The Expendables 2 ★★★★

The first Expendables film had the novelty factor going for it, which made many of its sins more easily forgivable – whether they were technical or acting and plot trouble, it was easy to throw up your arms and say “what the hell.”

“The Expendables 2” really needed to up the ante in the credibility department to work and at points it delivers, while occasionally it slips back into slightly too goofy territory. The opening is awesome – the way its shot makes it feel more real-deal combat than the climax of the first film. Jet Li’s role is heavily reduced in this movie, but he’s great in very limited screen time.

The problem comes in a meandering second act where not much of anything happens. Long conversations and set-ups for one-liners get a little tired. And everything with Chuck Norris is a bit awkward. His introduction is weak, the Morricone theme doesn’t work (really should’ve used something else) and in all of his scenes he shows his signature lack of charisma – I suppose that kind of added a so-bad-its-good thing to his delivery of a Chuck Norris meme. The theme was even worse at the climax because it cut into an awesome moment.

The worst thing about the Norris stuff and a drawn out middle section of the film was the lack of Van Damme. He kinda rules in this (knife kick into the chest = amazing) in the few scenes he has, but unfortunately he isn’t given a lot to do. And though the set-up of the final showdown is a bit clunky, watching the puncher Rocky vs. the leaping roundhouse Kickboxer was pretty sweet. I also liked that he had a second in command destined for a fight with Statham – the only thing missing there was an early scene to properly establish his badassery.

It was also exciting to see Sly, Arnie and Bruce actually kicking ass side-by-side. The teen in me was thrilled until every time Arnie opened his mouth – he approaches Chuck Norris levels of magnetism here. When signature one-liners are traded one (kinda) works and the second does not. Nothing was enough to derail the fun times though and the good outweighs the bad.

It’s not like we’re trying to learn anything here, but I did pick up something useful. If you are raiding an underground mine that contains (a) slave laborers you are trying to rescue and (b) plutonium, your first and best course of action is to crash a plane into it.

Warts and all, I was still entertained.