In this high-octane thriller, Mr. Church brings the Expendables back together for an easy job -- but things go wrong, and one of the mercenaries is brutally murdered. Now the band of hired guns goes on a mission of revenge in hostile territory.
I haven't seen the first one, so here's my best interpretation of who the Expendables are and what their deal is. We meet them in Nepal, invading some paramilitary base to bust out a kidnapped Chinese billionaire, who they push out of a plane over China (no time for visas) followed by Jet Li, who bids farewell to this star-spangled shitshow with grace and style. They are a group of hard men led by Barney Ross (Stallone), who travel the world killing hundreds and hundreds of people for money, generally because someone was paying them to be standing there holding a gun. Most of the group are old veterans, but they are accompanied by a fresh-faced sniper (Liam Hemsworth) whom they all admire for his steady hand and taut young ass. They all stand and stare at his ass in awe when he runs up a hill, I'm not kidding around. Basically they're all like, "He's too good for this world, he should get outta this business" so yeah, he has to die. I mean, it's the most telegraphed death ever -- from the Blu-Ray menu on. Dudes posing with guns: STALLONE. SCHWARZENEGGER. STATHAM. VAN DAMME. WILLIS. WAIT, WHAT IS THAT, IS THAT A PUPPY? WHAT'S HE DOING HERE? GO HOME PUPPY, THIS MOVIE ISN'T SAFE. They even establish that this is his one last job and then he's going to retire to Paris with his girl. Stop talking, Sniper Puppy, they'll find a way to kill you twice.
Anyway after killing all the kidnapper goons and blowing up bridges, smirking at each other like they were past-it rockstars putting on a Greatest Hits Medley, their celebration is interrupted by a grumpy CIA man (Bruce Willis) who wants them to do a make-good on some past botched job.They are to retrieve a hard drive that contains the plans to an old Soviet mine containing buried weapons-grade plutonium. They are ambushed by other mercenaries, led by I shit you not, his name is Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme). They have Sniper Puppy! Barney surrenders and gives up the hard drive! Vilain kills Sniper Puppy for no reason! and then the bad guys all laugh and pants the surviving Expendables and leave. So now It's Personal and the Expendables run all over a weirdly empty Bulgaria stealing trucks and holing up in other old Soviet military installations. Basically the timeline diverged in 1986* and history stopped. It has always been 1986, it will always be 1986, forever and ever, lasciate ogne speranza.
There's no point trying to critique this in any meaningful way. It'd be like arguing with an Internet troll; just to engage with it loses the fight. It's unapologetic, like a drunken frat boy you catch taking a shit in your yard. There's no point telling him that's vile, because he knows that already. He knows there will be no consequences. Sometimes I praise movies for being this unapologetic, when they have a real vision and focus on it relentlessly, but this… it's like they sat around a table coming up with the most macho scenarios, trying to top each other. They wrote down every hackneyed, predictable thing any of them had ever done or said in an over-the-top action movie and used it as a checklist. At least Statham insisted on a couple of ludicrous knife-fight scenes he could dig into.
When I'm watching something that's supposed to somehow be in the real world, or refer to real historical events, but does so in a way that diverges wildly from reality as we know it, I like to pretend the story is set in post-apocalyptic New Zealand. You know, like Xena, Warrior Princess. This lets me shut up about Xena fighting both Goliath and Julius Caesar, and just enjoy all the leather pants. I think in The Expendables 2 I've finally encountered a setting too ridiculous to be contained in far-future New Zealand or in anyplace on Earth at any time. There don't appear to be any functioning state actors, there are only good soldiers of fortune and bad soldiers of fortune. The good ones rescue people from small armies, presumably for money. The bad ones enslave whole towns full of meek Eastern Europeans to dig up plutonium to sell to other...who? Who in this world is there to buy weapons-grade plutonium, and what would they use it for? Destabilize something? The world appears to be in utter chaos as it is. Pure nihilism? That seems to be all that's left since this dark 1986 of the soul is a libertarian utopia, where money concentrates somehow, or maybe just grown in suitcases, and occasionally men kill hundreds of other men to slightly change its distribution. There's a CIA but that doesn't mean anything, they're practically their own country in this reality. The Expendables are constantly destroying or abandoning their own equipment, as if it is customary to constantly buy a new everything, a pure consumption economy.
I promised my therapist that I would veto further excursions into this franchise.
* In this timeline, George H W Bush retires and Oliver North is appointed President by Constitutional amendment. Co-President Chuck Norris manages the devolution of all federal agencies to private management. A grateful nation drinks itself to death.