Like baking a cake, The Expendables 2 will be an amalgamation of many ingredients, coming together in (hopefully) blissful union. The first film was a slightly less complex recipe, with plenty of dashes and pinches here and there to please the action cinephiles. Like some cakes, it sank a little, but still tasted sweet enough. Hopefully with more careful handling and more precise mixing, this cake will be magnificent. This cake however won’t be light and fluffy, it’ll be rock hard and more useful replacing a missing slab of concrete in a building, than decorating a dinner table.
The ten key ingredients for me (in no particular order):
1 – Sylvester Stallone: Sly is brilliant. He’s the baker, and only he could have brought together such a grouping that he did in the first film, and now for the sequel. That aside, it’s been a joy for action fans of late to see Stallone’s renaissance, starting with final outings for Rocky Balboa and John Rambo. Leaving behind his director’s chair this time will hopefully ensure that Sly can concentrate on making Barney Ross become a more memorable character, and more in line with his iconic turns as the boxer and the crazy Nam vet.
2 – Arnold Schwarzenegger: The big guy’s cameo in the first film, along with Bruce Willis, was the first time seeing the three biggest action stars of the last 30 years together on screen (unless you count Planet Hollywood promotional videos). Arnie is yet to have the second wind that Sly has, having tailed off limply into politics after years of below par, lacklustre tripe, including his stand-up comedy routine in the disappointingly middle of the road Terminator 3. Now Arnold, with the exciting project The Last Stand due to lens soon, gets his chance to go Commando once more. Though he’s not looking quite as fit for battle as Sly remains, action lovers will relish seeing Douglas Quaid tear a few new assholes.
3 – Bruce (what you talking bout) Willis: Bruno has stayed reasonably consistent over the years. He never quite suffered the dips that Sly and Arnold did, despite a few duds along the way. Brucie had the ability to pick the odd plum role here and there. Willis stole the scene in the first film, upstaging his Planet Hollywood partners, even if the scene itself felt rushed, crammed in and a little cheesy. Now however, Willis has more screen time in which to work with not just Sly and Arnold, but the others too.
4 – Chuck Norris: When the dust had settled after The Expendables, the questions that came up were many: “Could/should this have been better?” “Why does Mickey Rourke dribble so much?” Mostly though, fans asked “Why didn’t they get [insert 80s action icon name here] in the film?” We were missing a ponytail, a Belgian, a tax-evader and the guy with a fist behind his beard. Norris in many ways paved the way for Arnold and Sly to play the heroic one man army characters they did. He was a key player in the popularity of the action genre in the VHS boom in the 80s. The first Reagan era poster child, Norris was iconic in the 80s. His popularity waned in the 90s, before he moved successfully into TV, with Walker, Texas Ranger. Despite being past 70, Norris, who is now a cult internet icon and consistent pop culture reference in TV and film, is an immensely popular choice for the Expendables line up. His inclusion is most welcome indeed. It’s time for Norris to hit the bad guys with so many lefts, they’ll be begging for a right!
5 – Jean Claude Van Damme: It came to light that Claude (as Sly calls him), turned down a role in the first film. That turned out to be a mistake, though in retrospect, possibly a turn of good fortune and foresight. Van Damme, instead of playing a side character and being either killed off, or having to be more background in the sequel too, Claude has landed the lead villain role. Not only that, but having gained critical acclaim for his brilliant performance as himself in JCVD, proving his capabilities as a thespian, there’s the potential that Claude can steal the film. Every good action film requires a memorable villain, and the stage is set for JC to steal the thunder of the many thundergods sharing screen with him. Like Sly, JC looks in top physical condition, belying his advanced years.
6 – Dolph Lundgren: As Gunner Jensen, Lundgren was the star turn in the first film. While an edge will have been taken from his character, it would seem Dolph is destined to be rewarded with more screentime. Sly’s reunion with his Rocky IV co-star was a joy to see, and there was genuine chemistry on screen between the two. Sadly there weren’t enough scenes with them together, nor enough time in those scenes. The garage sequence with Sly and Dolph alone teased us with the promise of more, yet remains one of the best dramatic scenes in the film.
7 – Scott Adkins: Brit action up and comer Adkins is a physical phenomenon. Having already starred in a few cult favourites such as the Undisputed sequels, he’s shown off an impressive array of on screen fights, and also enough screen presence to suggest he could be a worthy contender as one of the new batch of action men, currently led by Jason Statham. The revisiting of the old guard and the current doe-eyed love of all things 80s shows that there’s not enough new talent coming through, and the films just aren’t handled as well as they once were. However with old-school in, Adkins has enough charisma and the physical prowess to make a name for himself. As JC’s chief henchman, as well as the lead role in Universal Soldier: A New Dimension, he’s got a potentially great launching pad.
8 – Jason Statham: He’s become a reliable action star. The closest we have to the 80s crew, and with that sort of stoicly tough aura. Though he’s not starred in enough decent films, he remains a likeable presence, and someone who exudes badassedness. Statham was solid in The Expendables, and we’ll be hoping he manages to add another layer to his character. One of the first film’s weaknesses was actually devoting too much time to Sly and Statham together alone, or by themselves, which took away from the group element and the others’ screen time. To adequately fit in these guys and do them justice, the screen time will have to be well rationed, and the group aspect, which will also provide plenty of on screen energy (much needed to fall back on, if the script doesn’t hold enough dramatic weight). Stath has the front seat still, with Sly, and looks in no danger of losing it.
9 – The Rumours: Well there’s possibly Nicolas Cage and John Travolta to come. Then we’ve had rumours of other 80s stalwarts like Michael Biehn, Michael Paré and Lorenzo Lamas popping up. A key role is yet to be finalised and cast. It could be one of these guys, but then again, maybe they’ve broken Wesley Snipes out of jail, or Steven Seagal out of the KFC he’s currently barricaded himself in!
10 – No Taylor Lautner: There is no place for the walking wood that is Taylor Lautner. The 80s guys can do blank. They can do stoic. When they stare blankly, their expression still says “Eat fist punk!” Taylor Lautner’s blank expressions merely say “Duh?” Whilst we’re talking of omissions too, Jet Li seems to be getting gracefully nudged out with an extended cameo this time. Li seemed misplaced and not particularly enthused in the first film. Li isn’t particularly needed and it at least allows screen-time to actors hungrier to make an impact – such as no doubt Arnold, Chuck, JC and Dolph – all looking to re-launch themselves (or in Chuck’s case, a last hurrah, maybe). Mickey Rourke doesn’t return, and though he offered some emotion in the first, his role seemed out of place and his rambling monologues ground the film to a halt.
Come August next year, the multiplexes will explode into a ball of fiery testosterone and hopefully with more success than the first film. The Expendables just needed to be made and put out to satisfy so many genre fans wet dreams. The sequel has to show more quality and consistency, otherwise we may not see Expendables 3, when hopefully Wesley Snipes will be out of his prison issue uniform and ready to kick some ass.