Sylvester Stallone is at it again. Racking up the body count, amping up the explosions and jacking up the testosterone levels, The Expendables is Sly’s latest venture into the film world. For his latest outing, he gets behind and in front of the camera in what is sure to be a roller coaster ride of a film.
Having assembled a pretty rocking cast (one in which the amount of cosmetically enhanced faces would even make Joan Rivers cringe), Stallone hopes to deliver the must see action film of the summer. Prominent action stars like Jet Li, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and Stallone himself all star in the film and with more than enough violence and action, Stallone hopes to bring us back to his glory days.
The Expendables is a throwback to 80’s action films, a genre Stallone knows all to well and one that he help defined with Rambo. Clearly hoping to spawn a franchise or at least a sequel or two, Stallone brings together his colourful cast to create what is a ‘guy’ film, in the truest sense.
While you may cry out that Stallone is past his heyday and should have retired from the action genre long ago, The Expendables should change your mind about that. After watching the film, you’ll be assured that Stallone is still very capable of making exciting and thrilling action movies.
When we first meet our motley crew of mercenaries, they’re busy on a mission which has them taking out Somali pirates and rescuing a few hostages. It’s a nice introductory scene and sets the tone for the film. We meet the team which consists of Barney Ross(Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Ying Yang (Jet Li), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Hale Caesar (Terry Crews).
To be honest, I’m still not sure whether these characters were named like this as some kind of sick joke or the writers actually thought it was cool. Either way I’d love to talk to the person who came up with these names.
As the film moves past the opening scene, our heroes arrive back home and are ready for a new job. Luckily, Barney’s friend Tool (Mickey Rourke) has three jobs for them. Two a walk in the park and one to hell and back as he puts it. Of course Barney chooses the latter of the two and Tool sets him up with his friend Church (Bruce Willis).
In what will surely be the most talked about scene of the film, Barney, Church and Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) meet in a church. It is a great scene but it feels like the only reason for it being here is to serve more as a novelty rather than something that is a necessity to the plot. I’m not going to complain though as some of the funniest moments of the film come from seeing Stallone and Schwarzenegger poking fun at each other. At one point Willis asks Stallone “what’s his problem?”, in reference to Schwarzenegger. Stallone replies, “he wants to be President.” Schwarzenegger also takes a stab at Stallone when he says “give this job to my friend here, he loves playing in the jungle.” This of course is the obligatory Rambo reference.
Anyways, Church briefs Barney about the mission and with a $5 million payout, Barney decides to check it out. Him and Lee go down to South America to do a bit of recon. As they observe the situation, they realize the mission is going to be more difficult than they thought. Church wants them to kill the dictator of a small island, General Garza (David Zayas). Garza isn’t the only enemy though, pulling the strings is ex-CIA operative James Munroe (Eric Roberts) and his bodyguard Paine (Steve Austin).
After getting into a few situations that end in too close of a call, Lee and Barney decide the mission is impossible and after a narrow escape out of the country, they head back home. A couple scenes fill up some time and one thing leads to another and Barney realizes that they must go back not only to complete their mission, but also to rescue Sandra (Giselle Itie) who is not only the general’s daughter but also Barney’s contact. Sandra is on Barney’s side and is totally opposed to what her father is doing.
Barney briefs the team on the mission and of course they all sign on. They’re fully aware it’s a suicide mission but hey, why let that ruin the fun of causing a bit of unadulterated chaos? So the boys head down south and what follows is exactly what you’d expect. Bad guys get murked, shit blows up and our team of mercenaries manage to tear the country apart.
When they’re not running around destroying anything that stands in their way, the film reverts to a buddy cop type film where the boys shoot the shit and engage in the expected bromantic chitchat. The story is full of cliches and isn’t terribly deep but it is straight forward and to the point, which is exactly what matters in a film of this nature.
Despite it sounding lame, believe it or not, the story isn’t the worst thing about The Expendables. No sir, not by a long shot. That award would have to go to the dialogue. Boasting an excessive amount of two/three word lines delivered stoically by the cast, the dialogue is as flat as an old open can of pop.
Highlights include; let her go, come on baby, we’ve got company, drop your weapons and a whole other slew of cliched lines. Also included are a few painfully long monologues and an ample amount of cheesiness. After a while you actually start to wonder, are Stallone and his co-writer Dave Callaham paying homage here or is the writing just that bad?
Thankfully, things on the acting front aren’t all that bad. As stated before, Willis and Schwarzenegger are nice surprises but their roles feel forced and unnecessary. The cigar chomping Stallone walks around for the whole film with a semi punch drunk look on his face and does his usual thing.
He does look a lot better here than in Rambo as he’s lost that tree trunk look so at least he looks normal but the effects of the plastic surgery and steroids are still apparent. His pronunciation is even worse than before and at times you have to wonder if subtitles may have made things better. Despite this, he still offers a strong performance and him and Statham could have easily carried the film themselves. Stallone’s one of my favorite actors, sure he’s no De Niro or Pacino but he knows his role and he’s good at playing it.
Statham carries the film on the acting front and consistently steals the spotlight from Stallone. He’s a pretty reliable actor and he has some great scenes here. Him and Stallone’s one on one scenes are some of the better scenes in the movie and their camaraderie is believable.
The rest of the cast is pretty much expendable (pun intended). Jet Li is the comic relief and is here simply to serve as a target for the jokes (although he does offer a few funny lines). Randy Couture and Terry Crews don’t even show their face for enough time to really comment on their roles and Steve Austin’s role amounts to nothing more than having him stand by Eric Robert’s side and look mean. He mutters only a handful of bland lines throughout the movie and aside from a few fights that are actually pretty well choreographed, he’s essentially useless. Lundgren, who I was really excited to see return to the big screen, gets a pretty weak role that really doesn’t give him a lot to work with. What he does have he handles pretty well but there just isn’t enough of it.
To be fair, most of the characters are poorly written. In fact, all the characters are poorly written. To say the characters are flat would be an understatement. These guys are thinner than paper. They are not well defined and are not at all fleshed out. We know literally next to nothing about them and in the end I think the film would have benefited from a smaller and more tightly written group of characters. There are too many people here fighting for screen time and there is no room for character development.
Rourke and Roberts are actually pretty good and while they don’t steal the show like Stallone and Statham, they do shine in all their scenes. Rourke doesn’t get to see any action but he has a couple good scenes in the tattoo parlor and offers a nice ‘what does it all amount to’ speech.
Roberts, in a role that’s really no stretch for him, plays the menacing and snarky ex-CIA operative. Up to his usual shenanigans, Roberts plays the villain role just as you’d expect. It’s a role he knows all too well and he knows exactly what he’s doing here.
On the directing front, Stallone delivers and succeeds in providing an exciting action film. All the action is staged very proficiently and the somewhat choppy editing provides for fast and exciting action sequences. The explosions are abundant, enough limbs are severed and the CG blood hits the screen like a crimson explosion. Stallone has a knack for staging and filming violent action and it is made very apparent through The Expendables.
The fights are choreographed very nicely and all the violence lives up to the hype. Bad guys don’t just get shot, they erupt like a bursting balloon. Buildings don’t just explode, they get obliterated. Explosions are monstrous in scale and they come complete with some cheap looking CG effects. At the end of the film, when the orgy of death arrives, it truly is a spectacle to watch.
There is just one thing holding back the action from being truly amazing and that is the low production values. The CG effects look absolutely terrible. They have a cheap and tacky feel to them and even to the average moviegoer this will be apparent. From the blood to the fire and everything in between, a lot of it just looks very off. I’m guessing the culprit for this is the film’s low budget.
When all is said and done, if nothing else, The Expendables serves as an entertaining retro ride into 80’s action flicks. It’s a movie where testosterone literally drips off the screen in every scene and there’s no denying that it is a ton of fun. The fighting and violence definitely help the film deliver on its promise of being one of the manliest film ever.
Overall, The Expendables is one of the summer’s best films. If you loved the 80’s action fests where Lundgren and Stallone made names for themselves, you’re going to love The Expendables. It has a lot of problems but in the end it has enough good in it to be more than just a novelty.
What The Expendables does right is it caters to its fans. It knows exactly what they want and it gives it to them. The film has shoddy dialogue, weakly constructed characters, a cliched story and some questionable production values but who cares? All I wanted was to see some great action stars team up and kick some serious ass, and at the end of the film, that’s exactly what I got.
What The Expendables does right is it caters to its fans. It knows exactly what they want and it delivers a a pure, adrenaline-fuelled thrill ride with some great action.