As movie franchises go, The Expendables is the rough equivalent of Old-Timers' Day at Yankee Stadium. It's pleasing to see Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford run out to one of the foul lines and tip their cap to adoring fans on a sunny weekend afternoon, but no one wants them to lace 'em up every afternoon and take on the Boston Red Sox of the here and now.
If 2010's The Expendables is a 1980s-action-star version of an Old-Timers Game, then The Expendables 2 is the unwelcome entry of those beloved, wrinkled former greats into the major leagues. No one really wants to see it, and if they wind up seeing it anyway they'll get a torturous glimpse of the existential crisis plaguing Hollywood's blockbuster machine these days.
The plot, you ask? OK then, but only if we must. The Expendables, a group of has-been action stars and Jason Statham, are thrust, unwillingly thanks to CIA operative Mr. Church (Bruce Willis), into a mission to retrieve a map from a downed plane in Albania that contains the location of an immense cache of lost Soviet plutonium. Back are Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), the group's leader, Lee Christmas (Statham), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren) to execute the mission. Joining the team this time around are sharpshooter and Afghanistan veteran Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) and Maggie Chan (Yu Nan), a technical expert tasked with disarming the complex booby trap linked to the map.
A simple mission turns complicated when, after retrieving the device containing the map from the wreckage of the plane, Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his mercenary group, the Sangs, ambush The Expendables, taking the map from them and killing one of their team members. That sends Barney and company on a mission of vengeance that is light on substance and heavy on explosions and tiresome winks to the past glories of this ensemble cast. Cameos by Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris are supposed to recreate the jaunt-down-memory-lane feel of the first movie in this series. Or at least I think that was the idea. Mostly, they made me feel old. The rest of the time I was rolling my eyes at Schwarzenegger's "I'm baaaacks" and "Yippee ki-yays."
I don't know who to blame for this other than the hordes, myself among them, who went to see the first The Expendables and an industry that responds to that sort of behavior from the masses by reflexively shouting "Sequel!" Richard Wenk's screenplay is the opposite of a masterpiece, but no one goes to see a movie with Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Van Damme for the dialogue. Director Simon West has had success in this genre; he's no Steven Spielberg, but Con Air and the 2011 remake of The Mechanic point to his capability when it comes to making a credible action flick. The actors themselves? Well, who am I to blame them for hanging on to their fading notoriety any way that they can?
Pointing the finger, though, ought to be the least of my worries. The Expendables 2 -- unwanted train wreck that it was -- cleaned up at the box office, clearing the path for an inevitable sequel.
At least there's talk -- specious though it might be -- that Nicolas Cage could help round out the trilogy.