What happens when you get the biggest action stars of the 80s all together for one giant action blockbuster? Well I dunno cos this isn’t that film. It is a big old piece of balls out action goodness though. Sylvester Stallone one day decided to call in every big names action star in his Blackberry phonebook together for a chance to blow shit up and flex to the camera and the resultant movie is The Expendables. Is it the action film fans of 80s macho movies were waiting for? Find out after the jump!
So the plot to this film is as wafer thin as the celluloid it’s printed on. Stallone leads a bunch of mercenaries known as The Expendables, hence the title, who are apparently the best of the best. One of their group known as Gunner (Dolph Lundgren) is a bit of a loose cannon so they kick him out. They get a job from a CIA agent called Bruce Willis… Well It’s Mr Church but he’s playing Bruce Willis… and head off to the fictional island of Vilena to assassinate it’s dictator General Garza. The truth though is that the island is under the control of a disgraced Federal agent who’s using his money to control the people. On the island Stallone and Statham meets a woman named Sandra who, unbeknown to them, is the daughter of Garza (David Zayas). When she won’t leave the island with them on their first action packed battle Stallone is left to wonder why. They decide to ditch the job but their slightly mushy feelings about women get in the way and they decide to form a team to go back and kick some arse cheeks.
Now you’d think because General Garza isn’t all that pleased with Eric Roberts controlling his small island with money he’d want the help of The Expendables. His daughter Sandra wants things back as they used to be so there’s even an emotional reason for him to ask for help. Thing is when Stallone was writing the script he didn’t think to give Eric Roberts character his own army for the Expendables to shoot so they got stuck with Garza’s. Even after his army paint their faces up in tribute of loyalty to him they still fight for Roberts. Garza even gives a speech to say the Americans are invading. Kinda foolish when he must have known they weren’t. Anyway, that made no sense but without it I guess the end wouldn’t have been so action pack.
Along the way Gunner betrays The Expendables, a whole load of jokes are made that are really about the actors and not the characters and Jason Statham acts like a big mushy child of a man because his booty call found a new guy. Granted this guy beats her but the intervening talk of feelings and women troubles is kinda weak. Are we supposed to identify that underneath all their machoism they’re just guys with feelings. It’s no coincidence that it’s current poster boy for shirtless Brits Jason Statham that get’s the mushy stuff to talk about. it’s there for the ladies in the audience to swoon over and that’s it. Speaking of “that’s it” that really is it for any sort of character depth outside of “Me make stuff go boom”. Mickey Rouke does his broken down man act as a former merc turned tattooist who couldn’t live with himself after letting a woman die but he’s in the film for all of 4 scenes.
Now you could say that I’m being picky because these movies aren’t about character development and the drama should come from the action. the thing is for a film of this type to step up from being good to being great there needs to be genuine emotional investment in the combat from the characters. there has to be something at stake for them. Statham’s thing at stake is Charisma Carpenter, who is still all kinds of tasty. His issues with her have nothing to do with the action on Vilena and are wrapped up within an hour. Stallone wants to go rescue Sandra but they’ve shared all of 3 scenes together and there’s no hint of a real emotional attachment there. Now if you go back and watch say Commando, for all it’s big dumb stupidity, there’s actually a real emotional bond between Schwarzenegger’s character and his daughter, He’s escaped to a life away from troubles to raise his daughter and it’s all taken away from him. Commando, a film generally regarded as one of the guiltiest of all action ovie pleasures, has more emotional depth than The Expendables. Which is a shame cos Stallone can really flesh out a character when needed. He is a talented writer and director but I think he was so focused on finding spaces for his musclebound pals that he forgot what a story really needs to elevate it.
Now the film isn’t really that bad. the action is frantic and beastly. The violence never really wusses out and the finale is basically a series of gun fights building up to a series of giant explosions. You can’t fault this film on how it handles it’s battles except maybe for the overuse of CGI blood. I miss when blood spurted from the actor and not a pipe in front of a green screen in a studio somewhere in Florida. We get some cool fights too. Jet Li fights Lundgren, Statham fights my local hero Gary Daniels and Stallone and Randy Couture get to fight Steve Austin. Now there’s an action scene where two of these fights happen and it’s kind of a muddle. there’s so much going on you don’t get to really enjoy the fights as we keep getting cut away. Also the fight between Couture and Stone Cold is more for fans of wrestling and MMA as it has no reason to happen in the plot. It would have made more sense for Stallone to fight Austin at the end seeing as a little earlier Stallone got his arse handed to him by Austin. Still, the fghts themselves are good even his Austin does end up covered in CGI flames.
Eric Roberts makes a suitably nasty villain and David Zayas, who some would know from Dexter, is a pretty decent conflicted dictator. He’s an underrated actor that’s for sure. Apparently Steve Austins character has little trouble beating women, a joke I found a little too close to the truth for my liking. Gary Daniels doesn’t get to do much but he does get to fight Jet Li and Jason Statham at the same time which is pretty awesome. Dolph Lundgren looks like he does in all his recent films which is tired and bored. He is also involved in one of those movie cliches everyone hates at the end. If you’ve seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang you’ll know what I’m on about if you remember the hospital scene in that film.
Direction wise I expected more from Stallone. There’s a few Dutch angles for the sake of it here and there and some of the shots are lacking the visual impact needed, but they mostly come outside the action. The script is pretty weak but some of the cast, notably Rourke, sell the hell out of what they’ve got to work with. The characters have little to no background, in fact you’ll get more background info from the back of the dvd case than from the film. It’ll be interesting to see a sequel to this because now it’s been a big hit maybe they could drag in some of the more genuine big stars of the 80s and 90s such as Van Damme and Segal.
Overall if you take it as it is, in that it’s big dumb action, it is an enjoyable piece of movie violence. It’s let down by weak characterisation and some seemingly idiotic moments int he plot. It’s also let down by some weak directing when it comes to much of the none action orientated scenes. It is still a blast to watch though and I think most people who love watching things go boom will enjoy the hell out of it. The trouble is because of it’s character issues it leaves it as just being a good film when, based on recent performances from Stallone, I’ve come to expect great. Seriously, Rambo 4 pisses all over this.