The Expendables ***
After Predators, The A-Team and The Karate Kid among others, 2010’s obsession with the 80s continues with the release of The Expendables, a film that is perhaps one of the most eagerly anticipated movies of the year, although it seems to be as much due to who is in the film as how the good the film is itself. One of the year’s most ambitious films, mostly for the impressive ensemble cast that has been assembled, this is a film that boasts perhaps the most impressive ensemble of action stars ever seen on the big screen, bringing back legends of the past couple of decades such as Sylvester Stallone (who is the man behind the whole thing, directing, co-writing and assembling the cast), Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke (whose career has seen a major resurgence in recent years), Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis (the latter two only in cameo appearances despite the impression created by many of the trailers and TV spots) and uniting them with more recent action stars such as Jason Statham, Jet Li, wrestler Steve Austin and Ultimate Fighter Randy Couture, not to mention quite a few other recognisable names. Understandably, a tremendous amount of hype has been generated by this line up, one that may not mean much to younger viewers but will be almost like cinematic wish fulfilment to those of the right age to have enjoyed the action movies of the 80s but, with a trailer that has made it look like a generic actioner with little special about it aside from this cast, does the film truly live up to this hype?
Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) leads a tight-knit band of battle-hardened mercenaries including ex-SAS man Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), close-quarters combat master Ying Yang (Jet Li), weapons specialist Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), demolitions expert Toll Road (Randy Couture) and sniper Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren). When the team embark on a mission to overthrow murderous dictator General Gaza (David Zayas), Barney and Christmas meet their contact, local freedom-fighter Sandra (Giselle Itie). They also learn their true enemy is rogue ex-CIA man James Munroe (Eric Roberts) and his henchman Paine (Steve Austin). When things go terribly wrong, Barney and Christmas are forced to leave Sandra behind, essentially giving her a death sentence. Haunted by this failure, Barney convinces the team to go back – to rescue the hostage, finish the job and maybe even save his soul.
Dolph Lundgren has called The Expendables “an old-school, kick-ass action movie where people are fighting with knives and shooting at each other” and this perfectly sums up exactly what the film delivers. Coming entirely from the old school of action moviemaking, this is a movie where the action you see on screen is (mostly – there are a few shots that look as though some CGI may have been involved) all real – the 14 injuries sustained by Stallone while making the film, including breaking a tooth, rupturing his ankle and getting a hairline fracture in his neck that required the insertion of a metal plate, are a testament to this – and the old school look and feel that this gives the film makes the viewing experience a much more intense one than the many effects overloaded blockbusters that we see these days. The resulting action sequences, including an attack by a plane, car chases, shootouts, knife fights, hand to hand combat and lots and lots of explosions, certainly get the testosterone up to a high level. This really is hardcore kind of action movie, one meant for adults rather than younger viewers, with violence that is brutal and often bloody and that has greater impact on many levels because it is all done for real. Certainly the predominantly male target audience should find plenty to enjoy in the action scenes that are on display here. That said, though, the overly excessive action – almost everything gets blown up at some point – isn’t exactly inventive and, while it is indeed enjoyable, it is never mind blowing. Additionally, while the action sequences are well done and the film is in general quite technically proficient, the cinematography and editing both being pretty good, in other areas the film doesn’t deliver nearly as successfully. The plot is pretty thin, offering up few genuine surprises and, while we get brief glimpses of or allusions into the private lives of some of the characters, there is little proper character development. On the bright side, however, the dialogue is quite decent and often pretty humorous and, thanks to performances that are better than you might expect, delivered pretty well. The acting on display isn’t all that great, though, the best performances coming from Mickey Rourke, who has very limited screen time, and the enjoyable cameo appearances by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger in a scene that is very funny with some very good lines but also very dialogue driven and that may leave some viewers a bit cheated about not getting to see Willis and Schwarzenegger in action mode. Elsewhere, Stallone is fairly strong performer, Dolph Lundgren proves very entertaining as sadistic and borderline crazy Gunner, Giselle Itie is suitably tough as the freedom fighter type and Eric Roberts is a sinister if obvious villain. Many of the other cast members, however, don’t really shine that much, whether it be due to the fact that they seem too similar to roles they have played in other movies or simply don’t have that much to actually do. Of course, no one will really be seeing this film for the acting, they will be seeing it for the action and in this regard the film does mostly deliver, with even the older stars proving that they still have it. That said, however, this is a film aimed at a somewhat specific target audience really and while that target audience will (figuratively and literally) have a blast, others may not see what all the fuss is about. The Expendables is an entertaining viewing experience but it is also quite an expendable one.
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)
© BRWC 2010.
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