The Expendables exudes masculinity without even trying. Being confident in its ability to bring you more than impressive action, it has enough left over to be reheated and served up again. It matters little that it went the way of the underachiever with its star-packed cast and failed to live up to its potential. It could have done more than it did, but it doesn't coast on star power alone. That's the important thing as far as any critic or self-respecting movie buff is concerned.
Stallone, Statham, Li, Lundgren, and Rourke are The Expendables—skilled and deadly mercenaries who carefully choose their weapons, but are more often than not painted in a virtuous light. They're like a less contraption-focused A-Team, a group of specialists that can be appreciated in value when judged by the number of most explosives rigged or guts sliced open. Best of all, The Expendables feels like an old-school raw-action movie you can be fond of just because of the high testosterone level.
It has all of the elements of a perfect “tough guy” movie, and with few of the shortcomings. These guys struggle with what so many tough guys must face, like problems in relationships, a borderline-insane rogue team member, a beautiful contact woman (in a “damsel in distress” role), and often conflicting attitudes between each other about getting the job done or who is better. They have a few things in common – important things – the most important being: they know they are expendable. That no-nonsense title isn't just to sound catchy. Watch as it is heavily inculcated into the plot’s development.
When not in combat, these guys play darts...with knives. They use much bigger knives to stab people. They struggle with girl problems. They drink beer and enjoy tattoo artwork. But they fight inner battles as surely as they do outer ones, as these “clean-up boys” fight to keep what remains of their consciences intact while carrying on in lives committed to bloodshed. The subject of death is handled with refreshing maturity.
And you have what you get in movies graced with more than a few celebrity appearances--occasionally funny and well-placed punchlines, some with good political comic relief. The Expendables brings with it the satisfaction of older, more vindictively-themed films, with the testosterone of a bull getting his freak on. And yet, it has enough of an artful tinge to be more than mindlessly macho.
You have a segment where Lee Christmas (Statham) is on the front of a plain in an air-exposed combat cockpit. He fires off some big explosives and destroys a pier with soldiers still in place. The soldiers are aiming to fire back as the plain flies by when it has been airborne and clearly out of sight for at least several minutes. Why are the soldiers still standing there? Statham's strapless glasses stay on his face the whole time. With some imperfections, it has just the appropriate amount of embellishment in the action to have you not be put off at the thought of seeing more.
Celebrity gossip enthusiasts would bark about how old everyone looks. And it's so true. The creators wanted the old bigwigs to get the big roles. Watch it in the wrong mindset and you can see how the film could be interpreted as an attempt at lampooning action stars of the previous two decades. But you almost have to be a Miley Cyrus fan to go there in thought.
There are lots of stars here, including Eric Roberts as the villain, and Bruce Willis with an integral role. Jet Li should be kicking, not talking as much as he does. He is, believe it or not, a new sight to behold as he plays a character with Little Man's Syndrome. He doesn't totally suck at it, either. The conserved amount of time and energy spent in presenting serious dialogue brings out that Willis doesn't easily look intimidating, even when he wants and needs to. Perhaps Stallone should be patting a grandbaby to sleep at an in-law's house, but no one told him that. He went and brought us this movie instead.
Lungren looks not just big and old and unbelievably mean, but like a trigger-happy meth-head who happens also to be insane. I was taken in by him at every shot. He looks as captivating as he did going up against the Italian Stallion as Drago—always with that awesome ability to re-vamp his appearance.
It’s not going to take home any awards, but The Expendables is a great end-of-summer “shoot ‘em up” that deserves a few accolades for what it provides its target audience.
Grade: B- (3 stars)
Rated: R (for strong action and bloody violence throughout, and for some language.)
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Summary: A team of mercenaries head to South America on a mission to overthrow a dictator.
Starring: Sylvester Stallone "Barney Ross," Jason Statham "Lee Christmas," Jet Li "Ying Yang," Dolph Lundgren "Gunner Jensen," Eric Roberts "James Munroe," Randy Couture "Toll Road," Steve Austin "Paine," David Zayas "General Garza," Giselle Itié "Sandra," Charisma Carpenter "Lacy," Gary Daniels "The Brit," Terry Crews "Hale Caesar," Mickey Rourke "Tool"
Genre: Action / Adventure / Thriller