The Expendables 2 has 11 names on its poster only because there is not room, either in poster space or running time, for 47. It is New Years Eve with testicles. It is the turducken of action movies. Rather than review the film, I thought I'd just rank those 11 names, in ascending order of Expendables 2 badassery. Let's go to it.
11. Jet Li. The martial arts star was mostly used for comedic effect in the first film—he's smaller than everyone else, you see, and also Asian—and, considering he retired from action films a few years ago, he sorta just hangs around these movies to helpfully boost up the overseas market. He has one fight scene and then disappears from the movie by jumping out of a plane. I had forgotten he was in it until I looked at the poster to write this piece.
10. Randy Couture. The former UFC champion has the least charisma of anyone in The Expendables 2, and boy, that's saying something. He's the most inexperienced actor in the cast and shows it, and his only real character trait is "has mangled ear." The other actors in the movie all make fun of him for this affliction, which totally makes sense. After all, they don't have cauliflower ears, considering they've spent their lives loafing around movie sets pretending to get punched, while mocking guys who actually have been.
9. Terry Crews. The bodybuilder/Tim & Eric co-collaborator is young enough to have a believably ripped body, unlike most everyone else hanging around, and clearly he's the cutup most days at the gym, which makes him "funny Expendable" in these parts. Does win extra credit points for being the only black guy in the cast but not having to endure "Hey, you're a black guy!" references every time on screen. That's no small feat for an action movie.
8. Bruce Willis. Without question the most talented actor in this cast—he's always seemed miscategorized as a Tough Guy Action Star; sure, he can do it, but he can do lots else too—he doesn't quite fit in. He's always glowering and pretending this is all real, for some reason, and, sorry, he'll never handle a machine gun as well as Sly or Arnold and definitely shouldn't do it next to them.
7. Liam Hemsworth. The token "person whose balls are neither terrifyingly small thanks to years of repeated steroid injections nor scraping against his inner knee," Hemsworth is here under the amusing illusion that teenage girls will see the guy from The Hunger Games and decide they'd like to stare at Sylvester Stallone's veins for two hours. Not to spoil anything here, but the first time you see Hemsworth's character, "Billy," he's putting a note for his girlfriend in his pocket and talking about how he can't wait to get out of this business so they can go get married in Paris and live a fruitful, happy, longer-than-this-movie's-running-time life together. Good luck with that, kid.
6. Dolph Lundgren. The best way I can describe The Expendables 2 is that the movie's comedic relief character is Dolph Lundgren. He does win points for his character being a secret mathematical genius and Fulbright scholar, considering the actor himself happens to be the exact same thing.
5. Chuck Norris. My favorite thing about Chuck Norris is that he tries so, so hard to be in on the Chuck Norris Facts joke ... but somehow still isn't. He plays a lone-wolf character who shows up every 20 minutes and blows everything away from offscreen, likely because at this point in his life, Chuck Norris is incapable of picking up an assault rifle unless he plans on writing a column about it. Here's a fun thought experiment: Imagine what Chuck Norris would look like if he shaved his beard.
4. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The years of running the government of California seem to have both honed Arnold's comic timing and transformed his forehead into Clint Eastwood's. (Seriously, right?) Arnold's barely in the film, but he's in it more than he was in the first one, and he even gets to fire off a few machine-gun rounds. He's also responsible for the film's funniest moment, when he escapes a gunfight in a Mini Cooper. Though his line, "My shoe is bigger than this car" would have been a lot funnier if it had been "I've taken shits bigger than this car." I bet it would have been true too.
3. Jason Statham. The only cast member who is still in his action-star prime, Statham is generally underrated as both an actor and a screen presence. He's his usual Statham self in The Expendables 2, kicking people and stabbing people and kick-stabbing people like it's the most natural thing in the world. He also pretty much won my heart forever by introducing a terrific catchphrase to the action-hero lexicon: "I now pronounce you man and knife!" I'm gonna be saying that at every wedding I go to for the rest of my life.
2. Jean-Claude Van Damme. If you haven't seen the hilarious, sad, absolutely gripping French art film JCVD, which came out in 2008 and features an aging, decrepit, pathetic Van Damme, playing himself, stumbling across a bank heist and ... you know, you sorta just have to see it. After that movie, honestly, I was just so happy to see Van Damme so taut and menacing and doing well for himself again that I found myself cheering every time he was on screen. Seriously, see JCVD. You'll never think of Street Fighter the same way again.
1. Sylvester Stallone. Oh, Sly. Bless his heart. Stallone's desperate insistence that he can make it 1988 again by science or magic would be sad if it weren't, deep down, so charming. The guy keeps himself in terrific shape at 66—thanks to loads and loads and loads of HGH, of course—and seems to truly believe in his ridiculous character, who leads these team of men who have nothing in common other than a truly impressive ability to avoid massive numbers of bullets. Even when he was in straight-to-video mode, you could tell that Stallone considered himself the biggest movie star in the world, so now that he's "back," it's like nothing ever changed. This movie doesn't have the surrealist madness of the last Rambo sequel—which was so cartoonishly violent that I thought at the time it might be an art project—but it has Stallone in his element, in charge, believing that all is right in the world, that he can just keep on blowing shit away and snarling and shooting off one-liners and we will never age and we will all live forever. He's a lunatic, but I love him for it. How could you not?
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.