If we can call The Expendables 2 a success – and I imagine there are a few members of the main cast that might contest that notion on its questionable artistic merits – the best, most enduring argument anyone can make would have to involve the action.  Of the film’s 102 minutes, approximately sixty of those service some wildly improbable, wildly predictable, and wildly entertaining screen pyrotechnics.

If you want a taste, it really doesn’t get any better than the first twenty minutes.  The Expendables (in order of importance: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, and Jet Li, who gets the best fight scene in these twenty minutes before completely vanishing from the rest of the movie) have to rescue a kidnapped Chinese diplomat, or something (the movie wisely assumes you don’t care about motives if the bloodletting is high.  That assumption is mostly correct), and their preferred method of extraction is the kind of thing that would get you declared a war criminal at the Hague in about two seconds flat.

Dig it: they roll into the bad guys’ stronghold driving attack vehicles pitched somewhere between tanks and Robocop, blasting and shooting and exploding any and everyone in their way.  Then they demolish a building around the guy they’re supposed to rescue.  Then they zip-line into motorboats, which they drive into a WWII cargo plane, which blows up about eighty-seven thousand enemy combatants before flying to safety.  All that, and there’s still room for lightning-fast fisticuffs between Jet Li and an entire room of Red Shirts, Terry Crews’ exploding shotgun, death by falling water tower, a stomach-churningly awful Terminator reference from former California governor and three-time T-800 Arnold Schwarzenegger, and more grisly sniper-caused head-shots than Saving Private Ryan has.

Nothing else in the movie reaches the same insanity pitch, though you can’t fault the last forty minutes for trying.  As our heroes demolish their way to a happy ending, the movie crams in mayhem upon mayhem, most of which Schwarzenegger and a glowering Bruce Willis (who spends every one of his scenes with “Why am I in this movie?  Oh yeah, the whole ‘dump truck full of money’ thing” stamped on his face) cause from the interior of a SmartCar in an abandoned – and rapidly disintegrating – airport.  Ostensibly, Brian Tyler does the score for the movie, but I doubt you’ll be able to hear anything other than exploding shells and the onset ringing of tinnitus.  Even if you are the target audience for this kind of picture, you will find much of this illogical.

You will also not care.  Director Simon West (replacing Sylvester Stallone behind the camera) greatly improves on the chaos, staging the action with wide takes and clean cutting.  There’s a bit too much CGI blood for my liking, and I would have liked a greater focus on hand-to-hand fighting over bullet-spraying, but West lets you see everything, and he makes you feel the weight of flying bodies through space.

It’s when the movie stops waging war that I stop caring.  West manages to wring out most of the first film’s ill-conceived pathos (case in point: Lundgren’s drug-addicted turncoat is now the Expendables’ lovable wildcard), but I still count about thirty minutes where The Expendables 2 expects me to care about its characters’ rich inner lives.  Here’s the thing: I will never give a s**t about the way Stallone’s Barney Ross pushes away everyone who could get close to him, or the trust issues that Lee Christmas (Statham) has with his long-suffering girlfriend (“Buffy” and “Angel” veteran Charisma Carpenter), or the increasing unease that the Expendables’ youngest member (Chris Hemsworth’s little brother Liam, cast because The Expendables‘ producers really want you to think that Chris Hemsworth is in this movie) has over killing so many people.

I want to see them a) turning human flesh into jelly or b) turning buildings into stardust.  A combination of both is also acceptable.  I’m fine with Terry Crews getting more time to shine (if you haven’t seen Idiocracy, stop reading this and buy 100 copies, stat.  Crews is so much better than this risible material allows him to be), and Big Bad Jean-Claude Van Damme (playing a character called, I kid you not, “Vilain”) is always good for a laugh or two, but that’s about it.  Less talk-y, more gut-y.

The template, of course, is West’s landmark action classic Con Air, which paired histrionic action beats alongside sly performances (it makes heroes and villains from the likes of Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi, and the great Dave Chappelle) and hilariously overwrought melodramatics.  Con Air was too busy sending itself up to take anything seriously, and if The Expendables 2 had followed suit, we’d have a new camp classic.  But until Stallone and Co. stop deluding themselves about their supposed “importance,” we’re going to have to take the good with the bad.

My sole consolation: at least the bad will detonate after twenty minutes.

Lionsgate offers the film in a problematic Blu-ray/UV Digital Copy combo pack.  The sound is everything you’d hope from a film like this: mean and loud and immersive (the 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, that is.  I don’t have the hardware to sample the supposedly epic Neo X 11.1 track).  The picture?  Eh.  Some scenes look crisp and detailed, and others are swimming in digital noise.  Initially, I thought it an aesthetic choice, except for the fact that the quality of the print can vary within a given shot.

Supplements are solid.  We get a commentary with Simon West; four behind-the-scenes featurettes (“Gods of War: Assembling Earth’s Mightiest Anti-Heroes,” “Big Guns, Bigger Heroes: The 1980’s and the Rise of the Action Film,” “On the Assault: The Real Life Weaponry of The Expendables 2,” and “Guns for Hire: the Real Life Expendables”); five minutes of deleted scenes; and an okay gag reel.  Nothing is as good as the “Inferno” documentary for the first Expendables, but there’s very little fluff.

Maybe The Expendables 2 could’a used more fluff.  When it’s blowing stuff up, it’s a massively enjoyable extravaganza.  When anybody starts talking…take cover.

The Expendables 2 streets on November 20th.  Click HERE for Amazon’s listing.

Culture Movie Review: Ignore the Dialogue and Enjoy THE EXPENDABLES 2's Many Explosions