When The Expendables was first announced by Stallone, there was an air of almost frenzied geek anticipation. An air that could possibly described as the need to watch the greatest action film ever made. And how could it not be the greatest action film ever made, what with its mix of current action stars (Jet Li, Jason Statham et al) and some golden oldies (Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts). It was screaming to be the ultimate action film; unfortunately it turned out to be a little bit of a damp squib.
For starters, the story was just plain boring, which is a shame as I have seen better character arcs in both direct-to-video films and lower grade awfulness. It truly is sleep inducing at points. But my main issue with The Expendables is its overall lack of worthwhile or exciting action set pieces. When the explosive finale inevitably arrives it seems most of the footage was shot in the dark (possibly to hide the craggy rock formation Stallone calls his face). The violence is there, but it’s just incredibly hard to either see or make out, with several blink-and-you’ll-miss-them moments.
I am even annoyed about the fact that British martial artist Gary Daniels again gets the short end of the stick in a big budget romp. The guy can’t act for toffee but he has all the right moves, literally. Shamefully his part as one of the head bad guys is brought to an abrupt end, while the less said about Bruce Willis’s and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s walk on, walk off cameos the better.
After such an in-depth look at the past glories of these action movie greats doing these retrospectives, we have turned up some rather brilliant blasts from the past. I forgot just how much fun some of the older features were, and the reminder serves to make The Expendables the cinematic equivalent of a rather sour taste in the mouth. Unfortunately its short comings outweigh nearly all of the positive or exciting moments.
The one highlight of The Expendables which still shocks me, and is a welcome and pleasant surprise is Dolph Lundgren, stealing ever single scene he has the opportunity to be in. As Gunnar Jensen (a brilliantly mad character) his is possibly the only character to have anything close to character development, and also gets all of the best (not to mention the funniest) action sequences. When Gunnar shoots one guy at the start of the film, managing to separate both torso and legs from each other, you just know this guy is an action movie parcel of fun.
When all is said and done The Expendables just doesn’t live up to the macho posturing of its advertising. The core story is just not engaging enough, even on a guilty pleasure level, even though Stallone tries to tack on some kind of ethical message about how bad dictatorships are. The standout action sequences for me are one where Statham machine guns a load of troops from a plane cockpit and the one in which the incredibly enjoyable Dolph Lundgren and Jet Li face off.
In the end, it was either going to be a sure-fire hit or a middle of the road action fest. As you might have gathered it’s the latter. Now that we have finally come to the end of the action movie retrospectives it just goes to show how good some these action heroes’ earlier works were. It is a shame it has come to this, a film which is just plain boring and contains none of the fun or energy from the mid-80s/early-90s action movie height. I also hear that a second film is in the works. Someone do Stallone a favor and give him a Zimmer frame, it might make for a more interesting film, something along the lines of The Expendables 2: Use By Sell By Date. Mr Stallone, you can have that one for free.