Everything old…

Never let it be said that Sylvester Stallone doesn’t know his audience. After railing against the ascent of what he calls “velcro muscles” that he claims have defined action movie stars in the last two decades, Stallone resurrects the big-muscle action movie with his 1980s throwback, The Expendables. Not since Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Predator has this much testosterone blown up the screen.

The Expendables poster

As with all movies of this genre, the plot is incidental. Something about an ex-CIA agent (Eric Roberts, a joy to watch as he savors every smarmy moment) taking over a small island somewhere in South America (of course). Stallone and crew’s assignment, simply enough, is to take him down. This job is offered to them in an unnecessary but memorable scene between Stallone, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The scene serves absolutely no purpose but to allow Planet Hollywood the opportunity to try and one-up each other over allusions to their respective careers, and offers Sly the movie’s best line at his governor pal’s expense.

All of that is merely filler, however, to pad out the real reason this movie exists… ridiculous amounts of ridiculous action, and it delivers. What it lacks in finesse it more than compensates for in carnage and wreckage. So in tune is Stallone with what made the 80’s action movies popular that The Expendables could have been filmed a quarter-century ago.

Naturally with a movie like this, explosions galore are to be expected and Sly does not disappoint. There are so many detonations, in fact, that the director seems trying to expose Michael Bay as a restrained pantywaist. Short of all-out nuclear armageddon, it’s difficult to imagine more things going kaboom.

Unfortunately, the action is diluted by the infusion of wretched contemporary shaky-cam cinematography. It’s a shame that with this much star power and prowess, the movie is shot so tight and trembly that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to tell half the time what’s going on. Fortunately, the movie is saved by some truly crisp and breakneck editing. The final showdown is a virtuoso editing performance as pretty much everyone in the cast goes mano-a-mano in his own individual throwdown.

Stallone does a great job of utilizing every man onscreen. While they don’t all share a great deal of screen time together, everyone gets their own memorable scene. Mickey Rourke, who spends much of the movie smoking what appears to be Gandalf’s pipe from The Lord of the Rings, seems to not understand what kind of movie he’s making as he delivers a beautifully raw and vulnerable soliloquy about violence and the deadening of the soul. Even here he’s bucking for acting awards and the movie is just that much richer for it.

While it’s difficult for me to recommend The Expendables on the basis of its distractingly terrible photography, the movie as a whole is entirely too much fun to resist. For anyone who grew up on a steady diet of Rambo, Cobra, Commando and Predator, The Expendables is a satisfying and refreshing action spectacle that fully delivers on its premise.

Disagree? That’s fine by me. Share your thoughts below.

  • Connie LoveKaupe

    I thought the movie was fun & escapist – after a day working with small children, watching things blow up was remarkably cathartic. I think my favorite scenes were with the airplane on its shooting run in the first half. And the scenes with the plane flying were good. As far as firepower – I giggled uncontrollably the entire time that shotgun-machine gun was going off. Actually enjoyed Mickey Rourke. Liked Stallone’s facial hair.