Two years ago Sylvester Stallone put together an all-star, tough-guy, A-list cast for an old-fashioned, 80s-style action flick called The Expendables. Now, here we are with the inevitable sequel, and like almost every sequel, the only way to make it better is bigger. More tough guys! More explosions! More fist fights! And would anybody who wants to watch Expendables 2 expect anything less?

Sylvester Stallone is back, front and center as Barney Ross, leader of a group of righteous, gun-toting mercenaries known as the Expendables. The group consists of old faces from the previous movies; Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), and Toll Road (Randy Couture). New to the group is pretty boy and Hunger Games star Liam Hemsworth as a goody-goody sniper soldier who contemplates that this type of dangerous work may not be cut out for him. The film’s simple plot starts when Mr. Christmas (Bruce Willis) gives the group a simple mission of retrieving a package in a dangerous region. This entails having Maggie played by Yu Nan (gasp, a woman!) to temporarily join the team. Things do not go as planned when the villain whose name is… wait for it… Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) interrupts the team’s mission. Soon the expendables are out for vengeance and mayhem against Vilain and his dastardly plans.

For the sequel, Sylvester Stallone has wisely passed the directing duties down to Con Air director Simon West. This time around, the directing effort dials down the serious adoration of 80s action movies and pumps up the camp. Like the first film, the sequel is an homage to the action flicks that made these actors bona fide stars. But contrast to the first film, this cheeseball sequel is much more self-aware of its goofiness and supplies a nice amount of amusing tongue-and-cheek. It’s not high caliber material and quite frankly is very stupid, yet in retrospect, the 80s Action Movie has always been that way. Expendables 2 is a big, loud, violent pastiche that plays with macho man ambiance while still staying faithful to what it’s mocking. There are a lot of corny puns and awful clichés, but it’s easy to get lost in the chaotic mayhem when you’ve accepted what it’s trying to accomplish.

Like the first movie, one of the highest selling points of this franchise is the nostalgic factor seeing some of the biggest action names back onto the big screen. The movie definitely delivers its stars. Most of them are brief cameos but they are still quite fun. It’s a thrill to see Arnold Schwartzenegger, shooting off rounds with a cigar in his mouth, hanging outside of a vehicle. It’s even a nice build-up to the inevitable Stallone/Van Damme showdown that the little kid inside you can’t wait to see. But Chuck Norris contains the most memorable cameo in recent movie history, further making him into more of a pop culture myth than an actual man.

As for the new faces thrown into the mix, it’s refreshing seeing youngster actors participating in the game. Liam Hemsworth sticks out like a sore thumb against the group of older burly muscle men, however, his earnest charm and sniper skills make up for what he lacks in star power. And as for newcomer Yu Nan, it’s great to see a woman in the group. While she holds her own in fighting skills, the film misses some opportunities to explore ideas or even comedic scenes that deal with the shifting gender roles in the big action movies these old dogs invented. We get glimpses of how these older guys are adjusting to these youngsters taking over, but it’s never as vibrant as when then movie is poking fun of the genre.

Of course one cannot forgive a movie with such a weak plot and clichés and call it a great film. In fact, some of the action scenes could have used a bit more style instead of simply pointing and shooting the high octane action (credit must be given to the low CG effects and real-life stunts used). Yet the film moves along briskly and never forgets what it’s trying to be. Some people may walk away expecting a straightforward action flick and will demand their money back. Hopefully, other people will embrace the fun camp of this over-the-top action film and indulge in all its guilty pleasures.

3/5 stars