Director: Sylvester Stallone
Writer: Sylvester Stallone, David Callaham
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Terry Crews, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Eric Roberts, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gary Daniels
Running Time: 105 min.
So an Italian guy, a Brit knife-thrower, a Good Ol’ Boy tattooist, a black guy, a Dutch junkie and a Chinese guy ride into a garage… And the fact that there isn’t a punch-line to this concept isn’t the only thing flat about this flick. Sly plays the leader of a stealth team recommended by the Guvernator and hired by John McClane to save a Third World island from a military thug. Statham is his “confidante” who has to worry about his girl at home being faithful. Save for Rourke’s character, everyone else is just there to pull off the fight scenes and male bravado shit Stallone just happens to be too old for right now. Sly’s character, Barney, knows the score, and he knows he’s being set up for a mission he can’t possibly win. But a female native by the name of Sandra being held hostage and tortured compels him to take the risk, anyway. Unfortunately, Barney also has to deal with dissent and treachery in his ranks.
I genuinely wish there were more twists and surprises beyond that, but the script doesn’t stray far from that premise. Which means you can expect shit to get blown up, people to get cut up, and vehicles to get totaled. What you can’t expect is a good balance in screen-time between supporting players and main characters. Most of the people in the former category act as back-up or as “just following orders”- type thugs. Rourke’s character is the only one you really get to know of more, which is why you wonder why he doesn’t get any action moments, since he could easily take over Couture’s part and give it, and thus the movie, more substance. Li’s limited to Shortround-esque moments, but at least Crews and Lundgren do attempt to make significant impressions while going into Alpha male wrecking ball mode. I don’t like that there’s only one bad guy calling the shots, either. I’d rather have the Expendables up against more tough guys like Austin than a whole army of soldiers turned into cannon fodder. It takes away from the challenge if the team can get in and out so easily. That’s why Rambo IV worked so well, cus people in that rescue unit barely-if at all-got out alive.
The actual story for Expendables, however, is surprisingly less gung-ho, and more “balanced”. I wouldn’t call it “anti-American”, and Sly himself stated in an AICN interview that it’s apolitical. But the concept of people being used as pawns in order to uphold American business interests and/or our image abroad is surprisingly more realistic than you’d expect from a flick with its foot stuck in a completely different era of action. Plus, it openly condemns torture, even when the “good guys” are doing it. And that’s actually a pretty brave stance, given how nostalgia for and appropriation of those older flicks has diluted what these characters were supposed to stand for, as opposed to what they’ve been turned into by certain fanatical political movements. It also doesn’t pull punches-no pun intended-on violence against women, and for once, doesn’t make the white guys any more “noble” than the brown guys in that area. However, other than those latter moments, the film doesn’t have much more impact than a guy getting his ass slapped with a towel at a locker room in a gym. That’s not to say Expendables doesn’t give what you want, in terms of action. It just does so on fast-forward. Again, I’d rather more time be spent on the crew getting through the traps on the island than shooting the shit at home. But if you’re just looking for a male-bonding type of action flick where you don’t have to care about the details, then you won’t be disappointed with Expendables.
Ningen’s Rating: Action: 8/10 Story: 6/10 Overall: 6.5/10
To read a review for the Extended Director’s Cut, please click here.