While the past decade has seen the rise of new kind of action movie – superheroes and green screen – Stallone is satisfied that the Expendables 2 , modeled on the Wild Geese, the Dirty Dozen and the Wild Bunch as much as 80’s action movies, can slug it against the likes of the amazing Spider-man and the Dark Knight Rises: It’s the biggest film I’ve been involved in for 20 years. I’m very confident that it will perform. It’s a lot better than the first one, bigger, and has more stars. There’s a whole generation who’ve grown up with a different breed of hero. I don’t know how those guys do all that green screen work – I’ve done a bit and it drives me crazy. I like the heat of an explosion in my face, a hunk of tin flying past my head 30ft from where it should’ve gone! It’s hard to get the emotion without it. I’m very proud of this movie because 90 per cent of the stunts are in camera.
Statham: These are real guys. They’re the working man’s hero… guys you wanna have a beer with. They’re not super-human. They’re not indestructible. They have flaws and each character is screwed up, in his own way. They’re fragile and sensitive and at the same time can kick some ass. That’s what the audience can relate to.
Yes, these guys bleed. And a fair bit, it seems, for the rumours of a diluted PG-13 sequel are gloriously untrue. “We are R-rated”, promises West, and further adds: There is humour in it, but it’s pretty dark humour. It’s sparing – not action, gag, action, gag. The first film had a hard edge and this is the same sensibility, but on a bigger scale.
Of the new faces on board – Chuck Norris’ mysterious saviour Booker (aka the Lone Wolf), Liam Hemsworth’s ace sniper Bill The Kid Timmons and Yu Nan’s safe cracker Maggie – everyone seems to agree that it is Jean-Claude Van Damme’s crazed Jean Vilain who steals the show.
Stallone: Jean-Claude is spectacular in this. You never know what you’re gonna get with him, in real life or on film. We’d do 10 takes and every one was different. He’d play menacing, serious, flamboyant, tongue-in-check… and we just let him go. You have to let Jean-Claude be Jean-Claude.
West: Jean-Claude plays it flamboyant but most of all he’s psychotic. They were my favourite days, when he came in. He’s very unpredictable. I’d have to have a huge area with lots of cameras!
Talk again turns to the mega airport battle.
West: A lot of time I had to shoot in one direction, one actor, then turn around in the other direction, another actor, as they weren’t available at the same time. But in the airport I did the wide shots as they were all there. That was a special moment – the hair stood up on the back of my head. And the giant battle at the end revolves down to a fight between Sly and Van Damme, two of the greatest screen fighters. Jean-Claude can still leap 6ft in the air and do his spin kicks. It’s unbelievable. It’s kind of beautiful. He goes up, spins around, and Sly comes in and pounds with his big fists!
Lundgren: Van Damme is mercurial in his performance. We talked about Universal Soldier between takes, but he mostly kept to himself on set because he wanted to give the character some edge. Sly is a smart man and he probably hired him for that reason. People are curious about him because there are a lot of rumours flying around. Now they get to see him playing the villain and being extremely mean.
Final words, Stallone: The first movie filled a gap. We got together all these characters, past and present, and tried to bring back a little of that hardcore action, that old time rock ‘n’ roll. This one you have all of us together, working in tandem. I stood outside my character and said, ‘God, this is the Terminator over here, John McClane over there…’ We should have done it years ago! But maybe it’s good we waited this long, because now it’s going to be worth the wait.