The Expendables (2010) – AMK Hub; last Saturday morning. Back in the late 80’s, the three ‘big’ action-film stars that were churning out box office hits were Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Bruce Willis. There was frequent talk about attempts to get these three – or heck, even just two of them – into the same film. Sort of like a made in heaven pairing along the lines of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.
Time has long gone and past. Arnold’s now a Governor, Willis never lost steam, and Stallone was low-key for a while with just a couple of personal projects running before coming back to the forefront with new films wrapping up two key characters he was most closely identified with: Rocky and Rambo.
So, hats off to Stallone for pulling it altogether for this new film that sees the three of them together and as a tidy bonus also starring more recent action-film actors. He’s assembled quite a cast for his new film that he directed, wrote and starred in – and the list of actors include the threesome, former Olympic swimmer turned actor Jason Statham from the Transporter series, Jet Li, and Mickey Rourke. Even Stallone’s old nemesis from Rocky IV, Dolph Lundgren shows up.
The Expendables is the name of a band of mercenaries who take on jobs that the government routinely can’t. Sort of like the A-Team. The lot are led by Ross (Stallone), his knife thrower Christmas (no kidding, and that’s Statham), his vertically challenged but very kungfu expert Yang (Li), and the violent lunatic Jensen (Lundgren). The lot take on a job in a fictitious Latin American drug producing country that’s now taken over by a former CIA operative in cahoots with its banana dictator.
That’s basically the film in a nutshell. There’s no substantive character development, no subtlety, just lots of bullets flying about, mayhem and explosions. The film is quite a throwback to the loud and noisy action films of the 80s with larger than life characters, and film settings that would get panned today for their lack of realism. All explosions in this film seem to be napalm-driven, guns rarely run out of ammunition, and the a good bulk of the faceless bad guys don’t even get screen time to show they get wounded first when they’re shot. Every bullet fired by one of the Expendables is a kill shot in short.
The Expendables and their ridiculous berets.
But hey, it’s a Stallone film and if nothing else, the film isn’t pretentious. The film is enjoyable, if at a superficial level without leaving lasting impressions once you walk out of the theatre.
That said, there are still missed opportunities. The much anticipated scene between the Three Action Film Gods of ‘80s was a bit of a let down. For starters, if you watch carefully, you might notice that the three of them aren’t really seen in the same frame apart from the last bit of it. There’re plenty of camera angle switches as the three talk to each other in antagonist fashion – Arnold and Stallone are the competing and rival mercenary leaders, Willis is the job offerer – but a good part of the scene centers on Stallone and Willis together only. You start wondering if the Arnold was actually filming his scenes separately from the other two.
The information I’m gathering online says that’s untrue – but if so, the film then did not leverage on the presence of the three greats. It would had been a real hoot to see Stallone, Arnold and Willis eyeballing each other in the same scene and in the same frame.
The violence in the film might bother some too. Granted Stallone’s Rambo films have always taken gore right to the acceptable limit when they were each released in their time. If you think about the second, third and fourth Rambo films for instance, the amount of blood splatter and limb explosions and amputations got increasingly ramped.
Bad guy about to get perforated.
In The Expendables though, the film’s has reached a new high level in this regard, and some of it feels gratuitous. Like bad guys getting their hands chopped off, heads chopped off, bodies exploding midriff sort of thing. There’s also a torture scene involving a woman victim that’s a little disturbing to watch too.
It sure gave me mixed feelings. On the one hand, the film is clearly a homage to all the old action films and its highlight is supposed to be the ensemble cast of action actors doing what they are best at. The film has stuff that the audience is supposed to take tongue in cheek. But on the other hand, the very high degree of realistic gore and violence seems to counteract that underlining none-too-serious tone. So, one minute you’ll be chuckling as Christmas mouths off a funny line to Ross, but in the next minute, when some enemy soldiers get blown into pieces in very visceral ways, you might not be smiling anymore. Or maybe that was just me.
Still, Ling liked the film and I thought it was still Ok. The best line in the film? Something about Arnold’s political ambitions. That was a hoot.:)