THWAP! KERBOW! BANG! KABOOOM! CONTAINS SPOILERS!
If you want a brand new action movie that's got at least a smidgen of emotional meat, The Bourne Legacy has a measure of humanity about it and characters that behave more or less like recognisable human beings. But through some quirk of the summer release schedule, in the same week as the Bourne film we also have this action sequel which has a humanity rating of absolute zero. So if you're really not concerned about character or plausibility or emotional nuance, but you just want to see about eight thousand people massacred with as much gusto and verve as they can get away with under a (lenient) 15 certificate, and if you want so much testosterone dripping off the screen it's congealing in your popcorn, then this gathering of 80s and 90s action icons waving their big manly balls in the air is something of a tonic.
The Expendables 2 reunites Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Randy Couture and Terry Crews from the original, along with Liam Hemsworth AND Bruce Willis AND Arnold Schwarzenegger AND Chuck Norris. Following a spectacularly destructive assault on a compound in Nepal to rescue a Chinese billionaire, the team are assigned the simple-sounding task of retrieving a computer from the high-tech safe on an aircraft that's crashed in Albania. But then super-mega-ultra villain Jean-Claude Van Damme shows up: the computer contains the location of five tons - let's emphasise that: five tons - of Russian plutonium which he plans to sell for trillions on the black market....
There are no surprises and no plot twists in the movie: it's almost insultingly straightforward from start to finish. However, it is phenomenally violent in its action sequences, particularly the opening sequence which showcases a disregard for human life on the scale of the last Rambo movie. What elevates The Expendables 2 above that tediously depressing film is a sense of humour ranging from wry observations about getting old to nudge-wink movie nods (Arnie gets to say "Yippee-ki-yay" at one point, Chuck Norris is introduced with the theme music to The Good, The Bad And The Ugly), to daft slapstick with Arnie and Bruce crammed into a Smartcar during a ferocious gun battle.
There's a lot to hate about the movie - it's senseless, pointlessly violent, hilariously macho (there's only one significant female character) and relentless in the ludicrous action sequences in which extras are slaughtered by the hundred as both heroes and villains unload a range of firearms at each other. But dammit it's fun. However, as entertaining as it all is, I'm puzzled by the BBFC's decision to give the film a 15 certificate: true, there's no sex or nudity or even any strong language (rumour has it Chuck Norris wouldn't appear in the movie unless all profanity was removed from the script, which is a bizarre sense of priorities when you think about it) but there's bloody slaughter and casual death galore.
The Bourne movies will kill a bunch of people, but the deaths will have a purpose to the story and resonance with the characters; the deaths in The Expendables 2 have as much meaning and significance as the deaths in the cut-scenes on an Xbox shoot-em-up. Indeed, with much of the mayhem taking place in an airport, it's got the feeling of that airport sequence in Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (which I haven't played). Still, as a straight-up action movie in which everyone's firing huge-ass guns at one another, it's not unenjoyable fare thanks to the more likeable characters and shafts of good humour, and you're left wondering firstly where the Nurofens are, and secondly who else is going to show up for The Expendables 3? Mel Gibson? Pierce Brosnan? Jeremy Clarkson? Bring it on.