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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 08.17.12] action thriller adventure martial arts

It's useless to be too critical of The Expendables 2, because once you do you're basically just the biggest party-pooper in the room. With the latest film in what will surely become a trilogy within the next two years, the series has clearly found it's raison d'etre: to be action movies born from a rich and much loved tradition of Hollywood action movies. A precarious identity that, without careful consideration, could quickly turn from homage to farce.

For now though, the balance seems to be working in The Expendables' favour. Thriving on cliches and one-liner references to all the aging stars' past glories, the movie is confident in being a little lazy in the story department because it knows that we've all really turned up to be reminded of the action films we grew up loving. To infer that The Expendables 2 is consciously meta would be a bit much, but there is a certain artistic integrity to a film that manages to balance homage, heart and humour without being too self-effacing.

Simon West (Con Air) is tasked with taking over directing duties from Sly Stallone and he manages to match the star's own brutal style quite well. The film certainly ups the ante in terms of the sheer chaos that fills the screen. The movie's opening rescue mission is a sea of 'splosions, bullets and bodies that segues into one OTT cliffhanger after another.

The film's main plot involves all the hallmarks of a 90s DTV actioner: Revenge, a down trodden Eastern European people, plutonium (of course) and Jean-Claude Van Damme doing round houses. All stuff we've seen before, but why re-invent the wheel when it's really just the canvas to bring set-pieces to life.

Liam Hemsworth and Nan Yu are the latest additions to the Expendables' team and both hold their own here. Their role as new characters is to bring some youthful idealism and joi de vie to a film full of grunting old cynical mercenaries and without them the film would be without a soul.

Then there's JCVD who's villainous turn as the French terrorist, Vilain (get it), is something of a joy to watch. He's quirky and brutal and he seems to have had a ton of fun with it. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Vilain's right-hand-man played by Scott Adkins. An amazing martial artist, Adkins has slowly been building his acting career and outside this film can be seen in The Tournament, Ninja and the Undisputed series.

A quick note on the supposed PG-13 rating: Expendables 2 pulls no punches in the violence department. It's bloody and brutal and probably has one of the biggest body counts in the history of action movies.

Final thoughts: The Expendables 2 might buckle under some groan inducing one-liners, but as a light-hearted crowd-pleaser it's a winner. Crack a six pack and enjoy.

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