The Expendables (2010)

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Terry Crews, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis

Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Expectations: High.

On the general scale:

On the B-Movie scale:

The Expendables should have been great. It had so much going for it. I grew up watching 1980s action films and have been patiently awaiting a new release that re-captures some of their glory. When Stallone announced he was going back to the well one last time, and taking a bunch of badasses along for the ride, I was stoked from word one and had to do my best to keep myself from going into a violent frenzy in celebration. Unfortunately, the film is riddled with flaws and would have benefited greatly from a script rewrite and a focus on realistic, physical violence.

Not much back story is given throughout the film, but that’s okay, we all should know the drill by now. In pure 80s form, there’s a dictator doing some evil shit on an island off the coast of somewhere. Stallone and his posse ride in to take his ass down. Sounds good so far. I’m willing to shut down the think tank if they’re willing to put up some awesome action sequences. Unfortunately, like most facets of the picture, the action scenes are more frustrating than anything else. This brings me to my biggest problem with this film.

The film is a swollen piñata of horrible shot selection and ugly, fast editing. Was that a punch? Or maybe a kick? Who knows, and while you’ve been wondering, twenty-five other shots have already gone by. It’s endlessly frustrating to watch. Even Jet Li becomes utterly worthless in the film, simply due to the shoddy editing. I’ve been a huge Jet Li fan for the last fifteen years. His inclusion was welcome news because I felt at the time that Stallone was probably casting him for a reason. I know the reason now, to put the name Jet Li on the poster. Seriously, it’s the only reason he’s there. His only moment of martial arts comes when he finds himself in a fight against Dolph Lundgren, a man not generally known for his wily Shaolin monkey style. As with most mis-match fights, it’s a lot of the little guy moving fast and throwing a lot of kicks, which the big guy soaks up and then begins to wallop or pick up the little guy with ease. I’m willing to accept this if I get to watch a short moment of Jet Li on the big screen, but the editing ruins any chance of actually seeing him show off his on-screen physical prowess. If people are eating this up, I can only imagine the explosive head trauma that would follow watching Jet actually kick some ass in something like Fist of Legend or Once Upon a Time in China. They even had veteran Hong Kong director and action choreographer Corey Yuen in charge of the scene and it is nothing more than a miserable failure.

If Rocky Balboa and Rambo had you thinking that Stallone was creating a good body of recent work as a writer/director, then The Expendables will set remote-detonated, C4 plastic explosive charges on those thoughts and completely obliterate them in a cloud of computer-generated smoke. Which brings me to my second major beef with the film. The over abundance of computer imagery, including blood, smoke and fire. I’ll limit myself to one abysmal example. Two characters fight in front of an obviously computer-generated fire. How hard is it to make a fire? Are we that lazy? Anyway, the fight ends with the bad guy getting kicked into the fire and his body is then engulfed in…wait for it…computer-generated fire. Normally, I would shrug this off, laugh heartily and enjoy the hell out of something like this, but because everything in The Expendables is played so damned seriously, it was near impossible for me to have a good time.

If I was doing a throwback to 1980s action, I’d do my best to not only get those guys back into action, but to also remain true to the style and visual directions of those films. I’d throw a stuntman in a burn suit, slap some fire-retardant gel on him, and turn on the flames. Perhaps I have the invasion of Iraq to blame for this, as the high price of oil may have kept actual fire out of the film’s budget.

Only in the last few minutes of the film does the tone lighten enough to allow these guys to get together and have a good time. Now this is what I wanted from the get go! Damn, if only the whole movie was like this. There are a few other bright spots sprinkled throughout. Jason Statham surprised the hell out of me and was probably the most badass dude on screen. Terry Crews is excellently over-the-top in his limited amount of screen time and has one of the coolest movie guns of all time in the final battle. This thing will seriously go down in history and continue to populate Top Ten lists for years to come.

I love what Stallone is doing with his career these last few years, and the idea behind this film was a noble one, but I cannot put a recommendation behind it. The Expendables is a poorly shot, mess of a film that is a B-movie at heart that refuses to fully embrace its roots by taking itself much too seriously. Maybe it will appeal to those that enjoy modern action pictures, but it surely didn’t do much for this child of the 1980s. I find it ironic that in Stallone’s glorious action tribute to muscular men that don’t have to front to be action stars, he cuts the picture like they do. Maybe they’re getting older than they want to believe.

16 comments to The Expendables (2010)

  • How do you make an action ode to the ’80s and use CGI?!?

  • I couldn’t agree more this should have been one of the great films to remember. The powers that be managed to screw it up. I would only give it one star and throw it in the dung heap.

  • As you probably already know, I’m much closer to your assessment of the movie than Jasper’s. Just not a very good flick even for a high-end B-movie.

  • As a Jet Li fan I have had mixed feelings about going to see this film on the big screen. I am very sceptical about Holloywood’s approach to shooting and editing martial arts (as evidenced by most of the Aemrican movies Jet has made). I hate that fast, jumpy, blurry editing where you can’t actually see the movement – it completely undermines any reason for having Jet Li in the movie in the first place. I have read many other blogs reviewing the Expendables and most of the bloggers say that Jet’s fight with Dolph Lundgren is “awesome”. But this makes me wonder (as you touch on in your review) whether these folks know just how awesome a properly shot and edited martial arts film can be.

    I think I will watch this movie but probably only when it comes out on DVD. Thanks for the review.

    • It’s pretty safe to say that you will be disappointed with the fight because you are a true martial arts film fan. Westerners do not understand how to shoot martial arts. It’s unfortunate, because Jet Li is less of a star over here because they never released his classics on the big screen like a lot of the Jackie Chan films, so most people only know his US films which are on the complete other end of the spectrum.

  • Good review; I’m also a “child of the 80s” and was so disappointed with “The Expendables.” It’s such a pity, as Stallone was on a roll with his last couple of movies. This was just an easy pay cheque. Hopefully, his next one will be better…

  • Darren

    Yep, I’m glad to see I was not alone in being disappointed by the film. And Willis as a bad guy sounds better than Roberts – but I think the movie’s problems were a lot deeper than that. If you’re packing a movie with people who can’t do drama, don’t give them extended dialogue and crappy romantic subplots. I want testosterone poisoning by the end of the first reel, damn it.

    • I don’t mind the acting so much. I didn’t expect anything deep from them, but I agree, it was a bit slow to get the action going. I would have liked a lot more team action in it as well, I was disappointed a lot of it was just a couple guys at a time. Thanks for coming by and commenting!

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