The Expendables Review

Posted on August 19, 2010 by


There was once, way back in the misty past, a time of action heroes. This time was known as the 80’s. And they are coming back.

The Expendables is a distillation of a trend i’ve noticed in recent films. It’s suddenly become popular to remake films from the 80’s (A period of time which I will defend to the death as being the golden age of modern cinema) such as The A-Team, The Karate Kid, Mad Max and Highlander. These remakes naturally involve a new cast of younger actors, in the hope that if people like it, they can squeeze out a few sequels while riding on a tide of slightly confused nostalgia, while updating the plots to a much more modern setting.

The Expendables is basically an inversion of that. There are no young actors here, save for the two female characters. This is because nearly everyone in this film is one of the original 1980’s action heroes, and, like oak, they have only gotten harder with age. Sylvester Stallone, (Rambo, Rocky, Judge Dredd) the man behind this mammoth gathering of the most badass men in the world, in well into his sixties, and looks better than any of us ever will. His abs are insane (Well, he would look better if it weren’t for… well, I suppose you’d call it a face. He looks like a spitting image puppet of himself).

Stallone leads a team of men, none of whom I think are under forty, which consists of a woobyish Jet Li (Hero, The One) who is the constant butt of height jokes, Another walking Spitting Image puppet in the form of Dolph Lundgren (Masters of the Universe, Rocky IV) as the token evil team-mate, Randy Couture (The Unit, Command Conquer: Red Alert 3) as a cabbage-eared know-nothing know-it-all. Rounding up the gang is Terry Crews (Gamer, Terminator Salvation) as the token black guy (Just like 80’s films, see?) and a relative newbie on the action films scene, Jason Statham (The transporter, Crank) as Stallone’s heterosexual life partner.

Stallone and Co and given a job by the mighty Bruce Willis (Die Hard, The fifth Element) to remove a tyrannical military dictator from a banana republic in South America, in a scene which also included the brief appearance of the one-scene wonder Arnold Schwarzenegger (Terminator, Jingle all the Way), a scene which includes perhaps the single greatest concentration on on-screen ham since Brian Blessed was on Flash Gordon. It is also without doubt the funniest scene in the film.

And that’s the plot, basically. They are given a job, they do the job. The plot here isn’t the point, it’s the sheer concentration of big names that provides the real pulling power, and Stallone’s writing and direction proves itself to actually be pretty good. The dialogue is roughly half mythology gags and half lampshade hanging, and is consistently funny and sharp , with bonuses everywhere for people familiar with the cast’s previous works. Probably the best performance in the film in terms of actual acting is given by Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler, Iron man 2) who delivers a speech about his greatest failure in the past, which is what spurs Stallone to take the job on.

This is a film that takes total, utter refuge in audacity. It runs on a high-octane cocktail of rule of cool and rule of funny, with a healthy amount of over the top gory combat, starting as it means to go on by blowing a Somali pirate into a fine red mist in the first five minutes. From there, things continue to get increasingly over the top  for the rest of the film, escalating into a series of enormous explosions and big men punching each other in the face.

The Expendables is the antithesis of films like Inception. It’s pure and simple action, from start to finish. It falls down on having somewhat dull, unmemorable villains, but the film really isn’t about them, it’s about enjoying things going kablooie. This is the summer popcorn blockbuster we’ve been waiting for, a perfect counter-point to the cerebral action of Inception. With Stallone already considering a sequel, it looks like the 80’s are back, and they mean to stay. Thank god for that.

Posted in: Movies