The Expendables is here
This refers to the original theatrical cut, rather than director’s cut which I found a great deal more satisfying…
There can be no doubt about it: The Expendables is the action movie event of the year, let alone the summer. For most action fans whose love for the genre dates back to the 1980s, this movie really is a big deal. Delivering this calibre of action and pulling together the talents of three generations of action star was a mission and a half, and the unenviable task of writer, director and star, Sylvester Stallone. Stallone has also long-proven his skills as a solid director and with recent efforts like Rocky Balboa and Rambo to his credit, he's shown he can still deliver the goods. For this, and a multitude of other reasons, The Expendables was the movie event I was waiting for. But does it deliver?
Despite extremely mixed reviews and feedback I've heard, my honest answer is yes and no, but mostly yes. In truth, despite the high-gross, action blockbuster status, The Expendables is a film that must have been extremely difficult to pull together. Utilising such a diverse cast gave the film both a blessing and a curse, the latter being to deliver adequate screen time to all stars and please an entire audience. This is where most of the attention is spent during the first half of the film, and unfortunately this where many of the problems sit. The fact is that as fans of the genre, we generally like these stars and in whatever fragmented characterisation we see, we're probably still going to like them. Yet this may be the case for die-hard action fans only and not the average cinemagoer (ie Dolph may have a small role but we know his style from many other films). Those of us who know the genre inside-out enjoy seeing our heroes crack one-liners, love watching them defy the odds and bring the walls down in the process. I don't know if this is enough for the casual film fan or accustomed to action-familiar audiences only. Nevertheless, during it's opening weekend, The Expendables rode top of the Box Office which is obviously a great result for all concerned and a point of pride for old-school action fans. On the all-important action front, the film delivers in full, unflinching force and features several great action sequences, combining devastating gunfights and heavy duty, hand-to-hand combat. While the first half of the film features a couple of strong action sequences, such as the opening pirate ship scene and the stunning pier sequence, the majority of the action is crammed into the wall-to-wall, heart-stopping second half.
For the most part the cast are extremely enjoyable to watch, with particular performance props going out to Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Eric Roberts. The Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger cameos are amusing but hardly stretch beyond the footage of the trailer, so for anyone excited by the marketing these two received within the star billing, the result is entertaining although maybe underwhelming. From the action side, all the cast and stunt team deliver phenomenal physical action, with extra credit to Steve Austin for two excellent fights against Stallone and Randy Couture and Gary Daniels for the highlight two-on-one fight against Jason Statham and Jet Li. This sequence also benefits from the action choreography of Chad Stahelski's team, who blend elegant legwork and creative use of weapons with some brutal close-quarters impact and a devastating finish. This is where the film really shines. The action kicks off into relentless violence where you genuinely feel these guys are fighting for their lives. Although I've heard criticisms pointing to the editing and filming of the action scenes, which is choppy and unintelligible in places, I didn't feel this detracted too much from the overall enjoyment of the film. Granted, the shakey-cam is overdone and perhaps could be toned down in any future projects from this team, moulding the action more in the style of Rambo (where it was virtually all visible), but here, the choreography and action could still be appreciated. Perhaps an uncut DVD or Blu-ray would give better insight into the action, as some scenes appeared to be visibly chopped to acquire the "15" UK certificate, instead of the "R" rating the film earned in the US. Nevertheless, other highlights include Jet's fight against Dolph and the thrilling gunplay seen in the second half, delivering some of the best ballistic action seen in quite some time.
Filming and editing aside, other criticisms were directed towards the story and characters, more so by mainstream press and casual moviegoers. As I've said before, I feel its an addition but not the centrepiece. If an action film has great plot-developments that's fine, but you don't watch an action for drama, hence why it's called "action" and not "drama". You don't see many criticise a drama for the lack of action! This is because it's not a core part of the formula. If it exists within the film that's great (and often works well) but it's not the core component, at least to me,
In the case of The Expendables, however, there could have been more from the secondary characters, because whereas we spend more time with Sly Stallone and Jason Statham, we see very little of Jet Li, Randy Couture and Terry Crews, which is a shame. In movies like Aliens when they get the team dynamic right, it works incredibly well. This could be something Mr Stallone could look into for planned sequels. With more attention paid to team chemistry and dynamics, the dialogue would naturally flow better and the audience could get a better sense of these guys working, sweating and bleeding together as a real squad of mercenaries. There would definitely be room for a sequel while the continued efforts of this team, working on the franchise again, would be greatly appreciated by fans. There would be points to develop and improve on but I genuinely look forward to what comes next... as well as the uncut DVD we'd all love to see!