Director: Sylvester Stallone
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Mickey Rourke, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Steve Austin, Giselle Itie, David Zayas, Charisma Carpenter with Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger
Plot: Barney Ross (Stallone) leads a rag tag group of mercenaries who are hired to take out a rogue CIA agent (Roberts) who has a small army at his disposal.
The Expendables isn’t as bad as you remember it. I remember seeing the posters and the list of massive action heroes all starring in the same film (including the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger), and freaking out. Surely this was going to be the most incredible action movie ever. After watching it, the usual disappointments kicked in. Mickey Rourke didn’t do any fighting. Willis and Arnie were on cameo duty. Despite the big names, it was pretty much ‘just another action movie’.
However, today I have learned to give the first Expendables a break. Its flaws, in hindsight, were understandable. Arnold Schwarzenegger did not have time to film a movie, seeing as he was the Governor of California. The entire movie was meant to be a tribute to the older action movies that made most of these guys famous. Sadly, as a movie audience, we have outgrown a cheesy plot and loud explosions, craving our action to be more fantasy-based (e.g.: the superhero genre). I think a lot of people were expecting some over-the-top Marvel action, but with these mega-stars at the helm. However, that is not the film Stallone wanted him to make and I can respect him for sticking to his own vision. Sure, the film comes across as predictable and by-the-numbers, but at the end of the day, the Expendables was meant to be a glorified B Movie, with a bigger budget when it comes to giant explosions, tearing up the docks.
It is easy to criticise the cameos not doing enough, but we have to admit that the main stars get some awesome moments. Stallone’s quick draw shooting is pretty incredible to witness, as he mows down his enemies with expert precision. Jason Statham is probably just that little bit better, tearing up a scene with some awesome fight skills. His martial arts combined with some bloody knife kills are brutal to watch, as he relishes the chance of fully embracing his bad ass persona. With Expendables 3 deciding to skimp on the blood and gore, you might find yourself relishing this Expendables movie. It feels closer to what Stallone wanted than the other two that tried to be more commercially successful. Jet Li and Dolph Lundgren get time to shine too, with small moments that really let you laugh at how awesome these guys are, even at their age. Dolph Lundgren leaves a footprint in a guy’s face that he kicks. Jet Li’s fight scenes are a blur of awesomeness. Even the lesser known Couture and Crews are given some great set-pieces to tear up. The only problem is that Eric Roberts seems like a pretty weak villain for them to go up against. He’s not a bad character, but you wish he was in another movie.
But big stars aside, Expendables still could have aimed a little higher. When the fighting stops, the scenes become a little unbearable. The problem with not really having characters, more blank slates for the actors to fill with their own personalities, is that there isn’t any character development to get through. No one evolves by the time they hit the end of the movie. The dialogue is usually macho competitiveness, which is fun at first, but it wears thin, when you realise it is one of the only tricks Stallone has got. It says something when David Zayas’ corrupt general gets a bigger character arc that anyone else, and he is just a middle act bad guy to get the narration going. Not that you want anyone to have much of a story. Giselle Itie is included to suggest a possible romance between her or her ageing co-stars (gross!), Jason Statham’s love sub-plot has the hammiest dialogue imaginable and Stallone trying to cry at Mickey Rourke’s monologue, feels pointless and try-hard. I will watch this again, but will probably fast forward to the best bits.
Final Verdict: Time will save the original Expendables movie, but not by much. Fun, but that’s all it has to offer.