When Stallone set about putting together The Expendables he seemed to have one goal in mind: a return to the action movies of the past that we used to know and love. Action movies nowadays have become watered down, CG-based excuses to blow stuff up. What happened to the movies like Die Hard or Rambo? Let’s face it, the 80s and early 90s where the heyday of action cinema. Stallone recognized this, so The Expendables was born.
Assembling every action hero from the past three decades (except for Jean Claude van Damme) Stallone crafts a film bubbling with testosterone, and loaded with enough male machismo to power a small city. Along with Stallone we have action regulars like Bruce Willis (who, unfortunately, doesn’t get any action scenes), Jason Statham, Jet Li, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, Steve Austin, Randy Couture, Mickey Rourke, and Terry Crews (the guy who yells really loud during Old Spice commercials).
With biceps flexing and guns blazing The Expendables doesn’t stop shooting, kicking, and exploding for its 103 minute runtime. Barney Ross (Stallone) is the leader of an elite mercenary force called The Expendables. Under his employ are Lee Christmas (Statham), Ying Yang (Li), Gunner Jensen (Lundgren), Toll Road (Couture), and Hale Caesar (Crews). We’re to assume these are code names, with Hale Caesar being my personal favorite.
The guys take contracts from people who need tough jobs done without the tie down of bureaucracy. The beginning of the film shows The Expendables take out a band of Somali pirates with skilled precision. Bullets fly, people die (come to think of it that wouldn’t have been a bad tagline for this film). Once the guys are hired to go after a corrupt general on the island of Vilena, they soon find out that they may be up against more than even their bulging muscles can handle.
The plot doesn’t really matter all that much, like most action films. Its sole purpose is to be able to drive along a movie filled with numerous explosions and increasingly inventive ways to kill people with guns. So, does Stallone’s film harken back to the action movies of yesteryear that we so fondly remember? Yes and no.
Stallone excels in guiding an action film along, but has taken up the mantel of recent action directors with his quasi shaky-cam and quick cutting techniques. During the action scenes there isn’t a shot that lasts more than a second. Body parts flail about as we realize we’re missing much of the martial art dance that Li and Statham are masters of. A sequence towards the end plays out much like the recent Transformers movie. It’s almost impossible to tell who’s fighting who.
The Expendables excels on its pure adrenaline-fueled action set pieces. We may not get much in the way of coherent hand-to-hand combat, but some of the larger set pieces, which use real explosions, are a wonder to behold. As Stallone and Statham swoop down in their airplane unloading bullets on the helpless army below its hard not to smile.