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