Stallone, Statham, Lundgren, Li, Willis, Rourke and even a cameo from Arnie himself? I’ll give you a minute to clean up the mess you’ve just made before I continue. The Expendables boasts all these veterans of action cinema and many more, a combination of performers liable to make any man cry with unapologetic joy. However Stallone’s film (he once again assumes directorial duty) actually ends up a frenzied disappointment, a movie whose legendary cast actually work to the detriment of the final product. After all without such an orgasmic array of maestros to smear over the promotional material The Expendables would be just another forgettable, vaguely passable action flick. With them the movie is just another forgettable, vaguely passable action flick that squanders a sublime group of physical performers. It’s a crying shame.
Fronted by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) The Expendables are a group of mercenaries with a lethal reputation, and a heavy sense of brotherhood. When a shady CIA operative (Bruce Willis) makes them a job offer, the team are left with much to consider. The task is to infiltrate a remote South American Island and kill the man at the head of its dictatorship, thus freeing the community from the grasps of his greed fuelled violence. On arrival they discover a dirty CIA member (Eric Roberts) is really pulling the strings, and so taking inspiration from a young and patriotic local (Giselle Itie), The Expendables get ready to complete what might be their deadliest mission yet. However aiding the villains is an old member of The Expendables called Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), a man who feels he was wrongly expelled from the squad and who now seeks revenge.
The screenplay for The Expendables is laughably thin and basically devoid of fresh narrative ideas, everything good about the film can be pretty much sourced away from Dave Callaham and Stallone’s inept script. The plotline is extremely basic and the numerous subplots peppered throughout the picture are unrewarding, one involving Statham and Buffy the Vampire Slayer alumni Charisma Carpenter is actually pointless beyond belief. The story develops in an odd and unsatisfactory way, the film enduring a 20 minute action lull in the middle that is simply punishing to endure, in which Stallone seems to think his undercooked plotting will carry the movie for the time being. It’s an idiotic artistic choice that’s fairly representative of a largely moronic movie. The dialogue is funny in spurts (The Arnie cameo ends with a scorcher) but large swathes of the movie are bogged down in overly philosophical and unjustified soul searching. It’s a frighteningly bad example of poor writing, viewers should be thankful that Stallone manages to handle the rest of the affair with slightly sharper judgement.
The cast are all adequate but nobody really gets enough time to shine, and certain performers like Jet Li and Mickey Rourke are almost totally wasted. Rourke’s lasting impact on the film actually stems from a rare example of competent writing, as he muses on the difficulties presented by an overexposure to violence and amoral behaviour, but it feels like it belongs in another movie. Li who isn’t usually much of an actor only enjoys one proper scene of martial arts majesty, but even than it isn’t one likely to rank overly high by his athletic standards. Making up the rest of The Expendables is a knife wielding Jason Statham (suitably badass), a comically versed Terry Crews and a shamefully wooden Randy Couture. Stallone works hard as the film’s most human protagonist and finds a few connective moments with Giselle Itie, but ultimately his movie is too weak in the writing and characterization department for any of this to register on a level of true emotional conviction. Eric Roberts makes for an ample (if not physically diminutive villain) but the real surprise is Dolph Lundgren, who finds a believable sense of vengeful distress as Gunner. I would never have expected to be writing this about any movie, but hell, in The Expendables Dolph Lundgren probably gives the most polished performance.
The action sequences are well shot and exciting but lack the regularity that viewers might anticipate, The Expendables undergoing a major period of slow and unwelcome reflection in its middle act. This dull segment not only hampers the movie’s pace but also the adrenaline pumping tone of the opening and climactic displays of carnage. The film begins on an exceedingly positive note with a bloody and coherently constructed instance of bad guy bashing, whilst the climax is as explosive and overblown as any film fan could logically desire. Overall when The Expendables focuses on guns and moments of action packed exertion it delivers, it’s in the other areas that the movie completely falls flat.
The musical score by Brian Tyler lacks the iconic bombast of all the best 80s’ action vehicles, though technically Stallone has done a fantastic job of shooting and designing the aesthetic of his picture. The film is seasoned with a nice grimy flavour when it needs to be, and the filmmakers deserve props for allowing viewers to actually register what’s happening in the set-pieces. However on the whole The Expendables is a major summer let down, a movie that occasionally flirts with greatness but never truly gets close to delivering it on a grand scale. Action junkies might want to check it out for the purposes of nostalgia, but otherwise plans to see this tepid actioner can be marked down as expendable on your cinematic calendar.
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke
Runtime: 103 min