'The Expendables 2'
'The Expendables 2'

Action lions Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger first met as fierce rivals back at the 1976 Golden Globes, when "Rocky" won best director and film, on its way to a best picture Oscar, while Schwarzenegger won Best Newcomer. Stallone threw flowers on a muscleman he expected to exit the scene, while his mother told the Austrian newcomer: "You look like a piano mover."

But Thursday in Comic-Con's Hall H panel for Lionsgate's "The Expendables 2" (August 17), the veteran actioners sang each other's praises and played the room of 6000 like the pros they are. NFL linebacker Terry Crews, champion fighter Randy Couture (complete with cauliflower ear) and martial artist Dolph Lundgren may not need to ice their joints after a hard day's work. But no one knows better how to woo their fans than Sly and Arnold, cracking wise and quoting their best lines. Geoff Boucher of the LAT's HeroComplex (whose traffic goes DOWN during Comic-Con, there's so much noise) didn't have to do a thing. 'The Expendables 2' press conference was nothing if not entertaining. (The sequel's director, action maestro Simon West, was not on hand.)

After a career clip reel, Stallone said, "Yo," to the fans, recalling all the bumps along the way. "I go 'ouch ouch ouch ouch,'" he said. "It seems like yesterday, hanging off a mountain or jumping off a waterfall. I'm proud of being part of filmmaking where you actually feel the rocks and water and experience."

"The Expendables" series is an homage to the era, the writer-director said. "I'm a product of it, I was fortunate to be part of a genre that cropped up in the early 80s." He wanted to "try and keep it going as long as we can and bring back some true bad-asses and male pattern baldness."

"Each one has talents in his own field," said Schwarzegger. "Sly did such a good job, he utilized their personalities, acting abilities and physical talent. It was natural for us to work together: we love physical fitness and no one understands us." And, added Stallone: "big rings and watches." The two stars have made another film together as well, Brit actioner "The Tomb."

Do later action generations use velcro muscles? "Not to be deprecating," said Stallone, "but it's become more futuristic scientific and technical, you don't have to spend your life pumping iron, which is not exactly a lot of fun. They can be creative through CG and do extraordinary things. I'm jealous of a whole different kind of action characters. Each generation redefines what they like through the heroes they choose to adore."

Stallone was smart enough with the first "Expendables" (which grossed $268 million worldwide) to figure out that an ensemble of action stars with varying fan bases could pack a whallop. And on the sequel return of the gang of mercenaries, also including Bruce Willis, Jason Statham and Jet Li--which shot in Bulgaria and cost about $10 million more than the first's $82 million, according to Millennium chief Avi Lerner--they added holdouts Jean-Claude Van Damme, who provides a challenging villain for the Expendables to fight against, as well as Chuck Norris.

The trick "when doing an film action ensemble with ten tough guys in it," Stallone said, "is how do we showcase all their personalities and keep the most important thing, momentum, you have to keep it going. With the first one, which was more searching, more dramatic, a hard R with some comedy, the audience was not sure what it is. On the second one, you find out what works from the first one and amplify it, you're all on the same page with the tone, you all have the same playbook. The second one if you have it all together, you can surpass the first one. We've achieved that."