If I could sum up The Expendables 2 in just three words, it would be “No Girls Allowed.” In this modern age of ours, women are as likely as anyone to get caught up in campy macho displays and even thoroughly unnecessary explosions, but that’s not the way The Expendables 2 sees it. In The Expendables 2 women are mistrusted, unwanted distractions from the more pressing matters of life – war, obviously – and those few double-x chromosome creatures who are allowed onto the battlefield are either masculine stereotypes in disguise or a whole village of victims most readily identified by their inability to hit giant military vehicles with a machine gun. In that latter case, we are actually speaking literally.
I am not without a sense of humor, and neither is The Expendables 2. The film’s casual sexism is all part of Sylvester Stallone and Simon West’s joke. If you told me that there was an alternate ending which reveals that this whole movie was just the daydream of little pre-pubescent boys playing with action figures in a mud hole, I would believe you. There’s a childish charm about this new film that was absent from Stallone’s unnecessarily melancholy original Expendables, and a clarity to its pervasive action sequences that makes the experience, on the whole, infinitely more pleasurable than before. But make no mistake: this is a movie about boys with toys, and like all little boys, the makers of The Expendables 2 have a lot of growing up to do.
The Expendables 2 begins with a rescue sequence that re-establishes the heroes of the original film, who include such action luminaries as Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and Jet Li, as well as a handful of slightly more questionable members of the action pantheon, Terry Crews and Randy Couture. The action in this opening vignette is the kind of utter nonsense that has to be commended. The so-called “Expendables” are the kind of mercenaries who bring a motorcycle to a firefight for no other reason than to fling it at helicopters, and who have recently hired a new recruit, “The Kid,” played by Liam Hemsworth, who is –literally – a rookie with one day to retirement. The common fruit fly has a longer life expectancy, especially when Jean-Claude Van Damme is on the loose.
Bruce Willis returns as the mysterious “Mr. Church,” and he’s got a mission for the Expendables that he claims is payback for the disastrous events of the previous film, even though it’s supposed to be a cakewalk. The unexpected arrival of the villainous Van Damme, playing a character literally named “Vilain,” finds Stallone’s team of hard-asses – and a woman, if you can believe it (they can’t) – on a spontaneous mission of revenge, even though they’re all supposedly expendable, that just so happens to place them on the frontlines of a major international incident that could flood the world with new nuclear weapons. There’s an awful lot of fighting. That’s about it, plotwise.
I’m thoroughly baffled by the world these Expendables seem to inhabit now. The original film was clearly a straight-up badass action flick coincidentally inhabited by genre luminaries, this follow-up clearly resides in the overlapping part of a Venn diagram between Red Scorpion and Last Action Hero. Genre gods of great fame (and extreme publicity, if you’ve seen the marketing) tend show up out of nowhere, make a quick joke relating to their previous films and then toddle off into the periphery, having completed their arbitrary cameo and presumably feeling pretty good about themselves. The Expendables 2 doesn’t ask you to relate to this cast of characters, it asks you to project your knowledge of these action icons onto a blank slate of a production. The character Chuck Norris is playing is inconsequential compare to the fact that Chuck Norris is in the movie, and gets to make a joke about his stupid internet meme.
Is it entertaining? Oh, hell yes. Is it confusingly conceived and distracted in its execution? Oh, holy crap, definitely. The Expendables 2’s quest to entertain on a base, infantile level it hasn’t just succeeded, it’s outdone itself. This may be the one of the most immature R-rated action movies ever made. But when you’re done celebrating its rampant excess, take a moment to ask whether it was really worth the trouble. Sylvester Stallone just fought Jean-Claude Van Damme, that’s for sure, but what was the point? If the point was to watch Sylvester Stallone fight Jean-Claude Van Damme – story, character and cultural relevance be damned – you can say that’s enough if you really want to, but doesn’t that defense itself raise some troubling questions?
Would it have killed them to have it make some sense in the process? Would it have ruined the film to treat its female characters with a modicum of respect? Most importantly, are those kids in the mud hole ever going to grow the hell up? What kind of society do we live in where we commend people for willfully ignoring the basic tenets of maturity? Worse yet, what kind of person does it make me that I liked The Expendables 2 anyway?
Adults indulge in childlike fantasy to escape the unpleasantness of their daily lives. In particular, men wrap themselves in testosterone-infused daydreams to substitute their stifled feelings of helplessness in a morally and emotionally complex world. We regress to an immature state to make ourselves feel better, and The Expendables 2 delivers dump trucks of cathartic, explosive endorphins to heal that exact pain. If you’re willing to accept that, I guess the only question worth asking is, if we’re going to watch grown men behave like children, do those children have to be so god damned exclusionary to the opposite sex?
I leave you to draw your own conclusions. Look… you were going to see The Expendables 2 anyway. Your intellect is going to be completely turned off for 102 nonsensical, tawdry, muscular minutes. I just figured you might as well have something to think about afterwards. You know, before your brain atrophies.