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Film Review: The Expendables 2 has energy to spare

Some cast changes, a healthy dose of self-depreciation and a little good ol' bare-knuckle fighting have The Expendables 2 outshining the original.

From left, Yu Nan, Terry Crews, Sylvester Stallone, Randy Couture and Dolph Lundgren in a scene from The Expendables 2. Lionsgate-Millennium Films / Frank Masi / AP Photo
From left, Yu Nan, Terry Crews, Sylvester Stallone, Randy Couture and Dolph Lundgren in a scene from The Expendables 2. Lionsgate-Millennium Films / Frank Masi / AP Photo

The Expendables 2
Director: Simon West
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Liam Hemsworth
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After the wasted opportunity that was The Expendables, Sylvester Stallone made the wise decision to hand over the sequel's directing duties to Simon West, best known for directing Con Air.

This let Stallone concentrate on his acting: he returns as Barney Ross, who heads up a team of good-guy mercenaries on a mission to rescue a kidnapped Chinese billionaire in Nepal. Cue an all-action, guns-blazing opening sequence.

The good news is that Stallone's Planet Hollywood cohorts, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, have been supersized and given full-bodied roles after their scene-stealing cameos in the first film. It's one big back-smacking celebration of the 1980s and, in the case of Jason Statham, 1990s action movies, as the actors spout dialogue that pokes fun at their heyday personas with little emphasis on pushing the wafer-thin plot forward. The philosophy is that every explosion is worth a thousand words. The pleasure of pastiche movies comes mostly from having good knowledge of the source material that is being sent up and, as such, fans of 1980s movies such as Rambo, The Terminator and Die Hard will take the most pleasure in this.

Some of the cast has been changed this time around and mostly for the better. While Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture and Terry Crewes all reappear, Jet Li has been jettisoned in favour of Yu Nan. Yes, a woman has been allowed to join the boys club, and this throws the group slightly off-kilter, but the advantage is that there is a little side story as Stallone finds himself aping his Rocky persona as a hard man with a soft romantic core. Meanwhile, Liam Hemsworth is given a berth as an expert sniper and Afghanistan war veteran.

The big improvement, though, comes in the form of the muscles from Brussels. Jean-Claude Van Damme plays the villain of the piece who is suitably named Villain (subtlety is not in the DNA of this franchise). Villain is the head of a European crime cartel that has stolen a device which can be used to destroy the world. Van Damme continues his fine run of recent form, and the best action sequence sees him have fisticuffs with Stallone. Which leads to the question: why all the big explosions when bare-knuckle action is this good?

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