While not quite ‘the best action movie of the year’ as advertised on the poster, The Expendables 2 is a total blast – a bit scrappily made, like a cheery old-style B-movie, but consistently funny and exciting, even sometimes hilarious and thrilling.

Sly Stallone’s Barney Ross is back in fighting-fit action with his old-school mercenaries, when Bruce Willis’s Mr Church enlists them on a simple job to get some cash back, and gives them a new gang member – Maggie (Yu Nan). Stallone’s not up for no babysitting, but Maggie’s pretty soon helping out big time and saving his wrinkly old ass. They’ve also got a new kid on the block along for the ride – Billy the Kid (hunky Liam Hemsworth) – who’s so young he looks like Sly’s grandson. Enter Jean-Claude Van Damme’s brilliantly slimy villain – you know he’s a villain because he’s called Jean Vilain and he’s French, and because he’s ready, yea eager, to torture and, if need be, kill Billy the Kid and even Barney Ross to get what he wants. Why didn’t they just go ahead and call the hero Barney Hero? Well, they didn’t.

The Expendables start after the money, but then the mission becomes all about revenge against Van Damme. What’s the plan, guys? ‘Track ‘em, find ‘em, kill ‘em,’ growls Sly. Then things really hot up as the gang lands in hostile territory and cuts a swathe of death and destruction  through the baddies, who have six tons of weapons-grade plutonium at their command. And, as everyone knows, that’s enough to change the whole balance of power in the world, at the very least. As Van Damme conveniently reminds us: ‘Six pounds of pure plutonium is powerful enough to change the balance of the world. Imagine what six tons will do.’ Round about this point, Arnie’s Trench (‘I’m back!) and Chuck Norris’s lone fighter Booker turn up to help out, and so does Willis’s Mr Church again (‘I’m back too!).

Sly and Jason Statham (as Lee Christmas) enjoy some fun screen time again with good, cynical repartee, Dolph Lundgren’s dopey Gunner Jensen is surprisingly funny and Norris’s couple of cameo scenes are a scene-stealing delight. Old pals Sly, Arnie, Willis – cool, relaxed and comfortably self-mocking – make the most of their briefish screen time together (‘we should be in a museum’), both on the wacky dialogue and guns-blazing action fronts. Arnie and Willis get into a Smart car together. Arnie: ‘My shoe is bigger than this car!’ Brucie:‘Shoot something!’

It is a slight shame that it’s scrappily made, with some rough-looking visuals and poor sound quality that drowns out some of the dialogue. And, to be honest, what story there is gets pretty much lost somewhere along the way. And did the climax have to be filmed in what looks like an annexe of Stansted Airport?

But none of this matters at all or in any way spoils the fun. With huge guns blazing throughout (proving that size does matter), the truly thrilling action’s brilliantly staged, particularly the opening and closing sequences, and Sly’s final conflict with Van Damme is a nail-biter (with a fired-up Damme still showing a nimble way with a bit of kick-ass). All in all, even better than 2010’s $273million blockbuster The Expendables.

Chances of a sequel? Trust me, they’ll be back.

Copyright of Derek Winnert 2012