"What's the plan?"
"Track 'em, find 'em, kill 'em."
You bet! It's no big secret that I hated The Expendables. I called it the worst film of 2010 and an early front-runner for worst film of the decade. Just about the best thing I can say about The Expendables 2 is that it's not as bad as the first one. That's about as high praise as I can muster. The main issue is that these films aim too low. Rather than actually trying to make a good movie or even one that's over-the-top ridiculously, knowingly bad, they're just rehashing stupid plot elements from the movies that made them famous in the first place. These weren't good movies, so haphazardly ripping them off just compounds how bad it all is.
Even worse than the mindless action scenes are the handful of scenes where these meatheads just sit around shooting the shit. The only thing worse than over-the-hill lugs running around killing people indiscriminately, is watching the same dolts try and convincingly establish their characters through rapport. Things also just seem to happen with no explanation whatsoever. I'm not asking for big, long explanations for things like how they manage to land their plane and instantly find trucks to ride around in, but a passing explanation or line of dialogue could go a long way toward making everything about this movie less asinine.
The "plot" concerns Stallone's group of mercenaries for hire being sent by Bruce Willis to retrieve some sort of device from Russia that reveals the underground location of plutonium stores. A wrench is thrown into their plan when Jean Claude Van Damme shows up, steals it, and kills one of their own. Now their mission is to retrieve the device, and get their revenge. Chuck Norris even shows up to dish out some exposition and tell one of those hilarious Chuck Norris jokes that were all the rage in the time between his relevance and this movie.
I could spend time dissecting the major issues with the film like the thoroughly misguided soundtrack choices like "Crystal Blue Persuasion" & "Groovin," but it's more fun to nitpick all the stupid little shit that piled up faster than the plot holes. Let's start with Stallone's mustache. It is, unquestionably, the most unflattering piece of facial hair ever out on film. He had a Van Dyke in the first film, not sure why he didn't keep that. The mustache makes him look simultaneously ridiculous and his own age. There's also a scene where Stallone puts on a helmet before he gets on his chopper. I'm only willing to suspend my disbelief so far in movies like this.
The biggest issue I had by far, is that any time they go for a laugh, it falls short. There are tons of unintentionally funny things like VanDamme kicking a knife into the Kid's chest or Stallone reading the Kid's love letter to his girlfriend at the funeral rather than saying anything meaningful about him. Referring to the characters by other characters that they've played (i.e. Terminator or Rambo) is not funny. It muddles things up too much by creating a world where those movies exist within this world, and it becomes so mind-boggling that I don't know what's clever about it. It's lazy. Last Action Hero did this joke so much better when they superimposed Stallone's head on Schwarzennegar's body on the T2 poster. That's a joke that makes sense. None of these jokes in this movie made any sense.
Am I reading into all of this too much? Probably. Shouldn't I have just sat back and had fun? Yeah, sure, I guess, but the problem is that the movie doesn't establish a tone that lets me comfortably know that these guys are in on the joke. It bounces from deadpan "jokes" to dead serious action scenes to ridiculously over-the-top action scenes to meatheads monologuing about how tough life can be. It's all over the god damned map. VanDamme is, sadly, the only one that comes close to acquitting himself. Ever since his fantastically self-aware performance in JCVD a few years ago, I've gained a newfound respect for him, and he's the only one in this movie that seems to be striking the right balance between how ridiculous it all is and how much he's enjoying all the nonsense.
Because lowest common denominator entertainment like this continues to be highly lucrative, there's no hope that the films will get better with further sequels. Even the promise of adding Nicolas Cage to the series for the next installment fills me with dread because he'll likely be the only one having any real fun. Everyone else just needs to drop the self-serious bullshit and lighten up. These movies could be a lot of fun if they were consistent in tone. As they stand now, they're nothing but two hours of aging lunkheads proving why they faded from relevance in the first place. I shouldn't have to continue paying to watch these guys die.