The Way of the Word

5. August 2010

Review: The Expendables

USA 2010. Directed by Sylvester Stallone. Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Eric Roberts, Dolph Lundgren. Runtime 100 minutes

The mysterious Mr Church (Bruce Willis) hires Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his team of mercenaries to take down a South American dictatorship. When Barney scouts it, things go wrong and their contact, Sandra (Giselle Itié) is captured by the rogue CIA agent Monroe (Eric Roberts). Barney decides to go in and rescue her.

The Expendables is not a movie. It’s a testosterone therapy. It’s the ultimate guys movie. The only women in speaking roles exist for the heroes to rescue them. If a vehicle with an engine exists, it’s in the movie. The characters talk tough, act tougher, and each has his signature weapon. There is martial arts and explosions. The bad guys are vile, the good guys are… well, not exactly good, but doing the right thing, even if it is for their own reasons. And everyone happily chews scenery.

This movie is what A-Team should have been. It’s cheesy and over the top, in the same way of the action movies in the 1980s that made most of the cast into action stars. The stakes are almost as big as the explosions, but the heroes are unflappable and mostly indestructible. It follows the trend set by this year’s The Losers and The A-Team, in that it makes the vilain a rogue CIA spook, and has said spook act very much over the top, but unlike the previous two, Eric Roberts is actually menacing enough to pull it off without becoming ridiculous.

I’m cynical enough to think that Sylvester Stallone, who not only plays Barney Ross but also wrote and directed this movie, created it in a “paint-by-numbers” way. Not by trying to craft a fantastic story, but by going down a checklist of what men (and boys) like in an action movie, and then working it in. There are some random motorcycle scenes that don’t add nothing to the plot. There is a terrific car chase. There is a scene with a plane blowing up a pier. There are martial arts (the scenes with Dolph Lundgren vs. Jet Li are terrific) and, well, the aforementioned explosions. The women are all damsels in distress. There are one-liners. About half of which misfire. Almost everyone cast in this movie is a big name in the action movie genre. That is perhaps the most compelling reason to see this film: watching all these action legends together for the first time.

If you’ve followed my reviews, you know that I’m… let’s say not very fond of big CGI scenes for the sake of having big CGI scenes. Expendables is old-school enough that it doesn’t do that. The stunts are stunts, and Stallone the director uses CGI to enhance, not replace, the traditional effects. The results are that the over-the-top action scenes, while still implausible, never go so far to take the viewer out and say, “But that is absolutely impossible.” And while it certainly is fake, nothing ever looks fake.

The Expenables is a very old-school action movie that takes the newer generation (the aforementioned Losers and A-Team) to school and shows them how to do it right. Women won’t like this movie. Despite the fact that Mickey Rourke gets to have an emotional moment and shed a tear, there is no room for emotion in Expendables. Men… Well, guys really, will love this movie. It’s been designed for us, made for us. If you look for dumb summer fun, you’re looking for The Expendables. It’s definitely the most fun (and not even dumbest) movie I’ve seen all year.

Verdict: very recommended

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