Wow, this was the movie I was waiting to see for the past 18 months!! No let me replace that exclamation point with two question marks. I have to say I enjoyed myself but this was not what I was expecting it to be. With a passable story, The Expendables was action porn that effectively delivers the “mangasam” that adrenaline junkies have been waiting for. To me though, this lacks the sophistication Stallone has been working towards with each succeeding film. In short, you’ve seen this movie before; it’s a tapestry of every 80’s action movie but the difference is that this actually stars all those 80s action heroes. While I think calling this a glorified TNT film may be selling the movie short, really, I’m not that far off.
You basically have to know what you’re walking into before the lights go down: An elite team goes into X-country to overthrow X-dictator; highly unoriginal but something of this nature always is. Although in a movie like this you don’t have to try to force weak plot devices to flesh out the story, just get to the good stuff; it’s a proven formula and is what (most of the time) makes action movies “action movies”. The women here were distracting at best, not to mention Statham’s relationship side story slowing things down (leading to a unnecessary confrontation where he fights guys who look like they were plucked out of the mid-90s).
Further, with Jet Li being the third leg of this top billing trio he had about as much screen time and respect as Yen from Ocean’s 11 which just disappointed me. While I laughed at each of the short jokes made at his expense they really should have showcased his brutally awesome martial art skills way more than they did. I liked this movie better when it was called Navy Seals personally. In all the action movies I’ve watched, I find one constant rule of thumb; for a movie like this to work, leave the women out and just blow shit up…roll credits.
You don’t get more 2 dimensional than these guys. Honestly I couldn’t remember the names of the characters after I left the theater and now that I think of it, I couldn’t name but maybe 3 during the film. I think Stallone wanted this to be Predator and tried to insert similarly unique characters who possessed very specific talents. I’d say they got halfway there. But “halfway” yields little more than every stereotype that define the 80s and it was just oozing down the screen. Not that its an issue or did I mind one bit, but I had a problem with weak writing and weaker acting. From Couture I can expect a rookie level of wooden acting but Lungren (looking like Stallone threw him a bone) was just so bad in his role. Also if these guys are going to take down a dictator, is it possible to come up with a more intimidating heavy than General Garza? If having your thug army knock over peasants’ fruit carts is the extent of your tyrrany and letting a very non-intimidating Eric Roberts trash talk you in front of your men, how long until those same peasants start to revolt and take him down themselves?
But it wasn’t all bad. As expected, the high profile cameos came in for their 2 minutes of screen time and got the biggest applause and laughs of the film. Now that was highly enjoyable. However that’s where the real problem lies I think. Basically the people you were expecting more from you actually got less of and the smaller (less than) supporting characters ended up taking more prominence. Funny thing is, more of a side thought really, when you look at it from a distance, the whole movie was cast with actors who either had trouble speaking English or just couldn’t act. Maybe that explains the ultra light dialog.
While the cast and the action was the best thing about The Expendables, it is sad that the cinematography and the plot/dialog really held it back making it all feel oh so amatuer. Probably the biggest issue was the cinematography as it was pretty inconsistent and that took away from the intensity of the events on screen. To give credit where it is due, they showcased the simply masterful hand-to-hand combat and shoot ’em up scenes and it was all just stellar. On the flip side, earlier in the film in sequences like the car chase and other shooting sequences, the camera got too close ultimately making it felt like you were missing a lot of what was going on. Also the editing was choppy and it played out like a music video at times giving it a cheap and very rushed feeling. But even though it sounds like it’s a mess, it’s a fun and damn pretty mess that still worked in my eyes. Lastly, the music was forgettable but using songs from CCR and Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys are Back in Town” are cheap ways to endear the guys in the audience but hey, I’m not complaining.
Now there is one part of the movie that earns nothing but high points. Probably a no-brainer but The Expendables really is “action-overload” redefined. People we dropping like flies thus chakling up a super high body count, the hand-to-hand combat was ultra impressive (adding a high amount of MMA into each scene) and there were more bullet holes and explosions than you could ever count in your lifetime. Basically I think the Explosion Quota for 2010 has just been filled with enough left over to take us into the beginning of 2011. The Expendables does give every guy the movie they’ve been dreaming of. Fanboys should be raving about this film (probably why, as I write this, the IMDb score is at 8.6) and grinning from ear to ear. I know my face was hurting from my unblinking stare as I silently saying “Holy Shit” over and over through the nearly 20 minute finale. Again I can’t say I didn’t enjoy myself and this was pure revival of what made the 80’s the 80’s .
All in all, this was just what you’d think it would be and more, but I for one (after holding a constant vigil for a year and a half) was disappointed that this lacked a grander more sophisticated quality. I won’t make the excuse that this is a “Summer pop-corn film” to make light of its faults but I still had a hell of a time watching it. Maybe it was my fault for building it up and maybe I’ll have more fun on a second viewing (this Sunday actually) but for now I have to say this was a bit of a let down especially after seeing what Stallone did with Rambo 4. Many parts left me feeling lukewarm, but shortcomings aside, the bar for action has sufficiently been re-set (way to go Rocko!). It maybe wasn’t the movie I would have made but at least it was better than Predators.