Terry Crews arrives for the Canadian premiere of 'The Expendables 2' at Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto Aug. 13, 2012. Dominic Chan - The Canadian Press

Terry Crews arrives for the Canadian premiere of 'The Expendables 2' at Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto Aug. 13, 2012.

Two of the seemingly innumerable big guns in the action follow-up 'The Expendables 2' calmly burst their way into the off-kilter, stunted red-carpet atmosphere of a downtown Toronto multiplex and immediately embody the spirit of their on-screen mercenaries.

"You know," bellows big Terry Crews, the former NFL linebacker turned comedy-and-action TV/movie star, in one of his many displays for eager TV crews straining against the guide ropes, "this movie is so manly, you're gonna have to shave halfway through the movie!"

Crews is 44, big, boisterous, constantly laughing and jibing, glad-handing his way through the crowd and enlivening the place—and Scotiabank Cinema is a weird place, too, an architectural collision of disused '80s sci-fi movie set slammed into the spare inventory of a hardware big-box—with quick quips and live-wire humour. He is not unlike his hulking gun blazer in both 'Expendables' movies, a black-op beret with a sardonic wit who goes by the code name Hale Caesar.

Soon behind him is Randy Couture, the 49-year-old record-setting UFC champion who refused to die, sharper on the draw but almost as unspeakably modest as Toll Road, his Expendables soldier brought in for a second tour of duty. As opposed to the big presence of Crews—who appears immaculately tailored in an earth-tone two-piece suit, brown brogues and an open-neck white dress shirt—Couture speaks in softer and deeply considered tones, preferring a more relaxing wardrobe of a crisp white linen shirt and a comfortable cap.

They are, critics and doubters be denied, back for more. The 'Expendables 2' has shady and somewhat-threatening Bruce Willis calling back the crew led by Sylvester Stallone on another death-defying international mission. The team is stacked, with Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jason Statham all ready with triggers, knives and fists. Mickey Rourke and Stone Cold Steve Austin are MIA this time, but that's OK. Lone wolf Chuck Norris and young gun Liam Hemsworth are now in the Expendables fold, along with Chinese star Yu Nan as the first woman in the pack.

This time, they're after another great star of days of action yore. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome Jean-Claude Van Damme as the vicious, ruthless, slave-driving plutonium thief who has no qualms about upping the splatter count in this game of international intrigue.

"You know what?" asks Crews, taking time out to chat one-on-one with MSN on his way down the line. "Actually, it's funny because we were hearing rumours about the movie right when we were shooting the end. When the Internet blew up and everyone was saying: 'Oh, look: It's time for '80s action! We can bring it back! It's really good!' We had to be careful, because they wanted 'Snakes on a Plane' back, too, and it failed. And so we were like 'OK. Just temper all enthusiasm. Curb it until we see what happens.' When it became a worldwide hit, we knew. And when I got the call, I was in."

And the call came early—just two years later—after 'The Expendables' defied the odds and ran away with $250 million in worldwide box-office receipts. That would explain the line that snaked up from Richmond Street, just outside Toronto's hip and upscale club district, filing up escalators and clamouring for a look-see at the carpet before heading into the bowels of this unholy spaceship of a movieplex to see what the old dogs can still do on the silver screen.

The sneak peek has been anticipated for a long while.

"Bigger explosions," is what Mike Logan, a 33-year-old artist and student from a few kilometres east in Oakville, says he's looking for. Logan is a big fan of the first film. "More fight scenes," he says, expanding his wish list. "I've seen the trailer, but that's about it. I don't really listen to critics on it. I like to get my own opinion on the movies."

Logan is among the readily committed. Further back in line are a couple of fresh recruits. Twenty-eight-year-old social services worker Michelle Semeto and 31-year-old high-school teacher Jessica Bonsu—two friends coming in from suburban Mississauga—aren't quite sure what they're about to get into. In fact, the first run of 'The Expendables' remains on the haven't-seen-it list.

"No, I haven't," laughs Semeto. "I was supposed to watch it last night, but I didn't get around to it. That probably won't help this interview. We got tickets from a friend, and we really like watching movies. And it looked like a good action film, so we're excited to see it."

They're young, they're stoked, and they've got their reasons for making the trip. Seriously, Stallone, Crews and Couture may be guys who haven't needed to be ID'd at a bar in a long, long time, but they ain't that hard to look at.

"Sylvester Stallone," Semeto says, admitting to her prime attraction. "Big fan of his."

"Jean-Claude Van Damme," Bonsu throws in.

And Semeto with another: "Liam Hemsworth. He's a hottie."

The team is about fight, the team is about kill, the team is about principle, and the team is about a whole lot of buff. And team it always is. Crews is quick to point that out.

"Watching Sly, Arnold and Bruce and Chuck just have no sense of entitlement—they come to work and they're ready," Crews says reverently. "One thing is, when you're looking at actors and you look at movie sets, they follow the leader. When the leader's goofing off, everybody starts goofing off. When the leader's on drugs, everybody starts using drugs. And that's just really the truth.

"Here, it was so by the book. You saw people who were like 'This could be the biggest thing that we've ever done.' Let me tell you: It trickled down, all the way down to craft services. It was that kind of mood on the set. It was awesome."

It may seem an odd thing to say about an ensemble film with so many big names—and, potentially, big egos—fighting for space, but 'The Expendables 2' actually gives each actor enough room to shade in the characters they introduced the first time out. Couture's right-hand man is crazed and often quiet, regarded as a bit slow by the rest of the jokers in the crew, but a Toll Road who might actually be more shy than anything else.

"He's a little more introspective," Couture says. "You know, a college-educated guy is always trying to improve himself—going to counselling, trying to shut off the voices in his head sometimes. At the same time, this is his family. These are guys he bleeds with and sweats with. It's not unlike some of the things I've experienced in my real life, on the teams I've been on."

Those teams have included his rise from youth in Washington state into the world of high-ranking wrestling, then time in the armed services before a second career—far from his last, as it's turning out—as a five-time UFC champion.

"I was in the Army for six years," he says. "I think both those things affected me pretty significantly. Yeah, absolutely. An individual, combative sport like wrestling kind of bashing me into developing a particular character, but then translated to being a good soldier, and having the discipline and the physicality into taking being a soldier in stride—I think being in the Army taught me to pay attention to detail and taught me a particular discipline that you don't learn anywhere else. All those things, I think, eventually led me to fighting, and a 15-year fighting career that was pretty successful."

Crews came into Western Michigan University on an arts scholarship, and while there ended up finding his career path in football. He ended up persevering as a defensive end in the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins.

"It was almost like I was designed for this," Crews says of his second go at Hale Caesar. "It was one of those things that you realize, my whole seven years in the NFL and my five years playing football in college could have been for this moment right here. This body didn't come in a gym. This body came from hitting people at 25 miles an hour. The collisions made my body—you know what I mean? So, you look at that, and you really can't get this in a gym.

"And when I look at this thing on screen and you see how it works, every member of 'The Expendables' got where they are from what they did before. It's such cool, real-life stuff. We're not a bunch of 18-year-old guys who have never done anything and they have to Velcro on our muscles."

Now, to see if they can win audiences over again.

"I liked it," 57-year-old Toronto telecom-salesman David Philp says of the first installment. "Non-stop action. I guess my favourite guy in it was Jason Statham. Stallone was good. And I didn't think Arnold and Bruce were very good—just a quick appearance. So, I hope they have a lot more action in this one."

Rest assured, Schwarzenegger and Willis get a whole lot more face time in this one. Which 35-year-old website head Howard Chui, the Torontonian standing next to Philp out on Richmond Street, could use.

"I didn't like it," Chui says of the first film. "I'd give the first one a six out of 10. I enjoyed watching the '90s action stars that were in it."

The obvious question, then, Howard, is: What the hell are you doing here in line for 'The Expendables 2'?

"More '90s action stars," he says.

OK. So... any actor you expect to stand out for you in this one?

"All the '90s action stars," he replies. "It's a simple formula."

Well, then. It's go time. Let's see if 'The Expendables 2' can measure up.