The Fast & Furious franchise shifted gears in 2011, with the release of Fast Five. Assembling a mean, lean fighting crew of racers, robbers, and drifters for the tropical heist, this entry was a much-needed course corrector for a stalling franchise. With Fast Five, the franchise lay down the foundations for the lunacy of its series successors. After this moment, it seemed like no other franchise could match The Fast & The Furious’ signature brand of ridiculousness.
Simon West’s The Expendables 2 arrived on the scene in August 2012 as a follow-up to Sylvester Stallone’s 2010 directorial effort, which was fun enough but left something to be desired from its crew of mercenary madmen. Dull subplots and a lack of chemistry outside the trio of Stallone, Jason Statham, and Terry Crews weighed down the otherwise enjoyable, explosive fodder. In the case of The Expendables 2, this is where West and Stallone beat Fast & Furious to the finish line.
Action junkies have been treated to some outstanding collaborations over the years — most of which can be traced to Stallone and some of his Expendables 2 co-stars: ‘80s machismo alums like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jean Claude Van Damme, and Dolph Lundgren. While the action genre hit its stride in the early ‘80s, it would take a few years to achieve some of the genre’s more iconic pairings, like Stallone/Snipes (Demolition Man, 1993), Gibson/Glover (Lethal Weapon, 1987), and even Van Damme/Rodman (Double Team, 1997).
Ensembles like the casts seen across the entire franchise are the stuff of ‘80s legend. Their appeal might be limited to the nostalgic proclamations of the “glory days” of machismo action, but The Expendables 2 ensures that everyone can get in on the fun. Not only is The Expendables 2 a bonafide crowd pleaser, but it also allows its stars to be playfully ridiculed and put in harm’s way. The ego stroking isn’t to the length of Vin Diesel's, with each star getting their dues paid while their sordid personal endeavors are jokingly used for gags.
Did you know that Dolph Lundgren intended to enter the field of Chemical Engineering before acting? Surely you’ve embraced or endured the slew of Chuck Norris memes in your time, too. It all gets used effectively for laughs that would be otherwise played cheaply or thrown to the annoying comic relief (sorry, Tyrese). The Fast franchise has pushed for the latter, along with Ludacris and newcomer Nathalie Emmanuel, to take the reins when it comes to comedy. I’m afraid they just don’t match up to the underrated charisma of future Fast family member Jason Statham. After all, this is a movie where Van Damme's name is Vilain. Incredible to be honest.
Naturally, audience members aren’t arriving to an Expendables movie for the comedy. The bread and butter are the guts and glory, for which there is plenty to go around. Despite the second entry purposefully dialing back the gore, in hopes of allegedly taking on Chuck Norris’ pleas for a friendlier rating, West’s set pieces pack a mean punch at any given opportunity. The introductory action sequence is a pumping display of scorching hot bullets and brawn.
The Fast franchise has James Wan’s electrifying kineticism running through its veins, but not until 2015’s Furious 7. West isn’t as much a showman with camera movements, yet he doesn’t need to be either. Demonstrations of melee brutality shine in Statham’s showdown with modern action powerhouse Scott Adkins, while raw displays of power and speed between Stallone and Van Damme define the effectiveness of a great ensemble in itself. That’s where The Expendables 2 truly shines once the perfunctory story beats are set in motion.
Is The Expendables 2 a piece of award-worthy cinema? Absolutely not. However, it deserves to be regarded higher in the action genre than its critical reception may indicate. When it comes to nonsense thrills and ballistic pulp, The Expendables 2 has Fast & Furious beat, no contest. Sure, I’ve enjoyed Dominic Toretto defying gravity across the Burj Khalifa and Ludacris turning into a hacking mastermind as much as the next cinema-goer. But have you ever seen Arnie rip the door off a smart car while Chuck Norris obliterates waves of grunts without a single bead of sweat? In singular adventures perhaps, but not in a piece of ensemble cinema that embraces bombastic like no other.
As a fourth entry prepares to enter theaters across the world, it's high time that the Expendables franchise claims its deserved piece of the outlandish nonsense arena that blockbusters like the Fast franchise are famous for going after. In the meantime, The Expendables 2 will be waiting for your enjoyment.