There is always a problem in the movie industry with a) being near the end of the summer and b) being one of the most hyped movies of 2010. Especially when you’re the movie that has Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li et al. But maybe it was the expectations or the awesome trailer or even my expectations coming out of A-Team but I couldn’t help but feel let down by what was sounding to be an attempt as a last hurrah for the big screen explodey action movie.
The plot is pretty much your basic mercenary story. A group of guys hired to do a job that doesn’t seem like their thing but as it turns into something bigger, they find themselves deep in it and have to go and kick ass to sort it out. The problem with it is that, with the way the film has been built up, there kind of feels like there’s too much of a story to get to the parts the people want to see so the first hour or so is more filler than action. Statham has a completely pointless thread with Charisma Carpenter (who still looks good considering she hasn’t worked in anything since Angel ended) which ends in two scenes that really should have been cut from the final film and only to serve to show that we hardly know who these guys are. The rest only get very minor mentions of who they are and even when things start gain momentum in character development, it is dropped quickly.
You might be thinking I’m confused thinking that I wanted story but didn’t want too much story but at the same time, there has to be some kind of fine line in between establishing your cast members and making sure their objective is clear without feeling like filler. My problem in The Expendables is that there seem to have been more focus onto trying to make the story different from your average mercenary film rather than trying to find a reason to make people care about your cast outside of the name recognition.
The cast’s acting is pretty much what you expect, good or bad. If you’ve ever seen a Jason Statham movie you know what to see here, if you’ve ever seen a Dolph Lundgren movie you’ve seen his performance here etc and sometimes it works well such as with Stallone basically playing a toned down Rambo mixed with slight philosophical heroics of a Rocky Balboa. Other times, it never feels like anyone is allowed to stand out longer than a few minutes or an action scene here and there such as the Lundgren/Li fight midway through. Eric Roberts is, well, still the go to evil looking bad guy you go to for your films and TV shows and never really goes away from that. As someone who would gladly watch Eric Roberts cunningly read the phone book for 3 hours, I didn’t have a problem with this. Whilst Jet Li was given some of the best lines in Stallone’s script, the other stand out performance was, surprisingly, Mexican actress Giselle Itié in her first English speaking role who worked very well with the old cliché of inside-source-turned-kidnapped-victim-to-save. The rest of the cast are kind of there, unfortunately, especially with the much hyped cast including Oscar nominee Mickey Rourke who tries his hardes to gain emotion but really doesn’t do much to the film at all.
Even with people going into this expecting an all guns blazing action movie, the main problem with Expendable’s action sequences most of the time is that you can barely tell what is going on. It relies mostly on the film’s obsession of shaky cam on fight scenes and so you’re not quite sure who is hitting who or who is winning a fight. The final scenes were a bigger showcase of this problem being somewhat of a confusing mess, not sure who was fighting who where along with most of it being an excuse to blow things up when there wasn’t really anyone there to see it. Also, the bigger letdown of the scenes is that most of the blood seems to have been slapped in with computer animation so it never quite goes together with everything else. You would have thought that, trying to go back to the glory days of fake blood coming out of chests when someone was shot, that more effort would have been made to go back to that feeling instead of it feeling like a last-minute add on in editing.
Not to fill this review with things I didn’t like or were let down by, I do have to say it was a great kick to see Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the same scene together. Whether they were in the same room together at the same time was something else altogether but that was the one scene in the film when you saw a genuine bond between the three actors (and seeing as they owned a restaurant chain together and were once movie rivals, you pretty much know why) and, really, if it wasn’t for Arnie’s Govenator standing, the film would have just been those three. One line Stallone says, without spoiling it, was one of the big genuine funny moments of the film and it is one of those lines that could have only came out of someone of Stallone’s standing.
Whilst The A-Team had a charm of it coming off a time of pure innocence mixed with pure insanity, The Expendables comes off a time when big, brainless action films were the norm trying to get a 21st century twist. Whilst the effort is commendable and the fact it’s Stallone’s vanity project does not make it a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination, it pretty much stops it from being the enjoyable full on experience it should have been. In a way, it also kind of feels out-of-place in the same timeframe when other action movies seems to be able to mix action and violence but also feel modern and with the times.
At the same time, though, many people were into this movie in the screening I was in so even if it’s not my kind of movie, I would be very surprised if it doesn’t at least make its money back by the time all is said and done so for me, it kind of did its job to that effect.
And hey, when will there be another time to see Randy Couture and Stone Cold Steve Austin duke it out on the big screen again?
The Expendables comes out nationally August 18 in the UK and is out now in the US.