When the late 90s rolled into the 2000s, the trend in action movies, led by the likes of the Bourne Identity in 2002, shifted to more 'everyman' style heroes with 'smarter', more intelligent stories with better actors.
In 2010, Slyvester Stallone, who wrote and directed some of the biggest of those old fashioned action movies (Rocky, First Blood, etc.) decided he missed those old action movies, and his old action movie buddies. Knowing that was where his career started, and knowing there was still an audience out there for that style of movie, he wrote The Expendables, and started calling his friends and former co-stars. He put together an absolute blast of a throwback action movie that co-starred Dolph Lundgren (who worked with Stallone in Rocky 4), Jet Li (who had built up an impressive action career in China, and briefly worked with Randy Couture in Cradle 2 tha Grave), Jason Statham (who worked with Jet Li in The One and War), Eric Roberts (who worked with Stallone in The Specialist), Gary Daniels, Mickey Rourke (who worked with Stallone in Get Carter), WWE star 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin, former NFL player Terry Crews, and MMA legend Randy Couture (another aside - whenever any star of the movie was asked the inevitable "who would win in a fight out of all of you?" question, each star always answered Couture, except Couture, who would usually shrug - probably because he knew he would win). It also featured a scene with Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the three action star friends who had co-founded Planet Hollywood together, but had never appeared on screen together.
Castwise, what can you say? Everyone is great:
- Slyvester Stallone wrote and produced this one, but left the directing to Simon West, who has done tons of action movies (Con Air, The General's Daughter, Tomb Raider, The Mechanic). He does a great job here, and Stallone has said that he felt much more relaxed on this one, not having to direct as well as act. He looks old and tough, and works that aged determinedness into Ross.
- Statham is fantastic fun with Charisma Carpenter returning as his girlfriend. Statham's character is the knife expert of the group, and he brings more of his tough cockney swagger.
- Dolph Lundgren returns as Gunnar, the mad Swede, and gets a little more to do this time around. They even mix in some of his own personal backstory - chemical engineering degree from MIT and a Fullbright scholar. He also gets more charming interaction with Jet Li.
- Jet Li's role is reduced a bit in this one, I am wondering if he was tied up in something else. His character, YinYang, was super fun in the first one and has a few fun scenes in this one too - battling bad guys with a frying pan.
- Terry Crews again brings humor to his Hale Ceaser, needed while the other guys get serious.
- Randy Couture, who stole a scene in the first movie while discussing his ear, again plays the zen member of the group, Toll Road. He seems very natural and fits in great with these guys.
- Nan Yu plays the female adventurer in the crew - she's done many movies in China, and I would assume she has some fighting skill, but unfortunately, she does not get much of a chance to show it off.
- Chuck Norris shows up briefly to shoot some things, and pretty much plays Chuck Norris - incidentally, he's the oldest of the cast members at 72, if you can believe that.
- Bruce Willis and Arnold also pretty much play themselves, and also get to argue and shoot some guys. They look like they are having an amazing time.
- Jean-Claude Van Damme is really good as the bad guy. Although he did play the villian several times early in his career, I don't remember it, unless you count the one twin in Double Impact, who ended up being good anyway. He should do it more often, because he's great at it. He chews the scenery a bit - but it works in this!
9 out of 10: Lost points for having a female character this time, but still not really giving her anything to do, well, a little - but I'm still looking for the third one to have Cynthia Rothrock level badassness from a chick. Gained points for the one-liners: cheesy and awesome. Lost points for any close up of Couture showing that ear...just keep it out of camera. Gained points for Van Damme, he was always one of my favorites (If you haven't seen JCVD - netflix it now)!
Bonus Video 1: More of my favorites: Universal Solider - by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, before they did Stargate and Independence Day. Dolph and Jean-Claude, also featuring Simon Rhee again!
Bonus Video 4: Cast Interviews!