It’s not the brainiest story in the world, nor was it intended to be. As Barney, Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), Toll Road (Randy Couture), and newcomers Maggie and Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) attempt to complete their mission while fending off Vilain, the action gets increasingly explosive. Van Damme makes the most of his screen time, chewing up the scenery something fierce as Vilain. Of the returning cast, Lundgren is the revelation. The surly, drug-abusing Gunner of the first film has been reformed. He’s now far more light-hearted, with Lundgren getting the biggest laughs. If you’ve noted the absence of Jet Li’s Yin Yang from the above list, that’s because his appearance amounts to little more than a cameo. Apparently due to scheduling conflicts, Li departs the film quite early. It’s unfortunate considering Li was generally underused the first time around as well.
Everyone gets at least one spotlight moment. Statham has a killer scene while posing as a priest, unleashing Lee’s knife-wielding skills. It’s good fun seeing Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Willis actually in action together this time (they shared one brief conversation in the first one). The big disappointment is Chuck Norris, whose cameo as lone-wolf mercenary Booker falls flat. With Norris’ legendary martial arts skills, you’d think a little hand-to-hand combat would’ve been a natural. But all we get during his very limited screen time is some standard-issue gunplay as Booker mows down extras. Luckily there’s little else to complain about. Both Hemsworth and Nan have effective moments, adding youth and feminine components to the team, respectively. Suspense isn’t exactly high as the team tracks Vilain, leading up to the inevitable showdown, but the formulaic plot is really beside the point.
The Expendables 2 doesn’t look anywhere near as good in 1080p high definition as one would expect from a $100 million production. I noted during my theatrical screening of the film that Shelly Johnson’s cinematography was a morass of frustrating softness, poor lighting, and an abundance of grain. It looks better on Blu-ray, but it’s still an ugly film. The chunky, frequently-present grain sometimes takes on the appearance of digital noise (for the record, the production was shot on 35mm film). The image is still soft at times. Interiors are generally underlit, resulting in the crushing out of detail (very evident during Stallone and Van Damme’s big fight scene).