Nothing better supports the argument that Hollywood has run out of ideas than the trailer for The Expendables 2. At least you can’t accuse it of lying; the story pitch practically echoes through every blood-soaked frame: “Hey, remember that flick where we got all those old action stars together? Let’s make another one with even more old action stars!” But let’s all be honest: when Chuck Norris himself says, “I did [get bitten by a king cobra], but after five days of agonizing pain… the cobra died,” or Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger swap their most famous one-liners, it’s hard to hide your smile.
While the film spends most of its time winking at the audience (fun, self-aware winks, unlike those desperate winks glimpsed in Len Wiseman’s remake of Total Recall), there are some legitimately clever moments, including an epic (intentional) Chekhov’s Misfire built around Dolph Lundgren. And even though the core concept boils down to “more of the same, but bigger” (a.k.a. “Die Hard 2 Syndrome”), this sequel does take the time to improve upon the formula. The explosive fifteen-minute opening sequence more effectively establishes our heroes and their relationships than the entirety of the first installment (which heavily favored the Stallone/Statham bromance); an early scene involving Liam Hemsworth’s character lends the narrative deeper emotional resonance; and JCVD, despite his relatively limited screen time, makes a more meaning villain than Eric Roberts. The editing does still get a bit choppy on occasion—but when the eventual no holds barred showdown between Stallone and Van Damme is shot with such loving care, that little blemish seems trivial in comparison.