Into a prolonged hostage situation in the Gulf of Aden come a team of mercenaries. While this opening hostage rescue in The Expendables (2010, 103 mins) appears tense, any expectation of gritty, thoughtful action is soon dispelled when a single shot comically cuts a Somali pirate in half. But that single shot isn’t enough to solve the problem at hand. Therefore, after a hail of bullets, knives, and kung fu kicks rains down on the remaining pirates, all that’s left are the hostages and the eponymous Expendables. As manifestos go, it certainly gives warning of what little to expect of the movie.
That preliminary shootout introduces us to the characters. There’s Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone, acting and directing), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), and Yin Yang (Jet Li). If they are the A Team, then the B Team support are Toll Road (Randy Couture), Hail Caesar (Terry Crews), and Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren). None of these men has a back story, although there’s a plot strand following Christmas, his lover (Charisma Carpenter), and her other man that seeks to give viewers something different to focus on, but it’s dispensed in two scenes and impacts the story not a jot.
The movie’s main plot revolves around killing General Garza (David Zayas), the puppet dictator of a Latin American island state. The job comes in a scene whereby Stallone gets together with Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Willis is Mr Church, the man with the job. Schwarzenegger is, like Stallone, a mercenary, only he knows the situation on Garza’s island and rejects outright the opportunity. A scene like this must be the action fan’s wet dream, putting together three action movie legends for the first time. In its short duration, we get sly knowing jibes at each other with some cute banter thrown in (“You guys aren’t gonna start sucking each other’s dicks, are ya?” asks Church).
With the exception of Tool (Mickey Rourke), one liners are the only dialogue the guys in this film trade. It’s macho-to-the-max, empty and with little substance. Although many of the cast made their name in eighties action flicks, and this movie is a tribute to those days, there is little to suggest in the serious delivery that much has moved on since. The movie overall may not be serious — explosions, gun porn, and hyperbolic fisticuffs — but the way it’s played certainly is, even if done in a knowing way. It’s a give-the-people-what-they-want sort of film, and in this Stallone comes up with the goods as regards pulling an action movie together from a range of men who would typically take the lead in their own vehicles.
But if Stallone is giving the people what they want in The Expendables, the question must surely be why do people want this? Pyromaniacs aside, who’s eyes light up at the thought of meaningless explosions? Who punches the air when a bad guy dies? Who cheers on the good guys? Who doesn’t demand more from a film? Because in a film like this it’s never a question of if the protagonists will survive an encounter, but purely when they will. The audience knows that, whatever the story, the outcome is assured. Who wants to go into a movie and know how it ends?
While a man can stand around firing an unlimited barrage of bullets all day, much of the actors here have seen better days. Most of the physical action is delivered in quick succession of cuts that are too frenzied and make it difficult to recognise any athleticism. In this, perhaps the eighties action hero has had his day and, with the likes of Jason Bourne and James Bond‘s continued appeal, Stallone and contemporaries are a few brain cells short. There’s no emotional connection with any characters, nor any underpinning motivation. There’s no thrills in the big budget set pieces nor any real danger in anything that happens on screen. Ultimately there’s no rhyme or reason for this movie to exist.