Another indolent sequel that manages to be corny, self-referential, viscerally induced popcorn-entertainment.
"Back For War" means that The Expendables 2 (starring Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham, among many aging stars, including younger ones like Liam Hemsworth and Nan Yu) is back to sate the ultra-violent moviegoing pleasure of a larger testosterone-fueled demographic. Under Simon West's direction, a low-minded romp often surpasses the 2010 hit probably because Stallone (who polished the script with Richard Wenk) gets to settle more into his more grisly James Bond element and allows for more levity to seep in.
Stallone's Barney Ross still has his A-team of mercenaries, including those played by Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture and Jet Li, and an early set-piece in Nepal packs an explosive wallop. For the most part another revenge mission really isn't that action-packed after one of the aging members is viciously offed and seems to frown upon human life (or really embrace bonding or justice) when it gets in the way of the mission.
Bruce Willis (seek out Moonrise Kingdom) returns as Mr. Church who urges Barney to perviously snatch a classified electronic device. This time, Yu's Maggie, is specifically retained by Church to join the team, and ends up being important to getting after Jean Vilain (a supremely cruel Jean-Claude Van Damme). Church will tag along, in addition to Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger, starting to resurrect his film career) with some help from lone-wolf Booker (Chuck Norris, remembered from such '80s hits like Delta Force).
For gamers and WWE aficionados the decimation of anonymous folk is part of the fun as Stallone even tries to provide thoughtful gravitas which probably comes across for comedic effect. Obviously, if you're looking for a logical chain of progression and civilized line-readings, as well as well-rounded characterizations, well, you better take a look in the mirror. It's an old franchise reunion of sorts with animated exchanges, suggestive wardrobe choices and enough disparaging, allusive remarks to go around. Yet, it's safe to say that Statham (in early middle-age), Hemsworth and Yu (someone to caress for Stallone) are fairly grounded amid their older, more weathered counterparts.
Therefore, as it goes in this kind of bloodletting franchise (that may exist as a guilty pleasure for some) that ignores peripheral vision or reading between the lines the story and characters are subordinate to how West and Stallone distill their supposition. Too bad one is jettisoned early on after a fairly taut fight sequence, but Norris is pretty effective in a self-effacing way in a short time. After what amounted as cameos in the first film, Schwarzenegger and Willis get more exposure in a funny way, especially when in a car together. Maybe best for the final smack down, Stallone has more of a formidable foe than the stolid Eric Roberts with a nasty Van Damme. In the end, The Expendables 2 imagines its hyper, kitschy self as excessively toned magical realism somehow maladroit and magnetic.