The Expendables (Review)


103 min

United States

Director: Sylvester Stallone

Writer: Sylvester Stallone (screenplay), Dave Callaham (screenplay / story)

Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li

Release Date: August 13, 2010

The Expendables is hardly the ultimate action film we thought it would be, but still contains some culminating moments for the heroes at hand.

The American action film, for better or worse, is one of the most replicated of genre's in the medium's history. Most of the time it's America that is subscribing its own formula. Importing foreign star power to wield guns, bare guns (biceps) and spout one-liners while saving the <girl OR day OR world> became second nature for filmmakers and audiences alike. Superhero movies may be all the rage these days, but we've always had super heroes taking over the big screen.

The action hero had his heyday in the 1980s and that's when several of the familiar faces in The Expendables first became household names. Flash forward to 2010 and you have an extensive past to pick from and this seems to be how writer, director and star Sylvester Stallone went about recruiting his titular compadres. Oh, and with Jason Statham (arguably the top leading man of action working today) thrown in to sweeten the deal.

Do we need to know about the dictator ruling the island and people of Vilena? Or that he has a hottie for a daughter young enough to be any of the Expendables' own daughter? The only thing expendable here is the plotting and setting up. If this is the Dream Team of gun-blazing motion pictures (see the film's insignia), then we best watch them at play.

Besides wasting our time with scenes void of combat, the action itself is about average when it arrives. There's moments of "graphic" violence, but the reliance of digital blood squirts further made me long for the glory days of squibs. Statham's character has a "win your dejected woman back" sub-plot form a completely different film, but at least it results in a rumble on the basketball court. Cameos of legends like Arnold and Bruce ultimately make for cruel teases. I'm happy to see them at all, but c'mon, we'd all rather have a slice of cake than measly sample.

Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jet Li are past their prime, but because they still have it in them (and apparently still need money) they are keeping their boots on. My favorite scene in the film is a soliloquy delivered by Mickey Rourke while he paints a guitar. Stallone looks on while Rourke talks about coming to the end and the lost battle over his own soul. (I couldn't help but think of Rourke's other bowing with finality in The Wrestler.) It's the closest the film comes to shining a blinding light of honesty on the endless shotgun shells and riddled corpses that lay in their wake.

All my entitled gripes aside, when The Expendables starts firing on all of its imperfect cylinders, it manages to hit the mark. I was amused by this sentence in Ali Gray's review: "At one point, in the absence of any buildings to detonate or ammunition depots to destroy, I think I saw an explosion explode." The rippling of man flesh, the glint of a thrown blade and the glow of a fireball... these are all romantic indicators of the machoism on display in the film's finest hour. Give us more of this and give us reason to care. What else then could we ask for?

We are the shadows and the smoke, we rise. We are the ghosts that hide in the night.
— Barney Ross