The Expendables 2 ★★★½

My biggest issue with the first Expendables movie was that with such an incredible cast of action legends past and present, it didn't hold true to the over-the-top, comically violent action cinema it was trying to evoke nostalgia for. The Expendables 2, I'm glad to say, sees Sylvester Stallone finally realise that - and while his sequel don't get me wrong suffers all the same creative issues as the first, it's triple the fun across the board. If you loved the films Stallone, Arnie, Willis, Norris et al... became famous for, there is no way you won't spend most of this with a broad, beaming smile.

Stallone wisely ejects too much of the cod-philosophising he infused the first film with in exchange for a one-liner here or explosion there, though he can't resist monosyllabic moments of emotion (seriously, he talks like a drunk pugilist increasingly) and these are the points the piece does drag, plodding between action moments. Equally, his script has absolutely no sense of internal logic - characters come and go with little sense, people like Norris and Schwarzenegger cruising in and out of the story bafflingly (if it were anyone else, we wouldn't let them get away with it) while of the main players, poor Jet Li is relegated to a cameo and Randy Couture might as well have stayed at home for all he gets to do - and poor Liam 'redshirt' Hemsworth is saddled with the most shockingly unintentionally hilarious monologue of the year. Plus, I'm sad to say, Jean Claude van Damme is a really naff 'vilain' - even more 2D than his own cadre of action heroes who ends up in an underwhelming and unsettlingly homoerotic final battle with Stallone; he's a weak link. So as you'd expect - plot, characterisation, script, acting, they all stink (though the usually poor Simon West directs well, letting his cast breathe - mind you, Stallone probably was the REAL director). But... and you knew there was a but... it's such a laugh you mostly won't care about how crap it creatively is. It's in on the joke this time around and everyone (scene stealing Dolph Lundgren especially, a man with an unexpected gift of comic timing) is so obviously having a blast, you can feel it on screen (Arnie especially - he has some wonderfully iconic pop culture lines and moments). When Chuck Norris showed up in cool style, the whole cinema cheered - you can't put a price on that.

A sequel then, thankfully, that gave me exactly what the first movie didn't: a sense of understanding just how daft the whole thing is. The Expendables 2 is riven with bad dialogue, iffy plotting and monosyllabic acting but the sight of most of the greatest action legends of the last 30 years fighting side by side, and doing it with a self-referential smile on their face, is about as much Saturday night fun as you can get from a movie. Switch off your brain and bloody well enjoy.

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