Despite rumor mongering that Sylvester Stallone would once again be leading his battalion both onscreen and behind the camera in The Expendables 2, it turns out that Sly will be handing over both scripting and directing duties on the sequel (though he is expected to be involved in crafting the story).
After several months of searching, it looks as though Sly and Lionsgate studio heads have finally settled on a fellow to direct the Expendables followup: none other than Con Air and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider helmer, Simon West.
Deadline confirmed the news, adding that original Expendables players Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, and Mickey Rourke are indeed expected to return for the sequel. Word that Bruce Willis is set as one of the film's antagonists persists - though Arnold Schwarzenegger's retreat from the limelight could mean that his mercenary character won't be playing a significant role in Expendables 2, as was previously speculated.
Jean-Claude Van Damme is still rumored as a prospective villain for Expendables 2, but there's been no other substantiated talk about what additional '80s/90s action movie icons could be joining the party. That Stallone plans to up the ante by throwing even more stars with impressive onscreen kill-counts into the mix has been known for some time; now, however, we're approaching a point where there should be some official announcements about who is and isn't in for the next Expendables adventure.
On the directing side of things: West is a well-established action movie helmer who's been keeping busy of late, calling the shots on this year's Mechanic remake with Statham and reuniting with his Con Air star Nicolas Cage for the upcoming action-thriller Medallion. His involvement should be a plus for fans who were less than taken with Stallone's directing in the first Expendables (which was considered shoddy enough to warrant a Razzie Award nomination).
Despite a rumored Expendables 2 plot synopsis that suggested the sequel would follow the trend of '80s action franchise sequels by upping the personal stakes, the sequel's actual plot is anyone's guess at this point. Obviously, the central narrative will essentially boil down to "the Expendables go on a new mission," but whether or not any returning characters will be playing a larger role - or be getting the axe in the sequel - are the bigger questions for now.
While Expendables definitely delivered on the action front - featuring all the brutal violence and big action set pieces you could ask for - there was much room for improvement. That was especially true on the screenwriting front, where Stallone and his Expendables co-writer Dave Callaham really failed to churn out the sort of catchy (or memorably corny) dialog and one-liners that used to dominate action-fests back in the day. If Expendables 2 screenwriters David Agosto and Ken Kaufman (Space Cowboys, Muppets from Space) can put together a stronger script for West to work with, then this is one sequel that could very much improve on its predecessor.
Also - maybe West should go with old-fashioned squibs instead of CGI blood (a la the first Expendables) to give the gun/weapon-related violence in Expendables 2 more of a raw and visceral feel. Just a suggestion.
The Expendables 2 will hit U.S. theaters on August 17th, 2012.