The cast of The Expendables, with newest members Billy the Kid (Hemsworth) and Maggie (Nan) aboard, are reunited when Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) enlists the Expendables to take on a seemingly simple job. The task looks like an easy paycheck for Barney and his band of old school mercenaries. But when things go wrong and one of their own is viciously killed, the Expendables are compelled to seek revenge in hostile territory where the odds are stacked against them.
For those of you who perpetually claim that sequels are always worse than originals: Let it be stated that The Expendables 2 is superior to its predecessor. Yes, the same cast is in place, and yes, the ultraviolence runs wild, as before. But at least this one has the shape of a story: A "this time it's personal" motivation runs beneath the usual mercenary impulses of our wrecking crew. Sylvester Stallone (who also co-scripted, natch) returns as the leader of this macho band of hired guns, whose ranks include Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, and young pup Liam Hemsworth (Jet Li returns, but only briefly). The new villain is Jean-Claude Van Damme, who appears reluctant to take off his sunglasses, and there's also a "lone wolf" gunman played either by Chuck Norris or a wax figure of Chuck Norris. (His entrance constitutes the all-time worst use of the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and that's some fierce competition.) Even with the intense bloodletting, the jokiness is constant, and becomes rampant whenever Stallone's Planet Hollywood partners convene for a board meeting (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis both get more screen time than in the first Expendables). The best stroke is the addition of a female fighter--there's absolutely no credible reason for this, but Nan Yu takes the predictable role and makes something sly out of it. Is it actually a good movie? No, but director Simon West (Con Air) knows how to push it along and even to make certain action beats intelligible to the eye. This one is so self-referential it's hard to know where a third installment could go, but maybe Clint Eastwood could direct them all in a remake of The Dirty Dozen. --Robert Horton