In a couple of weeks, we’ll all bid farewell to another summer movie season. The superheroes, schlock, and shootouts will all hibernate and make way for the heady fare jostling for Oscar nominations.

But they’re not going away quietly.

The Expendables 2 has a higher body count in its first five minutes than most movies have during their entire run time. There’s not much that doesn’t blow up in explosions three stories high, bullets fly around thicker than gnats at a barbeque, and everyone who ever flexed his muscle in an 80s flick is here to remind us that they’re still alive and well, thank you very much.

The rag-tag band of brawny he-men mercenaries, led by Sylvester Stallone, is back for a second mission, and (assuming you’re into this kind of thing), it entertains like there’s no tomorrow.

After successfully rescuing an anonymous Chinese billionaire from the clutches of some bad guys in Nepal, Stallone is off to rescue an ungodly amount of weapons-grade plutonium from some other bad guys in Albania. By his side are The Expendables holdovers Jason Statham, Terry Crews, and Randy Couture, joined by new faces Liam Hemsworth and (eek, a woman!) Chinese actress Yu Nan (re-teaming with her Diamond Dogs co-star Dolph Lundgren). Oh, and did we mention that the head bad guy is none other than Jean-Claude Van Damme?

Working from a script by Stallone, director Simon West (Con Air, The Mechanic) orchestrates the mayhem well, letting us know the motley crew is as tight and polished as ever. If (and that’s a big ‘if’) the good guys get shot, it’s a minor flesh wound. When they do the damage, body parts fly. Hey, that’s why they’re the heroes, right?

After contributing nothing but glorified cameos in the first movie, Stallone’s old (and yes, they’re old) buddies Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis have much more of a beefed-up (and yes, they’re still beefed-up) roles this go-round. Stallone also wisely decided to let the entire gang in on the action, giving more prominence to Lundgren, Crews, and (to a lesser extent) Couture.

Stallone’s best writing, though, came in his decision to not only have the same amount of fun he had the first time, but to let the audience in on it, too… intentionally. There are more than a handful of moments in The Expendables 2 that you’ll laugh out loud– and thankfully it’s with the cast and not at them.

There are plenty of other surprises along the way (the best one comes with his own soundtrack– the theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly), and there’s actually a bit of a coherent story here, too, so if you like your meat rare, your guns warm, and your knives as big as shovels, welcome to the party, pal.

And don’t worry if that ringing in your ears and the urge to bench press twice your body weight starts to fade in the weeks after The Expendables 2 leaves theaters; a third installment is already in the works with Steven Seagal and Nicolas Cage ready to join the fun.


4/5 stars