The Expendables (2010)
Sylvester Stallone deserves another Oscar, this one for Making The Film That Needed To Be Made. Just as Kill Bill was made for we comic book geeks who like samurai films and westerns, The Expendables is the film for those of us who love action movies. It’s not perfect. It’s not revolutionary. It’s just that the idea of this film is exactly what our summer movie season needed.
The key to enjoying this film is keeping in mind that some folks think that Cobra needed a sequel. Once you recognize that, everything else falls into place.
This is the classic American version of every samurai/spaghetti western/80s action flick you’ve ever seen. You have the evil folks who corrupt locals with promises of money. You have the money hungry local baron who finds himself caught up in things beyond his control. You have the
cattle baron’s small country dictator’s daughter who is fighting against the corruption that turned her father into a monster. Finally, you have the traveling warrior(s) who is drawn into the cause against his will and winds up fighting the good fight though it goes against his code of how to do business. Oppressed townspeople, evil overlords, righteous causes. It’s everything that a good action film needs.
Okay, here’s the deal. Dictator of a fictional South American nation is in bed with an ex-CIA goon who is running the country’s cocaine business. Said dictator’s daughter hates what her father has become but knows in her heart that her father is still a good man. CIA hires a group of mercs to kill the dictator. They find out what the deal is and call it off. Sly Stallone realizes the goodness of the daughter and decides to do what’s right even though there’s no percentage in it for him. After that, it’s a fight of good versus evil.
Knowing that, what do we have? We have a RAGING SHITSTORM OF BULLETS AND BLOOD AND MAYHEM.
How’s the action? In a word: Sweet. Lots of big explosions. Tons of punches and kicks and lunges and parries and slashes and shots. Car chases through crowded streets. MMA versus pro wrestling. Gung fu versus abnormally large European kickboxers. Knives and guns and bombs and FAE and everything that goes boom in the night.
The main draw of the film is the cast. Wow. I don’t think I’ve seen a dream cast like this since True Romance.
Sly Stallone is Barney Ross. Merc with a heart. Badass with a soft spot. We’ve seen this before.
Jason Statham is Lee Christmas. Statham still has his trademark charm, but largely abandons it in this film in favor of being a cold, calculating, methodical killing machine. He prefers blades, and in this film he is simply LETHAL. In earlier films he displayed a certain finesse and fluidity in his action. Not so here. He dispatches bad guys in a calculating, ruthless fashion that will impress even the most jaded action fans. It’s a pleasure to see him slice his way through the ranks without even changing his facial expression.
Jet Li. The legend. Though he is relegated to a relatively minor role, it is one which I will remember well. Seeing a little guy facing off against Dolph Lundgren is memorable. In this film, Jet Li is something that we would never expect from him. He’s . . . funny! He has a brilliant speech about how he has to work harder because he’s smaller than all of the other guys in the crew and how that entitles him to more of a cut. I can’t really do it justice. I’ll just say that if you like Jet Li, you need to see it.
Eric Roberts. He’s made some real crap over the years, but he’s a GREAT smarmy bad guy. He does it again in this film (though we wonder where those killer moves from Best Of The Best went).
Randy Couture. MMA badass extraordinaire. He has a cauliflower ear but don’t ask him about it. He kicks ass. He fights Steve Austin. He’s both scary and charming at the same time.
Stone Cold Steve Austin. This is the scariest bad man I’ve seen in film in AGES. He’s like a brick wall. There’s no conscience or remorse. There’s no finesse. There’s simply a mass of muscle and attitude with good hair. He’s scary good at this kind of role.
Gary Daniels. It’s good to see him again. He was a mainstay of many 90s action flicks and I’m glad to see that his contribution to the genre hasn’t been forgotten. He’s a solid character and dies gloriously.
Terry Crews. Ho. Lee. Shit. Everybody knows this guy. He’s a relatively minor character but when he brought out the big guns the crowd literally stood up and cheered. He’s a badass big man with a badass shotgun and lots of ammo to expend. When he shows up in the big climax, you’ll find yourself thinking “I’m so glad he showed up with that meat grinder!” He’s memorable.
Mickey Rourke. This dude’s been on a roll since Sin City. In this one, he doesn’t see any action. He’s just a cool ex-merc who runs a tattoo parlor and likes to talk about the old days. It would be a completely throwaway part for him except for one scene. He remembers a lady in Bosnia who killed herself. The entire scene is shot as a close-up on his face. Not many actors could face that kind of scrutiny. Rourke tells his story to the camera and it’s actually moving. Props to this man who gradually looks more and more like the sax player from the Muppet Show.
HERE’S THE BIG SHOT: Dolph Lundgren. I know, people only think of him in derogatory terms since they saw The Punisher. They forget about Pentathlon. Dolph is a merc who is riding the horse, and freaking nutjob who lives for the job. He’s totally bugfuck nuts. He wants to kill, he has nothing to lose, and he’s damn near invincible. People forget that he was the European heavyweight kickboxing champ. He’s freaking huge, he’s lethal, and he doesn’t care who he hurts. He’s funny, he’s awful, he’s terrible and he’s memorable. Dolph is a great reason to see this film. I know it’s incredible for me to say that, but it’s true.
Is it great movie-making? Nope. Will it change your life? Nope. Is it tons of summertime fun with lots of explosions and great fights and big explosions? Absolutely. If you dig big booms, graphic violence, big names beating the snot out of each other, tongue-in-cheek humor and quadrillions of rounds expended, THIS is your summertime movie. For this type of film, I can honestly say that my only regret is that they didn’t get Jean-Claude to join the cast.
Popcorn film of the summer. Dig it.