Those that know me will tell you I like to joke around. Maybe they’re pity laughs and I’m just too full of myself to notice, but I think I amuse people. As my screening for The Expendables approached, I joked that I would fall into a deep depression if it were bad. I stated how its failure would only be evidence as to the nonexistence of a god. Others said the film was so manly that if you went in clean shaven, you’d walk out with a full beard. With a cast that includes Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Terry Crews, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and more, these statements are more than jokes. They transcend into fact. So it’s with a happy heart that I say I’m not depressed, there is a god and my beard is awesome.
Barney (Stallone), Lee (Statham), Ying Yang (Li), Hale (Crews), Toll Road (Couture) and Gunner (Lundgren) are the Expendables. They’re mercenaries for hire and when we meet them they are in the process of overtaking a Somalian pirate boat and rescuing their captives. However, Gunner goes a little berserk, prompting his removal from the team prior to their next mission where they are tasked with overthrowing the island of Vilena's evil dictator, General Garza (David Zayas). But things get complicated when they learn that Garza isn’t actually the prime target.
The Expendables, more than anything, is a love letter to action fans. It has runaway helicopters, car chases, fisticuffs, gun battles and all manner of explosions. Its whole reason for being is summed up in one late shot, directly after destroying a helicopter, where fire and carnage encompasses the entire screen. It knows what we’ve come for and it gives it to us.
Plain and simple, The Expendables is tons of fun. If 2008’s Rambo is any indication, Sylvester Stallone knows action. He’s the type of guy who should be handling these types of movies. He has lived and breathed them throughout his career and, although he’s no master behind the camera, he knows what gets the adrenaline pumping and pushes it to its limit.
But let’s be honest. It’s not a particularly great film. The idea behind The Expendables is a novelty at best—combine the best action stars of today with those from years past and make things go boom—but really, that’s all we need. I grew up with Dolph Lundgren (I must have watched Universal Soldier 50 times as a kid). I’ve missed Arnold Schwarzenegger and, although he’s only in the movie for a brief time, I loved seeing him back onscreen. The dialogue is basic and the story is routine, but I didn’t come for that. I came for the action and the nostalgia. That’s why, despite all its problems, it works.
As a fanboy, I can overlook those problems, but my requirements as a film critic say I cannot, so allow me to deviate from my textual nerdgasm. There are many side plots in The Expendables, all which feature exhaustive dialogue inconsequential to the overall narrative, like Lee’s girlfriend’s infidelity and pretty much any scene with Mickey Rourke, but my biggest reservation comes from how poorly the characters are juggled. It’s called The Expendables, but it seemed like it should have been called Sylvester Stallone and Friends because it sometimes felt like a vanity project for the aging star, focusing too much on him and not nearly enough on everybody else. Stallone brings together this legendary group of guys and then splits them all apart, taking the potential of the opening scene where they all work together and squandering it in favor of aloof admiration.
Could The Expendables have been better? Absolutely, but it delivered exactly what I expected: blood, bullets and lots of stuff blowing up. Based on those descriptors, you know whether or not this movie is for you. All I can tell you is that it was for me and I ate it up.
The Expendables receives 3.5/5