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Robert Cartagena is a boxing correspondent for SFBay.ca. He graduated from SF State in 2011 with a B.A. in journalism and spent more than a year contributing monthly articles to The Hudsucker, an online magazine with a blog twist. He has a passion for sports journalism -- particularly boxing -- as well as film reviews. He also enjoys blogging and aspires to be a professional actor one day.

Star Power and Explosive Action Hit the Mark in ‘Expendables 2′

An action-packed season for summer movies is about to go out with one hell of a bang thanks to The Expendables 2. If you don’t believe me, just check out the opening sequence.

Image Credit: Millennium Films

Image Credit: Millennium Films

Right off the bat, the team, led by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone, who also co-wrote the screenplay), shoots and bulldozes their way through Nepal to rescue a Chinese businessman and an unexpected guest – Ross’ rival, Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger). For those 10-15 minutes, it’s nothing but nonstop explosions, shootouts and plenty of bloody carnage.

Both Expendables films are like Marvel’s The Avengers on steroids. Like the latter, Stallone assembles a who’s who of action stars to combat a common threat. While the Expendables aren’t necessarily Earth’s mightiest heroes, they are renegade mercenaries who rely on their wit and combat expertise to complete each mission. In fact, they’re more G.I. Joe than Avenger. What makes this film so entertaining is the nostalgia factor. It’s truly an epic moment to see film veterans Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis (as team contractor Mr. Church) sharing the screen together – especially during the climatic airport shootout. What more can you ask for than Rambo, the Terminator and John McClane gunning down the bad guys left and right.

What separates this sequel from the previous film is how it takes a more humorous approach towards its storytelling. The Expendables was heavily criticized for trying too hard to be a serious action film. But under Simon West’s direction, the humor in The Expendables 2 is refreshing and plays a vital role throughout. There are constant references to classic action films – including a classic scene where Schwarzenegger and Willis pay homage to one another’s films. Even Dolph Lundgren gets in a few laughs as the unstable Gunner Jensen, who at times serves as the team’s comic relief. But Stallone’s Ross and Jason Statham’s Lee Christmas have some of the best exchanges throughout the film, especially whenever Christmas (in good, comic nature) threatens to cause bodily harm to Ross. Such exchanges showcase the strong chemistry between Stallone and Statham – on and off screen.

The plot is pretty straightforward. In order to repay a debt to Church, the team must travel to Albania and retrieve an enclosed item from a high-tech safe aboard a downed airplane. But there’s a catch: The team must bring along one of Church’s operatives – Maggie Chan (Yu Nan). What should be a simple mission takes an unexpected turn when Jean Vilain (a sinister Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his group of mercenaries, the Sangs, ambush the team. After Vilain gains possession of the item, which he intends to use for his own personal gain, he brutally murders one of the team’s key members – and the mission becomes personal. Determined to bring Vilain down as well as avenge their fallen comrade, Ross and the team set out to, as he famously instructs, “Track them, find them, kill them.”

The all-star cast includes Jet Li as Yin Yang, Terry Crews as Hale Caesar, Randy Couture as Toll Road, Liam Hemsworth (younger brother of Chris) as sniper Billy the Kid and Chuck Norris (yes, Walker, Texas Ranger, himself) as Booker. Now, that’s a lot of star power for one film to handle. But Stallone and co-screenwriter Richard Wenk give both major and minor characters just enough screen time to establish themselves. Take Schwarzenegger, for example. His role is upgraded from a cameo in The Expendables and he shows us that nine years after his last major role (in 2003’sTerminator 3: Rise of the Machines), he is indeed back. Plus, he steals certain scenes with witty humor and constant reminders that he’ll be back.

Though his screen time is limited a little bit, Van Damme’s knockout performance as the main antagonist makes him more credible than Eric Roberts’ James Munroe from the previous film. Despite looking all of his 51 years, Van Damme can still go a few rounds, especially against the 66-year-old Stallone during their short, but entertaining battle (Stallone also deserves credit for some of the physical work he executes in the film). Plus, Van Damme looks badass preaching (like an unholy priest) about respect and killing people like sheep – all while covered from head to toe in black. Watching him execute his trademark spinning jump kick once again is vintage Van Damme (and on a personal note, I have a deeper appreciation for my favorite Van Damme films after watching his stellar performance).

Loyal action fans will be disappointed, however, by the surprisingly short amount of screen time martial arts icons Li and Norris are given. It’s best not to blink, however, because while we would prefer to see more of them throughout the film, they do deliver in their respective action scenes, especially Li with his fast and furious martial arts style.

Whether you grew up with legends like Arnold and Sly or are more a fan of today’s current generation of action stars like Statham, Li and Crews, The Expendables 2 is guaranteed to satisfy action fans of all ages with its explosive – and sometimes, inventive – action, which cinematographer Shelly Johnson brilliantly captures on camera. The cast’s chemistry is on point throughout the film as well, and it’s just a thrill for moviegoers to see such star power brought together on screen.

While this summer’s movie season was mostly dominated by superheroes, aliens, Disney-Pixar’s first leading lady and 3D releases that included a Katy Perry documentary and the fourth installment in the Step Up franchise (all of which were directed towards younger audiences), the old timers are surely having the last laugh as they continue to reign supreme at the box office – and blow the competition out of the water!

The Expendables 2 is rated R for strong bloody violence throughout. Running time: 102 minutes.

Overall: B+

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