Directed by Sylvester Stallone
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Steve Austin
Release date: August 13, 2010
Since The Expendables was first announced in 2008 the idea of bringing together some of the finest cinematic tough guys and badass motherfuckers of the past three decades for one big blood, bullets, and bombs brouhaha sounded like the wet dream of millions of action movie geeks brought to life in booze-and-steroid-infused flesh. I was raised on a steady diet of badass from the moment I was born. When I was a child my celluloid heroes were Han Solo and Superman. My mother didnâ€™t think I was ready for R-rated movies, the threshold you had to cross to truly be a man. When I turned ten the time had come. During my summer vacation I caught the HBO premiere of the immortal Die Hard and my mind was promptly blown by the glorious on-screen action and the awesome presence of the one and only Bruce Willis in his signature role as badass New York cop John McClane. My exposure to such large scale chaos until then came chiefly in the form of cartoons like Transformers and G.I. Joe (which one day would ironically become big screen cartoons only with flesh-and-blood folks playing one-dimensional characters), but watching Willis bury bullets in the heads and asses of a bunch of heavily armed German thieves was a serious cultural awakening nothing couldâ€™ve prepared me for. By the time I was eleven and my parents allowed me to watch Lethal Weapon for the first time, the doors on a brave new world were forever opened for me. I may have still inhabited the body of a shy, snot-nosed kid who grew up dirt poor and never had many friends, but from that moment on I was a man, in my heart at any rate.
In the two decades my action movie regimen slowly grew until I was a full-on junkie for big guns, sexy ladies, huge explosions, and the screenâ€™s manliest of manly men righteously kicking ass and firing off flippant one-liners with the velocity of an AK-47. Even as I began to devour films of all and develop more mature tastes, I still kept coming back to the finest works of Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Snipes, Bronson, Willis, Lee (Bruce and Brandon), Russell, Eastwood, Marvin (Lee that is), and many more. Some of my favorite directors to this day include names like John Carpenter, Sergio Leone, Robert Aldrich, and Walter Hill, masters of the craft of stylish, smashing adventure and cool heroes who would become pop culture icons. But in recent years the preferences of the increasingly fickle movie-going public (fuck â€˜em) have shifted away from hardcore revelries of raw machismo and more towards flimsy throwaway fare designed by the studios to get rated PG-13 in order to capture that fiscally important but in due course irrelevant teen demographic, all the while using the changing national aura as a handy excuse. The escalating success of superhero comic book adaptations have also contributed greatly to the downfall of red meat action extravaganzas. The hell with all of them I say. Now more than ever we need our heroes to detonate small islands, gnaw their way out of dank prison cells, and bounce horny strippers on their knees while shot-gunning kegs of Molson. We need heroes who donâ€™t need to wear outlandish costumes to enforce their own brand of justice, who require little motivation to strap on the heavy artillery and pilot Sherman tanks down the streets of Anytown, U.S.A. leveling mortar shells at gangs of Neo-Nazis and mutant ninjas. Brothers and sisters, we need The Expendables.
When thereâ€™s a dangerous situation in the world that the military canâ€™t — or wonâ€™t — handle, maybe you can hire the Expendables. Theyâ€™re the toughest bunch of hombres youâ€™ll ever find. Led by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), the team consists of Rossâ€™ right-hand man, British knife fighter Lee Christmas (Jason Statham); martial arts expert Yin Yang (Jet Li); heavy weapons man Hale Caesar (Terry Crews); and demolitionist Toll Road (Randy Couture). No longer with the team is sniper Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), who was rather brutally shown the door after going nuts on a mission. Back at their home base in Louisiana former team member and now full-time tattoo artist and professional pussy hound Tool (Mickey Rourke) arranges for Barney to meet with the mysterious Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) for their next assignment. Church offers the Expendables the demoralizing yet lucrative task of invading the tiny South American island nation of Villena and overthrowing its power-hungry dictator General Garza (David Zayas). For the small fee of $5 million, Barney accepts the job and goes with Lee to Villena for reconnaissance. Once there they meet their contact, beautiful local rebel Sandra (Giselle Itie), and get a ground-level view of the battle thatâ€™s tearing the country apart. Garza is in cahoots with rogue ex-CIA agent James Munroe (Eric Roberts) and his associates Paine (â€œStone Coldâ€ Steve Austin) and The Brit (Gary Daniels) to fund his cash-hungry nation with the money from the sale of drugs grown on the island. Garza doesnâ€™t like that heâ€™s the puppet of greedy Americans but in order to maintain his grip on his crumbling kingdom he has no choice but to do Munroeâ€™s bidding. Ross and Christmas make their presence known and are forced to flee while Sandra stays behind. Returning to the States Barney is prepared to refuse the mission, but after a soul-searching discussion with Tool soon realizes that heâ€™s not about to let Sandra and her people suffer so he can keep his own ass out of the fire. With Lee and the rest of the Expendables in tow he returns to Villena armed and ready to take out Garza, Munroe, and anybody else that stands in his way.
I donâ€™t apply what George W. Bush once referred to as â€œthe soft bigotry of low expectations,â€ but I have also come to comprehend that sometimes you canâ€™t allow those hopes to get misplaced. Something Iâ€™ve noticed in reviews Iâ€™ve read of The Expendables is a lot of people complaining that the movie was far from what they expected. I can certainly understand how they could be disappointed. When you take a look at the amazing cast Sylvester Stallone put together for this movie, an all-star cast of action greats spread out across at least three generations, you could be excused for venturing into your neighborhood multiplex, torn ticket resting comfortably in your pocket until you can frame it for all time, expecting mind-blowing awesomeness the likes of which have never been seen. You see names like Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, Lundgren, Statham, Li, and so on and flashes of past cinematic classics of desperate men going on dangerous missions that could cost them their lives because itâ€™s the right thing to do like The Wild Bunch and The Dirty Dozen flood your celluloid-soaked medulla oblongata. If thatâ€™s the case then all I have to say to is, you poor, hopeless fool. Please take that as an insult, but if you expect something approaching cinematic immortality from the director of Staying Alive featuring the stars of Romeo Must Die, The Transporter, Gamer, The Scorpion King 2, Most Wanted, The Condemned, and the 1989 version of The Punisher (and those are some of their better films), then clearly you havenâ€™t seen many movies. In fact Iâ€™ll wager your eyes have never beheld the greatness of John Fordâ€™s The Lost Patrol, Howard Hawksâ€™ Rio Bravo, John Sturgesâ€™ The Magnificent Seven (or even its source material, Akira Kurosawaâ€™s The Seven Samurai, or anything from Kurosawa for that matter), anything from Sam Peckinpah, the original Predator (for shame) and so on and so forth. My advice to you is to stop reading this review, get thee to Netflix pronto, and check out some of those flicks I just mentioned. Come back when youâ€™ve seen at least three of them.
There now, donâ€™t you feel quite the harebrained person? Hey donâ€™t get yourself down, not a lot in any case. Itâ€™s not a crime to have lofty expectations when going into a movie with the kind of potential The Expendables has, and I must admit that when I heard Sylvester Stallone, who had been a box office pariah for more than a decade before emerging from exile with a vengeance with Rocky Balboa and Rambo, was taking on the most difficult directing job of his career by casting just about every major living action star in one film I got serious goosebumps, some in areas Iâ€™d rather not mention. Then I read that he was shooting this movie with the intention of earning a more marketable (but just as foolhardy as the moronic NC-17) PG-13 rating my heart sank a little bit. But then I figured what the fuck, seeing so many of the coolest dudes to ever pick up Vulcan cannons with their bare hands and atomize a school bus full of zombie nuns going head to head on the widest of movie screens was too rich an opportunity to pass up. I knew it wasnâ€™t going to be a classic, not with Stone Cold Steve Austin in the cast and Stallone doing some of his best action directing work to date, and yet I had a good feeling it was going to be a shitload of mindless fun that would ideally compliment a six-pack of frosty suds and a sizzling thick-crust meat loverâ€˜s pizza. Iâ€™m happy to say it was that and so much more. Even with the materials in place I knew right off the bat that seeing the next major man movie great was not going to happen and I accepted that long before I walked into the air-conditioned comfort of a darkened theater last Friday night with my best friend Sarah by my side. The Expendables is a movie geek wet dream on the level of Freddy Vs. Jason and Grindhouse, a violent wish-fulfillment fantasy loaded with carbohydrates, chewing tobacco, high fructose corn syrup, Brut cologne, refried beans, and a grimy sense of childlike wonder. This is the kind of big-budget toy commercial the kid in all of us can relate, that is the kind of kid who likes to tie M-80â€™s to their action figures, burn ants with a magnifying glass, and drool over 20-year-old dog-eared copies of Hustler. You kinda wish some toy company had released a line of tie-in merchandise with action figures and vehicles that shoot the little plastic missiles Mom always told you not to swallow. Imagine the possibilities! I hope they consider that for the inevitable sequel. That would be extremely cool.
As I said before I thought The Expendables was a great deal of old-school action fun even as it strives to be a movie of its time rather than a full-blown throwback to the 1980â€™s. It has the laidback, who-gives-a-fuck-letâ€™s-party attitude of a down-and-dirty drive-in B-flick, more Enzo G. Castellariâ€™s Inglorious Bastards than Quentin Tarantinoâ€™s Inglourious Basterds (two movies I happen to love a great deal for diverse reasons). The fate of the free world isnâ€™t at stake, democracy will not be irreparably spoiled, and there will always be a Santa Claus (you sad fuckers). Character arcs are few and handled with vicious efficiency. Stathamâ€™s character Lee Christmas is given a girlfriend subplot (with Charisma Carpenter, late of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, as the lucky lady) that takes up little prized time and pays off beautifully with a basketball court stand-off that pits Lee against a bunch of putzes with balls bigger than their brains, with nothing but his fists and his trusty knife (one of them at least). Thatâ€™s The Expendablesâ€™s idea of resolving relationship issues and it works for me. Because this is not a movie geared towards the estrogen set, although there is no law on the books saying they canâ€™t participate in the mayhem. The meatiest arc is given to Stalloneâ€™s character, valiant team Barney Ross. Ross is an old warrior whose immediate future consists of the next mission and little more, but he doesnâ€™t seem like the kind of guy who yearns for the quiet life. This is what he does, he loves it, and so what the fuck is your problem asshole?
Stallone and his co-writer David Callaham boldly chose not to make The Expendables yet another â€œone last assignmentâ€ kind of movie. Who wants to see those anymore anyway? Iâ€™m sick and tired of them to be quite honest because itâ€™s a foregone conclusion that it wonâ€™t be the last mission/heist/rescue/journey to the moon/what-the-fuck-ever. Ross knows that heâ€™s in this business out of choice until heâ€™s dead and thatâ€™s fine with him, but with each mission, each bullet he fires into some poor suckerâ€™s head in a them-or-you situation, takes with it a small piece of his soul. The best dramatic scene in The Expendables is a conversation Barney has with his retired colleague Tool about the moral compromises they have to make in order to do what they do for a living and Tool has a monologue that perfectly encapsulates his reasoning for choosing life as an old man over dying in the heat of battle. Mickey Rourke gives each word of his small speech the spiritual weight and gravitas of a haunted man who got fed up with killing, and for that one brief moment you can see what life as an Expendable can do to a person. It gives the ensuing carnage a touch of melancholy as Ross and his team decide to risk life and enlarged limb so they hold their heads high when they walk down the street, and that makes a world of difference when you compare this movie to most of the mindless, low-risk action crapfests polluting the theaters and online video stores, since the actual video store is fast becoming a relic of a bygone era. Stallone and Callaham also give the dialogue the diamond-hard terseness of classic tough guy films. Not a lot of cheese ball one-liners here folks, just cool, clipped, and bearing the mark of the professionals.
Thatâ€™s about the extent of the character profundity in this movie. I wish there had been more of it because what little of it there was worked well for the kind of film The Expendables is, but between the multitude of action beats Stallone and his cast still managed to throw in little quirky touches like Toll Roadâ€™s brief monologue about his cauliflower ear (itâ€™s gross but awesome, the ear I mean), which Randy Couture sells through his matter-of-fact attitude about the thing. I also like seeing him relaxing with a good book, reading glasses and all, on the plane on the way back from the opening mission. Terry Crews and Jet Li donâ€™t get much time to develop their characters either but they both get their moment to shine acting-wise. Crews gets to articulate the intimate bond he has with his trusty shotgun that uses exploding rounds and Li has a running gag where he complains about being the shortest member of the team and needing more money for his â€œfamilyâ€, which often feels like an improvisation but itâ€™s pretty funny as an oddball character moment. There were quite a few of those and I grooved on all of it as I did the rest of the movie. I loved it when towards the end as he prepares for the final battle Garza makes his soldiers wear war paint like theyâ€™re about to storm the gates of Hades. During a torture scene Roberts coolly takes a sip of coffee as he orders someone to be water-boarded. An attempt was made to give Dolph Lundgrenâ€™s character some depth but his arc, from psycho Expendable castoff to hopeless junkie to temporary bad guy toâ€¦.well I canâ€™t really tell you, felt pretty rushed. I will say that none of the violent action scenes made my jaw drop as far as the fate of Gunner Jensen did. It was the cherry on top of this maniacal hot fudge sundae of testosterone and gunpowder and in a sense I loved it. Definitely unpredictable. Besides itâ€™s fun watching Lundgren, usually cast as the granite-faced hero in numerous direct-to-video flicks, go nuts doing a reprise of his greatest performance as the deranged Sgt. Andrew Scott in Universal Soldier.
But if The Expendables belongs to any one man itâ€™s Sylvester Stallone because this is first and foremost his baby. He directed, co-wrote, and plays the leading role in this monster and probably took the lionâ€™s share of the physical abuse throwing himself into his acting and his stuntwork with the same kinetic that brought his career roaring back to life. The man isnâ€™t afraid to do the dirty work and he even got into better shape physically than in his last two movies for the part. That shows commitment and itâ€™s something to be respected. I always thought Stalloneâ€™s talents as an actor and director were sorely underrated. You could make the argument that his career, which started out with box office success and Oscar glory, has seen more than itâ€™s fair share of dark days and poor decisions and I would certainly agree. As fun as it is to watch Cobra, Tango & Cash, and Demolition Man then and now itâ€™s been apparent from the beginning that Stalloneâ€™s filmmaking resume couldâ€™ve included more sterling achievements than guilty pleasures, Cop Land notwithstanding. Like his peer Bruce Willis the guy has better acting chops than the majority of action stars and heâ€™s an infinitely more interesting screen presence than his one-time rival and future business partner Arnold Schwarzenegger (who has a clever cameo as one of Barney’s fellow guns-for-hire, a scene packed to the gills with camera winking), at least thatâ€™s my humble opinion and many of you would likely disagree.
Stallone never plays his characters as emotionless machines, well maybe not all the time, and when he gets hurt or inflicts pain on others you can usually sense his suffering, and he can sell a soul-baring monologue better than Steven Seagal thatâ€™s for damn certain and you can look to the original Rocky or the end of First Blood if you donâ€™t believe me. Plus he often injects a sly (as befitting his nickname) sense of humor into his characters, and Iâ€™ve never had a problem understanding Stallone when he talks so you can dispense with the mumbling mockery. Schwarzenegger realized his days as a big-screen action hero were numbered so he retired into a life of politics. Bully for him because he wouldnâ€™t have aged well in cinema as Stallone seems to be. Now well into his 60â€™s Sly has in the span of a few years completely turned his image around from has-been of a more innocent time to elder statesman of badassery. Heâ€™s becoming more like Robert Mitchum and Lee Marvin with each new movie he does and since our yesteryear icons of cinematic cool starting departing this world years ago Stalloneâ€™s presence in film is more valuable than ever. Plus doing more directing is a smart way of ensuring heâ€™ll still be called upon to deliver the goods behind the camera when heâ€™s no longer able to do it in front of. Both his performance as Barney Ross and his work in the directorâ€™s chair are solid and enjoyable, not reaching the heights of legend but never having to. Theyâ€™re both perfect for the movie and nothing more, and Iâ€™d hardly call it sleepwalking. Stallone exudes authority and laconic cool as Ross, the best man to lead a team of armed-to-the-teeth war dogs. He shares good chemistry with Statham, doing his patented English hard man act to a T as usual.
Giselle Itie and Charisma Carpenter are both around mostly for eye candy but Stallone tried to give their characters a little significance. Itie had the toughest job playing the worldâ€™s sexiest guerilla fighter and a somewhat predictable connection between her and Garza adds a dimension to her adequate performance. Carpenter on the other hand does little but look concerned and sport a black eye that was given to her by an asshole boyfriend which Statham must naturally avenge, for that is the way the world works. The villain team has a few good players in its bullpen, lead by Eric Roberts (who once shared the screen with co-stars Stallone in The Specialist and Rourke in The Pope of Greenwich Village) as the lead baddie Munroe. Roberts wisely restrains himself from chewing the scenery even at times when that wouldâ€™ve made his scenes more interesting and it turns out to be a decent bit of bad guy acting that is only hampered by a bog-standard last reel speech in which he tries the whole â€œyou and me, weâ€™re the sameâ€ song-and-dance act with Stallone when a few choice words wouldâ€™ve sufficed. David Zayas, an actor known mostly for his television work on Oz and Dexter, does fine work as the morally-conflicted dictator Garza. Stone Cold Steve Austin, whoâ€™s always been a better wrestler than actor even though Iâ€™m not into his wrestling either, and Gary Daniels acquit themselves decently as Munroeâ€™s henchmen, getting to show off their moves in a couple of knockdown drag-out brawls in the finale. Austin, who apparently does most of his acting with his bulbous neck, has an on-screen fight with Stallone that actually broke the star/directorâ€™s own neck in real life. You canâ€™t fake that with CGI, and speaking of which that brings me to the problems I had with The Expendables.
Thereâ€™s a lot of computer-generated visual effects in this movie, primarily in the carnage department, and going by the stunning obviousness of the CGI blood and gore it appears that the rumors of the movie having originally been shot to be PG-13 and then later hardened to whole grain R-rated goodness in post-production may have been true. I could be wrong but ultimately the only thing that matters is the quality of the effects, and most of the time theyâ€™re very effective. Bodies explode in fountains of viscera, limbs are ripped and sliced from their bodies, and high-powered weaponry separates flesh from the bone with the enthusiasm of a ravenous zombie. Granted the mayhem is barely up to the apocalyptic standards of the last Rambo movie, but then again itâ€™s going to be hard for any movie to top the MGM musical-quality of Stalloneâ€™s epic 2008 bloodbath. During the finale thereâ€™s an explosion that looked so phony and digital it makes you long for the colossal fireball from an earlier action sequence that tore apart a dock full of baddies, because there was no way in hell that was done on a computer. That one was epic, Armageddon in a can so to speak. Then thereâ€™s the muted quality of the villainy. You never really learn to fear these guys despite their macho posturing and trigger-happy tendencies. Finally thereâ€™s not much of a rebel presence on the island of Villena even though itâ€™s apparent that Garzaâ€™s cruel tyranny has fostered an underground resistance since he took power, if Sandraâ€™s role in aiding the Expendables is any indication. Stallone couldâ€™ve added in a scene or two of a rebel uprising in play, or a more meticulous look at the toll the oppression brought on by the general and his CIA backers has taken on the island. After all itâ€™s the future of the people of Villena Barney Ross and his team are fighting for. I didnâ€™t let these flaws derail my enjoyment of the movie, but it wouldâ€™ve behooved Stallone to tighten up the screenplay because a somewhat more substantial movie may possibly have emerged from the effort.
The Expendables is a cheeseburger in paradise: a big olâ€™ greasy slab of grilled-to-perfection beef coated in slightly singed dripping American cheddar, drowning in ketchup and mustard, sautÃ©ed with the finest onions, mushrooms, and green peppers, and served up with a side of crinkle-cut French fries and a frosty draft beer. It all looks yummy and youâ€™ll devour it all like a lusty Viking warrior after a hard dayâ€™s raping and pillaging, but afterwards youâ€™ll be stricken with stomach cramps. Then youâ€™ll go and do it all over again and think nothing of it, and youâ€™ll be grinning like a kid the whole time. Dig in, and make sure to keep a bottle of Tums handy just in case.