As a diehard Sylvester Stallone fan it pains me to admit it, but the first Expendables was merely passable. As much as I wanted to love it, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was a missed opportunity in many ways. The Expendables 2 manages to improve upon everything lacking in the original. The chemistry amongst the brawny cast is more natural, the jokes are sharper (and more frequent), and the action scenes are more coherently staged. I had a blast seeing it in theaters and I’m happy to say the film held up perfectly as I revisited it on Blu-ray.
Maybe the improvement was down to the fact that Stallone didn’t try to do everything himself this time. Don’t get me wrong, as detailed in the phenomenally entertaining Inferno documentary, Stallone’s dedication as writer-director-star while making the first Expendables was truly admirable. But by his own admission, he had bitten off more than he could chew. Bringing in Simon West, a good meat-and-potatoes action director previously best-known for Con Air and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, was a smart move. Even though it’s the same length as its predecessor, the sequel’s 103 minutes simply move faster. Stallone stayed on as a co-screenwriter (with Richard Wenk), so the film still very much bears his stylistic imprint.
The story is more straightforward this time around. After successfully completing the daring rescue of Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger, in a role beefed up beyond his cameo in part one), Barney Ross (Stallone) is contacted by CIA agent Mr. Church (Bruce Willis, with a similarly expanded role). Church has another mission for Barney and his team, one that just might redeem them after the mess they made in the first film. They’re tasked with recovering a computer containing information about the location of a large quantity of plutonium. Accompanying the Expendables, at Church’s insistence, is Maggie Chan (Yu Nan), an operative of somewhat ill-defined specialties. Of course, there’s a criminal mastermind attempting to obtain this information. Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) leads a team of Satanists whose goal is to locate the plutonium and off-load it for large sums of money.