The Expendables is an easy movie to pick apart, if one were of a mind to do so, on several structural levels. However, this reviewer does not feel the need to do so. I for one like movies that aren’t ashamed of what they are, and also, movies that don’t pretend to be more than what they are either. The Expendables is a prime example of this sort of movie. It was advertised as a non-stop parade of explosions and shoot outs featuring a large collection of some of the most notorious action movie stars of the past couple decades, and that’s pretty much exactly what it is. If that’s what you are looking for, this is your movie. If not, then you’ve probably already made up your mind about it before reading this review and would be better served seeking your entertainment elsewhere.
I admit that the action genre can be much more than this. There have been action movies, many starring actors featured in this one, that were just as visually stimulating and exciting, and yet also stood on their own as outright works of cinematic art, or at least told captivating stories. This movie of course, falls far short of such lofty ambition, but damn it if it isn’t a heck of a lot a fun in the meantime. Just for kicks, I might as well go over the major players and the “storyline” here. Sylvester Stallone, the director and overseer of this entire project, plays Barney Ross, the leader of a team of mercenaries who travel around in a giant airplane (outfitted with machine guns galore) looking badass and shooting the holy freaking hell out of terrorists and assorted scumbags the world over.
Ross’s chief partner in this unit is a man called Lee Christmas, played here by Jason Statham. Mr. Christmas specializes in throwing knives, one liners, and improvisational poetry, and yes, he also a first rate hand at ass beating as well. Rounding out the unit we have ‘Yin Yang’; Jet Li, portraying, go figure, a martial arts expert. Toll Road, (Randy Couture) an eccentric mercenary who spends most of the movie repeating lines fed to him by his personal therapist, Hale Ceaser, played by Terry Crews, notable for the insanely sweet fully automatic shotgun he wields, and finally, Gunner Jensen, played by Dolph Lundgren, a badass who has perhaps been in one scrape too many, or as Stallone’s character says of him, a man that “the life has gotten to”, as it will all of them, eventually, so sayeth Sly.
Sly’s team is contacted, through a character named Tool, a tattoo artist played by Mickey Rourke in a great little cameo role, in which he actually manages some damn fine acting, and plays a pivotal part in propelling the story forward. He’s especially good here in a great scene where he gives a speech to Stallone’s character at a critical moment in the movie. Rourke’s character is contacted by a mysterious man who calls himself Mr. Church about a job in a tiny island of just over six thousand people in South America being controlled by a ruthless dictator, who has gone into business with some all American scumbags, who finance his endeavors. Eric Roberts plays the leader of these aforementioned scumbags, and he is a great hand at being your classic slicked back hair douchebag antagonist here. His main muscle is a man simply called Paine, played by the one and only ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin.
Mr. Church wants this dictator dead, for reasons that might not be what they seem initially, and needs a team of men to get the job done, naturally. Although Barney’s crew is not the only team in town up for consideration here, as another action movie veteran with tons of experience and know how in this area pops up to hear about the offer early on in the movie. I won’t say anything more for those who haven’t seen the film, but this little part here with meeting to discuss the job involves one of the more amusing cameos that I’ve ever seen. When Stallone’s crew gets to the island their main contact is the dictator’s idealistic and courageous young daughter, who wants freedom for her people and a return to a normal way of life. She of course, gets caught in the middle of this conflict, between her father’s regime and the outsiders.
This mission of course is insane and suicidal, and the other guy offered it says as much. Our heroes are of course vastly outnumbered, cut off from the outside world and any possbility of help or rescue should things go awry, which they always do, and if killed, their existence even will probably be denied. To that they might all give a resounding “So what else is new?”
Naturally, most of these actors I’ve listed here basically play themselves, or I should say variations of former characters from other action flicks from over the years, and there’s not a lot of note to write about on the “acting” done here, although Stallone still manages some good scenes here and there, and the already mentioned stuff done by Mickey Rourke, who could probably get himself an Oscar nod reading the phone book at this point, holds up well. Basically though, none of that matters, as this movie simply aspires to serve as a fond homage to all the cheesy action hero movies of the 80s and 90s, which it does well, and as such, recruits a good number of the major players of that genre here for this flick.
There’s a ton of violence and explosions, although not to the visceral and realistic level of something like the last Rambo movie that Stallone did, but we get the usual splatter and bodies blown in half, heads ripped off, etc. But to me, it all came off as kind of a live action “cartoon”, although still within the limits of a classic action movie mind you, which has nothing to do with our actual reality whatsoever, and not cartoonish in the sense of it being a parody, so need to be worried on that front. There’s action from bell to bell you might say, with brief interludes of “story” occasionally interrupting the fireworks display.
Anyway, if you’ve got an afternoon to kill, I give this movie my full recommendation on the merits of what it is. Sure there’s tons of better movies to be watched, but, this is by no means something that should be skipped in my opinion, if as said above, you are a fan of this kind of movie and are prepared to turn your brain off for just a an hour and half or so of simple old fashioned explosive good times. If I have one complaint here, it’s that, perhaps because of all the recognizable faces here, and how I sort of had this fondness for everybody on the screen, I never really grew to despise any of the villains or relish it when they got their just desserts, although were some very very cool “just desserts” to be had here for sure. That could have been handled a little better I think, but still for the most part I watched this entire movie with one big cheesy guilty pleasure smile across my face the whole time. And right or wrong, any movie that can do that, gets a thumbs up in my book.