Old Guys Rule!
By Carl Kozlowski
Anyone who enjoyed action films in the 1980s—perhaps the last great era of truly macho American heroes—often fantasized about what it would be like to have stars like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis share the screen in the same movie. But back then, a large part of those stars’ reputations were built on the idea that each could save the day on his own, without needing any help from the others.
As a result, the only thing those three stars teamed up for was to create the now-collapsed Planet Hollywood chain of movie-themed restaurants. But two years ago, riding a comeback in which he expertly revived his iconic Rocky and Rambo characters for new hit films, Stallone finally brought the titanic triumvirate together onscreen for the first time in the hit movie The Expendables.
Alas, although that film as a whole was entertaining due to the casting of other action stars, such as Jason Statham and Jet Li as a team of rogue yet heroic mercenaries, it still disappointed fans to a degree by only using Schwarzenegger and Willis in dialogue-driven cameos, and by leaving out fellow ’80s action heroes Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude van Damme altogether. With the new follow-up film The Expendables 2, Stallone has fully and gloriously delivered an action-movie lover’s dream come true.
Now fully released from his gubernatorial shackles, Schwarzenegger has a much larger role and gets to pump plenty of machine-gun fire into countless cartoon baddies. Willis also goes full bore on this one, offering plenty of wisecracks and engaging in scenes that poke hilarious fun at his and the others’ invincible images, including one fantastic scene in which he and Arnie squeeze themselves into a Smartcar before unleashing machine-gun-driven devastation across an airport’s interior.
Norris and van Damme are here, too, with roles that co-writers Stallone and Richard Wenk expertly crafted for them. Norris plays a ridiculously skilled mercenary who saves the entire team of Expendables all by himself in one key scene, while van Damme is hilariously yet intentionally over-the-top as Jean Vilain (yes, as in “villain”) leader of an evil gang hoping to gain access to tons of weapons-grade plutonium abandoned by the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War.
The fact that Vilain is using a helpless village’s population, including women and children, for his nefarious mining interests only adds to the plot’s classic action hero sentiment “We’ve gotta save these people.” And after Vilain viciously kills the Expendables’ youngest member, Stallone and the gang really want to wipe out the bad guys.
From its incredible opening, filled with every imaginable kind of fighting, weaponry and one-liner known to man, through its utterly brilliant casting and surprisingly witty screenplay, The Expendables 2 is a top-notch action classic that should do monster business both here in America and worldwide.
It is almost relentlessly violent, but in a non-stop, videogame style that’s impossible to take seriously. And its inside-joke one-liners are exactly the kind of lines action fans have been waiting 30 years to hear.
Clearly this is a labor of love and a genuine display of real-life, off-screen friendships among its stars paying off onscreen. Director Simon West (Con Air) raises everyone to a higher level of commitment, excitement and best of all, entertainment.