Screen Rant’s Vic Holtreman reviews The Expendables

Well the Summer 2010 movie season is winding down. As usual we’ve had a couple of hits (Toy Story 3, Inception), misses (The Last Airbender, Jonah Hex), and a whole lot of in-between. This downhill side of summer now brings us to Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables – a promised testosterone fest that many have been looking forward to as a throw-back to the good old days (1980s) of macho, cigar-chewing tough guys (with a soft spot for women in danger) who have endless gun magazine clips and cheesy but funny throwaway lines of dialog.

The question of course, is whether Sly and the gang deliver just that.

The film opens with what’s come to be the standard, introduction-to-the-team action set piece. It’s a hostage rescue situation and the nice thing about it is that it’s very effective at establishing both who the characters are when it comes to dangerous situations and what we can expect from the rest of the film. The action and violence factor is made clear right up front in a satisfying sequence where the team takes down the bad guys without backing down even a fraction of an inch.

The team:

  • Ross (Sylvester Stallone), leader of the Expendables
  • Christmas (Jason Statham), Ross’ second-in-command
  • Yin Yang (Jet Li), Chinese martial arts master
  • Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), a borderline psychotic Swedish sniper
  • Hale Caeser (yeah, I know, played byTerry Crews), heavy weapons specialist
  • Toll Road (Randy Couture), demolitions expert

(For a complete history on the stars of The Expendables, check out our “Why They’re Expendable” series.)

Home base for the team is a warehouse that former Expendable, Tool (Mickey Rourke), calls home. Rourke is the philosophical anchor of if not the team, then Ross, who leads it. They’re good, long time friends and it’s Tool who Ross turns to when he’s struggling with a decision. Jensen seems to be enjoying killing now – he’s been in the game too long and can no longer be trusted, and Mickey warns Ross that will happen to everyone who stays in the business too long.

Ross is looking for one more job, and this is where Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger make their cameo appearances. Willis is effective as Church – apparently a CIA higher up who needs a job done in a foreign county, but needs it done off the books. Arnold comes in as an old rival to Ross, and while it was amusing to see the banter between the three characters, Arnold’s cameo felt completely superfluous and the film would have been had he been left out.

The mission is to overthrow a South American dictator, but once the team gets there they find things to be much more complicated than they had anticipated (or been told about). Ross meets their contact there, a lovely young woman named Sandra and played by Giselle Itié. She’s afraid but overcomes her fear for love her country and people. Things go wrong and the team has to escape – in a pretty awesome action scene involving their cargo plane and of course some really big explosions. :)

Ross was forced to leave Sandra behind and it eats away at him – he has to decide whether to save himself or attempt a suicide mission to rescue her (one guess which he picks).

So enough about the story… is the movie any GOOD?

Well, that will depend on you. The Expendables is a movie that I already know is going to split people down the middle.

If you’re looking for anything more than a macho throwback to 80s action movies you’re going to be very disappointed. If you’ve been looking forward to blood, brutal hand to hand, thousands of bullets flying and tons of explosions then you’ll be one happy camper.

Me, I’m somewhere just north of the middle.

I get what Stallone was trying to accomplish here – I just don’t think he quite managed to do it as well as it could have been done. For one thing, while I’m not privy to early incarnations of the script, it seems evident that it was supposed to have more of the aging action stars thing happening than what ends up in the finished film. Among the actors that were approached to appear in some roles that ended up being filled by younger actors were Jean-Claude Van Damme, Wesley Snipes, Kurt Russell (Chuck Norris and Carl Weathers would have made fine additions as well). Instead younger (mostly non-) actors were chosen: Steve Austin (who plays bad guy Eric Roberts bodyguard), Randy Couture and Terry Crews.

The three younger actors mentioned don’t get a lot of dialog, and honestly that’s something I’m thankful for. They’re in the film to look and act tough, and at that, they are pretty damned good. There was one scene where Terry Crews waxed poetic about his uber-gun and it was a pale shadow of Jesse Ventura’s description of “Old Painless” in Predator. Was Ventura a great actor in that film? Of course not – but that leads me to another point…

One of the hallmarks of those bodybuilder-filled action movies from 25 years ago were the throwaway one-liners:

“I’ll be back.”

“Yippee Ki Ay Mother F****r.”

“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.”

“Hasta la vista, baby.”

“I ain’t got time to bleed.”

“Stick around.”

You get the picture.

With the exception of the aforementioned scene with Stallone, Arnold and Willis, most of the humor in the movie falls flat. You keep waiting and hoping for a witty or even cornball quip that might put a smile on your face – but it just doesn’t happen. Most of the dialog is just plain weak. There are a few decent moments that shine through – in particular a scene where Mickey Rourke is thinking back to the event that changed the course of his life… powerful stuff for a movie like this. There are also a couple of scenes between Statham and his girlfriend that manage to convey some depth of character for the man – and a fight scene on a basketball court related to that which manages to seal the emotional tie between him and his young lady (go figure). I would have liked to have seen a little more screen time from Jet Li, but at least he got more than the professional fighters in the cast.

But other than those and a few scattered moments (usually between Stallone and Statham) the conversations never really seem to click.

Due to that, a lot of the movie feels like waiting around for the next big action set piece or the next hand to hand combat sequence. With the exception of some jarring in-close camera work (which to my recollection is thankfully the exception and not the rule) those scene are most DEFINITELY worth waiting for – and are what this movie is all about.

The fight scenes are brutal, with lots of bone-breaking and blood shooting and splattering. They go on for a while and for the most part allow you to see what the heck is going on (although some of them are a bit to WWF-ish). The big action sequences are pretty amazing as well – the escape from the South American country, both the car chase scene but especially the flight out of there. Damn sweet for action fans. There’s also an over-the-top action sequence combining gun battles, hand to hand, massive explosions, collapsing buildings and a river of fire at the end. ‘Nuff said.

For me, it was great seeing a bunch of guys being guys. Especially the older actors, who were obviously raised before they started putting estrogen in the meat supply. No emo guys here, and even when being introspective they’re muy macho.

So if you’re looking for a guy’s movie that’s heavy on the action and you don’t mind if it’s missing a lot of everything else, The Expendables is for you. So now you’ve been warned: If you’re expecting more from this movie, don’t come crying to me because it lacks emotional depth and character development.

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The Expendables trailer:

If you’ve seen the film, visit our Expendables spoilers post if you’d like to discuss the film without worrying about ruining it for those who haven’t seen it yet.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5