Should I Watch..? The Expendables
What's the big deal?
The Expendables is an action film released in 2010 and is directed by Sylvester Stallone who also stars. Intended as a tribute to the action films of the 80's and 90's, Stallone personally sought a large number of current and former action movie stars to appear. Despite some mixed reviews, it was far more successful than distributors Lionsgate supposed which led to the film starting a franchise. Each film in the series has gotten bigger and bigger as more action movie stars ask to be included so this is the smallest in the series so far. Its mix of bloody combat scenes and comic banter ensured that it remains popular among action audiences across the world.
What's it about?
After taking out a boat-load of Somali pirates, a team of mercenaries return to their base of operations in New Orleans. The leader, Barney Ross, later meets up with a rival and the shady "Mr Church" who offers them both a mission to take out a dictator in the island nation of Vilena in the Gulf Of Mexico. Ross accepts and together with his number two Lee Christmas, sets off to scout out the island.
Their contact, freedom fighter Sandra, meets up with them but they quickly discover that ex-CIA agent James Munroe is supporting the regime of General Garza, who happens to be Sandra's father. Ross aborts the mission but after Sandra is captured by Munroe, they have no choice but to go back in and rescue her. But with the element of surprise lost, what hope do a handful of heavily-armed mercenaries have against a small army?
Dave Callaham & Sylvester Stallone *
Release Date (UK)
19th August, 2010
What's to like?
It's refreshing these days to see a resolutely old-school action film, one which is proud to shun Bullet-Time and other CG gimmicks from the The Matrix (1) book of digital trickery. In fact, the only CG I could detect was the lashings of gore splashing everywhere. It's also good to see these guys tear up a movie set like they used to. - this is Lundgren's first theatrical release since 1995's Johnny Mnemonic (2)! It's proud to wear its heart on its sleeve - it knows that it's about as cutting edge as a flint axe but it doesn't care. Special mention must go to Rourke's performance as he must have dismissed the memo about acting being optional and delivers a powerful monologue about serving in Bosnia and the effect such mayhem has on one's mind. A shame, really, that such a performance is drowned out amid the grunts and gunshots.
The action is undoubtedly the highlight of the movie, coming thick and fast with a satisfying crunch. This is as brutal as they come - clearly, Stallone remembered some of the tricks he used in his recent Rambo (3) outing - although I did detect an over-reliance on throwing knives. Action fans won't care one bit - they'll just be pleased to be watching something that is the very antithesis of a rom-com, the polar opposite of something like Sex And The City (4).
- Sly picked up a total of 14 injuries from the shoot included breaking a tooth, rupturing his ankle and a hairline fracture of his neck at the hands of Steve Austin which required surgery. He also suffered from shingles and bronchitis during the shoot.
- This marks the first film Sly has directed without either of his signature characters Rocky Balboa or John Rambo in it since Staying Alive (5) in 1983.
- At one point, Sly quips that Schwarzenegger's character wants to be President - an obvious nod to the star's actual political ambitions.
What's not so good?
The film is not a great example of how to light a set - much of the action is obscured in murky darkness, especially the final assault, which means that you often lose track of who is fighting who. And naturally, everyone is wearing black so this complicates things even more! The film also makes the classic mistake of having its best scene near the start - the cameos from Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger will have most action fans salivating like rabid dogs but it doesn't lead to anything, making you wonder what might have been. There are also plenty of action stars who don't appear in the movie, making a mockery of its intention of being the ultimate macho action piece.
Acting is obviously pretty suspect, as you'd expect from this ragtag bunch of beefcakes, although Dolph Lundgren's suspiciously white teeth give a fine performance of their own! For an action film, it's impossible to track seriously - the banter between the stars is amusing at first but quickly forgotten while the story is merely an excuse to shoot the film somewhere hot. It's a good action picture, no doubt, but it drags its knuckles along the floor and doesn't do anything you haven't seen before besides these particular stars taking on each other.
Should I watch it?
Action fans will lap this and the two sequels up. The Expendables offers a delicious mix of bloody action, self-referencing dialogue and explosive stunt work but it is as shallow and empty as they come. It's a difficult film to hate, however - it never claims to be a masterpiece, just a bunch of movie veterans going on a final tour of duty. And for that, I salute it.
Great For: action fans, men of any age, Lundgren's dentist
Not So Great For: date nights, girly nights in, Stallone's health insurance
What else should I watch?
Probably the best in the series is The Expendables 2 (6) which has a bigger cast, more recognisable names (like Chuck Norris!) and retains the 18-certificate violence. However, I'd stay away from The Expendables 3 (7) because it tones the action and violence down for a PG-rating and is appalling - even Sly admits that this decision was wrong and has left the series in limbo ever since.
Action films come in many shapes and sizes. The early 80's gave us the likes of Commando (8) and First Blood (9) which are good fun. First Blood actually feels more like a war film than any of the witless sequels, despite Stallone being stalked by police in the woods. Later on, we have Predator (10) and the daddy of them all, Die Hard (11). The 90's had even more to choose from, which I'm sure you could recall yourself. If you really wanted to celebrate the good old days of explosions and war then watch any of them and enjoy the authentic nostalgia.