The Expendables review
The Expendables became a newsworthy film within minutes of its announcement that it had an all star cast of action heroes sharing the screen time. Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Mickey Rourk, Dolph Lundgren, Steve Austin, Randy Couture, and Terry Crews round out the macho men of actors and wrestlers who clearly indicate this was going to be one hell of an action film. While Steve Segal and Jean Claude Van Damn passed on roles in the film, thankfully the cameo appearances of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis make sure fans pay attention. With a cast like this, no way in hell could this not be the end-all be-all action film.
But that's not exactly what Stallone, who stars, directs, and co-wrote the film, has created. The Expendables is clearly an over-the-top action film in the same vein as many of the 1980's staples he himself starred in, but seems to act only as a love letter to the days when movies acted out our response to fears during the Cold War. Once the Kremlin fell, action films took on a different feel without an ultimate evil for use to act out our fantasies. Gone were the steroid fed action stars, whose physical strength and crack shot could save the day. Instead we've have leaner action stars who rely on wit and espionage to fulfill their duties. Clearly Stallone wants a film to evoke those older days, and what better way than to pad out a cast with the biggest stars from the genre.
It's certainly not a very complex story. Starting off the coast of Somalia, we are introduced to The Expendables, a crack team of mercenaries lead by Barny Ross (Stallone) who will do whatever is needed if the money is right. Like a grossly violent A-Team, they certainly do have a certain set of morals, but it doesn't get very deep. These dudes shoot well, fight even better, and make giblets of the bad guys. It's what we want, and it's what we get. If this is not the prime example of how to build an action film, then we truly do live in the Twilight Zone.
However, things are a little more complicated when the secretive Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) offers the Expendables a $5 million to deal with a corrupt generalissimo on the small nation of Vilena. In a fantastic cameo by Governor Arnold himself, Willis, Schwarzenegger and Stallone practically exude '80's action Hollywood, with in-jokes and subtle jabs at each other making this one scene worth seeing. Ross takes the job, where upon he and partner Lee Christmas (Statham) fly down to the island nation for some recon. Meeting the lovely Sandra (Giselle Itié), she guides them through the culture of the nation and ultimately melts the heart of Ross. After a dramatic plane flight out of the nation when the mission goes sour, Ross decides to return with his full team and save the day. Meanwhile drug cartels, corrupt former CIA agents, traitorous former team members, and all the action movie shlock you can expect pan out. You can figure out the ending; there are very little surprises here.
Thankfully, this is a movie that knows it's role, and that's for these old action stars (with the exception of Statham, who is still in his prime) to perform the same old song and dance. The action scenes are by and large over the top and explosive -- perfect for a matinee before drinks with buddies. This would all be perfect except Stallone has made some decisions regarding the fight sequences that plague many modern action films. Quick cuts mean you can hardly tell what's going on, and the addition of CGI blood mean splatter effects have a somewhat glistening and unreal effect.
That's the biggest problem with The Expendables. As a love letter to the action films of old, it functions purely perfunctory, with nothing quite memorable other than some in-jokes and outlandish action sequences. None of the actors are particularly good (an exemption one must make with these sort of films), but the plot is particularly bland, and the additional subplots (Yang's (an aged Jet Li) desire for a raise because he wants to send his kid to a better school, or Lee Christmas' attempt to win back a girlfriend who he hasn't seen in a month) are all flat and unnecessary. Yes, it's to show that these guys have lives and character, but when it's so half-assed I have to question the point of it. The tragedy of The Expendables is that it can't quite rise up to the levels of the films it salutes, and instead wallows as an entertaining, but yet, unmemorable action romp.