The Expendables – Review

Finally, The Expendables. I’ve followed the production of this movie since the beginning, the idea of gathering the biggest names in action and rolling them up into one solid package is brilliant. The Expendables is like Valentine’s Day — only way more violent and with a higher body count. So I guess — nothing like Valentine’s Day. The Expendables is an absolute throwback to the 80’s action genre, with it’s over the top characters and maniacal villains; Stallone proves that he can still deliver great entertainment. The Expendables is a balls-to-the-wall action flick with one of the greatest action line ups in history.

I’ve heard people complain about the plot; which is thin to say the least. I never really go into a giant action epic with the intent of following a deep and moving plot, this is no exception. Staying true to the 80’s nostalgia, almost all plot points are tossed aside to make way for the action — which in no way is a bad thing. The surface plot revolves around a team of mercenaries for hire; headed by Stallone (Rambo / Cobra) and supported by Jason Statham (The Transporter / Death Race) and Jet Li (Fist of Legend / Hero). Hired by Bruce Willis (Die Hard) to head to an island off the Gulf to take down a ruthless dictator; mayhem ensues.

Now I say “surface plot” because there is an underlying theme to the picture, which is humanity. Most won’t see it the first time, but the real story here is Stallone’s character arc and search for retribution in his long line of work. Which is interesting and makes for a different kind of character that Stallone has not portrayed since Lock-Up (1989) or even Cop Land (1997). Then again, the plot seems pointless once you get to the over the top (pun intended) and spectacular action sequences.

I absolutely love Sylvester Stallone; have for a long time but this flick is laced with action gods. The entire cast is fantastic and each brings something different to the table, but this also pushes some characters to the side. Statham is great and actually charming as the “young gun” of the group, Li is a personal favorite of mine. Hero and Legend Of Fong Sai Yuk are among the greatest martial arts films, he is surprisingly funny and charismatic which is different for him.

Those are the three characters in focus, the other supporting “mercenaries” also add to the mix. Terry Crews (Gamer), Randy Couture (UFC Champion) and Dolph Lundren (Masters of the Universe) are all great; but flawed and complex. Unfortunately we don’t get much time to explore those characters, a weakness that dilutes the picture. I feel that the studio went in and chopped some of the story points; I foresee a Director’s Cut when it arrives on DVD.

Steve Austin (WWF Champion) and Gary Daniels (Fist of the North Star) are henchmen to Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight) and his plot. Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator / Predator) makes a cameo, nothing too special but I would love to see him and Stallone go at it in the sequel. For a 80’s and 90’s action fanatic like myself, it brought a smile to my face to see Rambo, John McClane and The Terminator in the same scene.

All of this plays second fiddle to the most important part of The Expendables; the action. This film is a shot of pure adrenaline that never lets up and ceases to disappoint; not since Death Race (2008) has a straight-forward action film given me goose bumps. The action is fast paced and brutal; much like Stallone’s last directorial effort Rambo (2008). From the first scene with a group of pirates to the fantastic car chase sequence; ending with a final assault on a compound, the action never lets up.

The fight choreography is terrific, giving Jet Li freedom to perform trademark techniques and capturing the realism of the hand to hand combat between the others. Some of the action is cut a little too quickly for me, which takes away from some of the scenes but never ruins it. I mentioned before that this film is brutal; you’ll be shocked at the level of gore throughout.

This is Stallone’s style though; having seen Rambo (2008) I’ve noticed that he isn’t afraid to show the red stuff. Were talking about decapitations, head shots, dismemberment, explosions and everything in between. Sometimes in action films when someone getting shot a squib releases a quick spurt of blood; here you get a geyser of blood from every gun shot. The last 30 minutes of The Expendables is so exhilarating and action packed that you will be left breathless and unfortunately; craving more. At about 100 minutes, it seems a tad short. I would have preferred another 45 minutes or so, it all seemed so rushed.

I do have to point out the direction here; Stallone has really found his groove. The shaky camera work really compliments the intensity and harshness of the film, he used the same style for the latest Rambo film. He also has a great way of making all of the characters feel human and grounded given the fantastical situations, which is good to see in a modern action flick. It just makes it obvious that he knows how to deliver the goods.

Now there is a down side to all this greatness — the visual effects. How is this a problem? Since I study and make my own films I have a keen eye for audio and visual synchronization; as well as poorly contrasted CGI. Not a huge deal, but it takes away from the film slightly. For instance in the very beginning with the pirates; each “expendable” has their laser sight on them. All of the beams are obvious digital, same with a lot of the blood.

All in all, The Expendables is fantastic and stands alone as a Grade-A action picture. This isn’t a remake or a sequel which seems to liter the cinemas nowadays; it also is not in 3D (kudos Stallone). Maybe now we can see more trend breakers like this and Inception (2010) in the future. I just have to say that Stallone still has it, what is “it”? It is the ability to entertain and keep audiences on the edge of their seat. This movie is action, guns, blood, guts, and explosions with sprinkles on top. Those are sprinkles made out of grenades of course. 8/10