film).
Reprising their roles from the previous film in extended cameos are Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, alongside franchise newcomer Chuck Norris, deliver some of the film’s most memorable lines, many of which are variations on classic action-movie one-liners. The film’s cast is rounded out by genre-veteran Jean-Claude Van Damme, as Jean Vilain, the film’s primary antagonist, a terrorist determined to manipulate stockpiles of weapons-grade plutonium as a means of shifting the balance of world power.

As may be suggested by the abundance of well-known actors attached to the film, The Expendables 2 is, on a fundamental level, a homage to the action movies of the 1980’s and late 1990’s. It is unfortunate then, that the film is plagued by many of the same problems inherent to the very genre to which it seeks to pay tribute. Principal among these flaws is the relatively shallow level of characterization, something made all-too apparent by the fact that each of the characters is nearly identical in personality, and, if not for the all-too-recognizable actors portraying them, would be nearly indistinguishable from one another.

Compounding these issues is the film’s relatively thin plot, which fails to deviate from the traditional formula of tracking and confronting the antagonist before his plans can be brought to fruition, a fact which may draw ire from filmgoers accustomed to more intellectually-stimulating blockbusters such as this summer’s The Dark Knight Rises.

Despite its notable flaws, The Expendables 2 does serve as a kind of testosterone-soaked form of escapism, and will likely come to be regarded as a classic by fans of the action genre, if not for the merits of the film itself, then merely out of an appreciation for the fact that the film serves to unite so many Hollywood icons within a single motion picture. For these individuals, the film’s cast list is likely more than enough to justify the price of admission. The experience of the majority of the film-going populace; however, is likely to be that the film, like an ill-primed explosive, fizzles, rather than bangs. Two and a half out of five paws.