Barney Ross is back on the big screen, and maybe he’s even tougher than he was two years ago when he led a group of mercenaries on a dangerous mission to an island in Latin America. Of course fans of action films know that Barney Ross is the creation of the iconic Sylvester Stallone, and the character made his debut in “The Expendables,” which earned tons of money at the box office.
Like its predecessor, “The Expendables 2” has enjoyed huge popularity since its opening several weeks ago, and the buzz is that a third film in the series is already in the works. Obviously the action film genre is alive and well, and people will flock to see such films especially when they boast an ensemble cast that includes, in addition to Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
As the film opens, we find Barney and his team in Nepal, where they have been dispatched to free a captured Chinese businessman. Accompanying Barney on the mission are the following specialists: Lee Christmas (Statham), blades; Yin Yang (Li), martial arts; Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), weapons; Toll Road (Randy Couture), demolitions; Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth), sniper; and Gunner Jensen (Lundgren), muscle.
As you would expect, this small army safely rescues the businessman and sends him back on his way to China with Yang, and it also frees a mercenary named Trench (Schwarzenegger), who turns out to be one of Barney’s arch enemies.
When the team arrives back in the United States, it receives its next assignment from Mr. Church (Willis), a CIA agent. This time the objective is to obtain an item from the safe of an airplane that was gunned down in Albania. Accompanying Ross and his group this time is Maggie (Yu Nan), a safecracker with an attitude.
After obtaining the mysterious item from the safe, Ross and his team are ambushed by a group known as Sangs led by a nasty fellow appropriately named Vilain (Van Damme). Without revealing too much more here, let’s just say that Vilain forces Ross to turn over the precious treasure from the safe, which turns out to be related to a secret stash of plutonium that Vilain plans to sell. Before he leaves, however, Vilain does something that enrages Ross, who vows he will track him down and exact revenge.
Of course the main reason turn out in droves for films like this one is to see plenty of hardcore action, and they shouldn’t be disappointed because there are very few lulls among the battles and explosions. In a summer that has been dominated by superheroes, the makers of “The Expendables 2” have dedicated themselves to bringing back the more traditional action film.
“For ‘The Expendables 2,’ we’ve pulled together the most phenomenal action-adventure cast that I’ve ever been involved with,” Stallone said in the film’s production notes. “We are bringing back that old time rock ‘n roll, and giving audiences what that they haven’t seen for a while: visceral, true-to-life action.”
Producer Kevin King-Templeton (“Rambo”) concurs with Stallone.
“The Expendables are about classic, straight-up action. It goes back to a day when everything was done right in front of the camera. There are real car crashes, real fight scenes and real mayhem. No phony muscle suits or body enhancements needed. This is the real deal. I think the audience appreciates that it’s all done without CGI tricks. To have Stallone, Bruce, Arnold, Van Damme, Norris and more all fighting, shooting and bringing their own spin to this highly choreographed action – it’s really an action lover’s dream come true.”
It’s certainly no secret that the stars of this movie aren’t really young men anymore, but this film shows that some things never change with these guys. For example, at the age of 72 Norris can’t act any better than he did when he was portraying Col. James Braddock back in the 1980s, and good old Arnold at 65 doesn’t talk any clearer than he ever did.
However, Stallone at the ripe young age of 66, proves in this film that he can still kick some serious ass. The highlight of the movie for me was the climactic fight between the characters portrayed by Stallone and Van Damme. This battle is terrifically choreographed, and it makes the two lame fight scenes between Batman and Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises” look as pathetic as they really are. In the production notes King-Templeton noted what made this fight scene so special.
“Jean-Claude Van Damme and Sly Stallone in the same fight scene? I think audiences have been waiting for that for 30 years. This movie has almost every gun ever made in it and every explosion you could imagine. But at the end we wanted to have Sly and Jean-Claude get together for a classic hand-to-hand battle. All the technology is gone. All the hardware is gone. It’s just the two guys going at it.”
In order for this fight to happen, Van Damme had to be cast in the role of the bad guy, and as Stallone pointed out in the production notes, this is something new for him.
“People have never seen him like this before. Usually he plays heroes and I think people will be quite surprised by Vilain – who is fearlessly hell-bent on destroying us despite the risk of self-destruction. He’s willing to die and eventually when Vilain and Barney meet one-on-one, it ends up being a hellacious battle until the very end. It’s kind of like a heavyweight championship fight that you never thought would happen.”
In addition to the great fight scene at the end, the film also provides plenty of action sequences filled with impressive pyrotechnics for those who like explosions. I could do without them, but I know lots of action fans love to watch things being blown to smithereens.
However, the main problem with a film that has so many huge stars in the cast is that some of them will not get as much time on the screen as others. For example, I was disappointed that Jet Li’s part was so abbreviated because I really enjoy watching a good martial artist. But even though Lee’s time on the screen was short, it was a lot of fun because of what he does with a frying pan.
No matter how small or large their respective parts were, however, all of the stars of “The Expendables 2” (Give it a final score of seven because of all the great action legends in it.) threw themselves wholeheartedly into their roles. And because of this, when the filmmakers cast the third movie in the series, I can’t think of any them who would be expendable.