Any discussion of The Expendables must start with the cast.
These actors, after all, are the reason why this film got made and the
reason why anyone would be remotely interested in watching it. I don’t
know how Sly Stallone did it, but he gathered a who’s who of the action
elite. Some of the greatest badasses currently working in showbiz today.
So how do they do? Well….
- Stallone probably puts in the most effort, but we never learn
anything about his character. A broken heart is hinted at but never
addressed, and it’s outright stated that we may not even know his real
- Jason Statham gets a lot of screen time, but he doesn’t really get
to do much with it. In fact, most of his screentime goes toward a
girlfriend subplot that would have done just as much good on the cutting
- Jet Li also gets a lot of screen time, but nearly every second of it
is somehow devoted to jokes about how short he is.
- Dolph Lundgren is surprisingly scary, but he’s constantly chewing
scenery and he gets character moments at the beginning and end that are
pure bullshit (shooting a guy is okay, but hanging him is wrong?
- Eric Roberts plays a shamelessly stock role that’s totally devoid of
nuance, but he does what he can with it.
- Mickey Rourke tries to deliver a heartfelt speech in the middle, but
it’s a textbook reason why “show, don’t tell” is a good idea. He just
goes on and on.
The cast also includes two wrestlers and a former NFL pro. All three
suck. Randy Couture gets a brief monologue about his oddly-shaped ear
and it’s painful to sit through. Terry Crews talks a bit about his
favorite weapons and it’s laughable. But at least these two get a
relatively brief amount of screen time. Steve Austin gets a sizable role
as the villain’s right-hand man and his attempts at acting are just
pathetic. I’m not kidding when I say that he had better line delivery on
Every actor in this movie gets a chance to shine. Everyone gets at
least one good chunk of dialogue and everyone (save Rourke) gets at
least one great action moment. This does not help flesh out the
characters or make them sympathetic. Each character is given a single
memorable trait — Lundgren’s a junkie, Couture is seeing a shrink,
Stallone’s the leader, Statham has a rocky relationship, Jet Li is
short, etc. — but this is a poor and lazy substitute for actually
fleshing out the characters. Creating a roster of likable, sympathetic
and three-dimensional characters is the hardest part of any ensemble
movie, as well as the most vital. This movie tried it, failed and thus
was doomed instantly.
Oh, and I suppose I have to talk about The Governator. It’s been
widely publicized that Arnold Schwarzenegger found the time to make a
cameo in this movie and I’m glad to say that it went rather well. The
beginning was good, he had a nice bit of banter with Stallone… but
then he says “Well, I’m busy anyway. Give the job to Stallone. Laters!”
This begs the question of why Schwarzenegger would bother coming in the
first place if he was just going to turn the job down anyway. And then,
just to rub salt in the wound, Stallone makes some totally non sequitur
wisecrack about how Ah-nuld’s character wants to be president. It really
is like Stallone tried to find some way to weave Schwarzenegger into
the story, allowing his cameo to make sense, only to say at the end
“Nah, just fuckin’ with you. Hey, it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger!”
Additionally, Bruce Willis gets a cameo in the same scene, but his
cameo is handled far better. His role actually plays a significant part
in the plot and Willis manages to convincingly threaten Stallone. That’s
not something just anybody can do.
We all know that the story for this movie is completely beside the
point, but I’m going to talk about it anyway. Our setting is a small
island nation under military rule with a completely Hispanic population.
There, the head general is bought out by a rogue CIA bigwig who’s using
the general’s land and manpower to produce cocaine. The general himself
is of course powerless to do a thing about it, so the CIA has to hire
our heroes and send them in.
The message I’m getting here is that life under a dictatorship sucks
and brown people can’t do anything unless rich white men help them. Go
Naturally, the premise comes with a native love interest. She’s
played by Giselle Itie and I’m really not sure what to think about her
here. On one hand, it seems like this hypermasculine male fantasy movie
needed someone much younger, with supermodel looks that Itie frankly
doesn’t have. On the other hand, I am so very glad that Stallone didn’t
cast a girl half his age for the role. Fortunately, Itie does show some
good acting chops, but she’s giving her lines next to Stallone, so take
that for what you will.
Of course, anyone who goes to see this film will be concerned
entirely with the action, and I’m glad to say that the action here is
really quite good. For all it’s faults, there’s no denying that this
movie knows how to blow shit up. I’m always amused when a film finds new
ways to make something explode and this movie delivered. Moreover, the
fight choreography is solid, with punches that really look like they
hurt. The weaponry used is amazing and the sound design really made me
feel like I was in the middle of a war zone.
So, yeah. The action in this movie is really good. Of course, it
would be even better if I could see it clearly!
The film is a visual mess. The cinematographer shows an unusual
preference for close-ups, frequently zooming in as far as the actors’
eyes. Seriously, there are entire sequences in which all we see of the
actors are their eyes staring right at the screen. Moreover, many of the
shaky-cam shots are hard to make sense of and the entire climax is made
unintelligible by its night-time setting. The climax is so dark that I
can’t tell one Expendable from another or which ones are being played by
stunt doubles (which may have been the entire point, come to think of
it). On a similar note, though the editing didn’t make the action
sequences impossible to follow, it certainly came close.
Last but not least, the score for this movie is a joke. There are so
many times in this movie when the music did not remotely match the
action onscreen. For example, there was a moment in the Jet Li/Dolph
Lundgren fight when Li was beating up Lundgren, then Lundgren turned the
tables and the music
actually got more uplifting.
I also feel that I have to talk briefly about the ending. Without
giving too much away, the film ends with Statham reciting a bit of
ad-libbed poetry — something he’d never done in the movie at any point
prior — before he throws a knife at the camera. Cut to black. What? The
poem had nothing to do with anything, and it seems strange that instead
of focusing on Stallone or the group as a whole, the movie leaves us
with Statham in the spotlight. It just seems like such a strange note
for the film to end on.
The Expendables had absolutely no right to be a failure. Such a
legendary meeting of professional badasses should have been a movie
event of the year and of action movie history as a whole. Alas, even if
this movie were to be judged by far less lofty standards, it would still
be considered a disappointment. Fortunately, the actors in this movie
bring a collective filmography containing a vast array of action movie
classics. I humbly suggest that you go see one of them — any of them —
rather than this.