The Expendables 2 (2012)

Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) recruits the Expendables after their latest mission — to retrieve a Chinese businessman, which is the only appearance of Jet Li in this film — for an easy paycheck. But when one of their own is murdered, the mission goes from simple retrieval to revenge against new bad guy Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme).

The Expendables films are fan service for 80’s action movie lovers. The second installment ups the ante with new cast members and the rare opportunity for Van Damme to play the heavy. He should do it more often — he’s amazing in this role, given to snappy one-liners and pure menace in every scene.

New team member Billy (Liam Hemsworth) tells Barney (Sylvester Stallone) that he wants to retire and live with his girlfriend. That’s before the fateful mission from Mr. Church that brings them up against Van Dame and his army of Sangs.

The coolest part of this film is when the team is saved by Booker (Chuck Norris), who is the same character that Chuck played in Good Guys Wear Black. I kind of love how deep these films go into movies that aren’t usually as loved or as remembered except by a choice few. He’s also referred to as a lone wolf, which is a shoutout to another Norris movie, Lone Wolf McQuade.

Along with new team member Maggie, the Expendables must save five tons of refined plutonium abandoned in a Russian mine before Vilain sells it on the black market, shifting the balance of the world’s power.

Of course, everything works out just fine. That’s what we expect in these kinds of films. Lots of bullets. Lots of knives. Lots of things blowing up real good. And plenty of snappy lines along the way. Hey — how can you beat a movie with a body count of 482?

Sly himself said of the people he recruited this time out, “I like using people that had a moment and then maybe have fallen on some hard times and give them another shot. I like those kinds of guys. Someone did it for me and I like to see if I can do it for them.”

Director Simon West gets how to shoot action. His resume speaks to that fact, with films like Con AirThe General’s Daughter and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. This was the first film that Stallone appeared in that he didn’t direct for over a decade.

If you love Jean-Claude Van Damme, good news. We’ll be featuring his films all next week. Get ready — I think I went a little overboard celebrating the Muscles from Brussels.

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