Well, the meaning of "The Expendables" franchise is like a sort of a wet dream from the Generation X, which during the peak of the action movies in the fabulous 80's decade, were devoted fans in the line to the theater or to the near videostore to watch / rent the latest effort from this bunch of guys. 80's action films symbolized the freedom of speech in an Era who wasn't politically correct to the use of violence on-screen, an Era of true action heroes with attitude always delivering sarcastic & witty on-liners when facing the danger.
After the global success of the first movie, Stallone this time just a co-writer, called Simon West ("Con Air", "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider") to the director's seat to concentrate only in leading this all-star cast and perhaps, minimizing and controlling the major egos involved.
"The Expendables 2" truly delivers over-the-top action non-stop, well- staged fight scenes with less shaky cam (an improvement over the original), flashy editing, a frenetic pace and cool props. The plot is basic & cliché, but at least, it's self-indulgent and goes forward straight to the business.
The bad thing is, even more than the first, this movie lacks heart and soul. It's too much focused on the action sequences: shootings and killings all around (like an out of control video game), things blow up and are destroyed to the ground every 5 minutes and the actors involved act more like mere walking caricatures than fleshed-out characters. In a matter of fact, this sequel looks like it was all directed by the 2nd Unit and the majority of the exteriors, shot somewhere in Eastern Europe, and the extensive use of CGI to emulate the gunshots, the blood and the explosions, gave a sense of cheap with unpolished visuals to the whole, almost entering in the DTV territory.
Most of the on-liners and references to the popular culture of the 80's action movies, immortalized by this guys in their peak, simply doesn't worked here, it was forced and intrusive, like if they tried too much to be self-aware and cool, turning it in almost a spoof movie. Some of the delivering is even awkward and the jokes' cringeworthy.
Despite this, Sly once again did a good job as the Team's Leader, Barney Ross with Jason Statham as the second-in-command, Lee Christmas, who was even more annoying and full of himself than in the first film; Randy Couture as Toll Road, with a limited number of spoken lines to accommodate his acting 'skills'; Terry Crews as Hale Caeser, which at least was funnier than the rest; Jet Li as Yin Yang, only in an extended cameo at the beginning and we must thank his scheduling conflicts for that and the last, but not the least, 'Swedish Strangler' Dolph Lundgren as Gunner Jensen, who almost stole the first movie and maybe because of that (he must have irritated the attention seeker, Jason Statham), he was given less to do this time around.
Charisma Carpenter reprises her role as Christmas' girlfriend in a tiny part that if you blink, you'll miss her on-screen and Nan Yu is OK as Maggie, in a good casting decision on opting for her instead of the terrible Gina Carano.
It's nice to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis doing more than a talkative cameo and this time shooting up bad guys, but their hearts aren't there. Arnold besides being lame with his tongue 'n' cheek remarks at least he tried, Bruce was just there for the quick paycheck, in a "send me a couple of millions and i'll sleepwalk through the movie" mode.
Chuck Norris, who fares better than Arnold and Bruce, came out of retirement to play John Booker nicknamed "Lone Wolf", a homage to his characters in "Good Guys Wear Black" ('78) & "Lone Wolf McQuade" ('83), but even with his entrance song, the production messed around, "Ecstasy of Gold" by Maestro Ennio Morricone is an iconic orchestration for Clint Eastwood's The Man With No Name, not for Chuck Norris and the King Cobra joke was taken directly from the 'Chuck Norris' Facts' on internet, so nothing new or imaginative here.
Liam Hemsworth, a fill-in character for Mickey Rourke who refused to comeback for this sequel, is nicely presented, but the minute he talks that he wants to leave the team, is a token for "i will be dead very soon". The casting of Hemsworth had a double function: to call "The Hunger Games" fanboys to the theaters and to give "The Expendables 2" a feel of "The Avengers Assemble" co-starred by Liam's older brother, Chris as Thor.
The baddies played by Jean-Claude Van Damme, who was very good as the sneerie and arrogant Jean Villain, and Scott Adkins, who shamefully he isn't even in the main cover art, if were given more screen time, both would probably steal the movie from The Expendables themselves. The end fighting sequence between Villain and Stallone's Barney Ross is one of the movie's highlights, reminiscent from Van Damme's character in "Black Eagle" ('88) where he also played the main baddie.
In short, "The Expendables 2" is a good way to spend a hour and a half, like a trip to memory lane, watching this guys in action and reminding us about the hundreds of hours we spend watching and re-watching their action flicks in the videostore days, but as a movie it's just a so-so experience, that wants to please the Gen X, but in fact was technically and visually aimed at the Generation Y.
It got an extra point just because of the ensemble cast, but it deserves less...