It is time for Action Movie Friday, where I treat an action movie like an action movie and not like a drama and stuff. All movie reviews are subjective and while I may like something, you might think it’s shit, and vice versa!
Title: The Expendables
MPAA Rating: R
Starring: Stallone, Statham, Li, Lundgren, Couture, Austin, Crews, Rourke & Willis
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Writer: Dave Callaham, Sylvester Stallone
Budget: $80 Million
Box Office: $274 Million
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 41%
Sylvester Stallone is considered one of the iconic figures of action movies (along with Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger who, hey, both cameo in this movie) and what a better way to start out with a movie that he directed, wrote part of and starred in, along with a bunch of other guys you might recognize. Because, go teamwork!
The Expendables are an elite group of mercenaries headed by Barney Ross (Stallone) and their handler, Tool (Rourke) who specialize in jobs that are billed as to hell and back. Accepting a job that his rival Trench (Schwarzenegger) refuses from a man named Church (Willis), Barney and Lee Christmas (Statham) head south to the island of Vilena to recon the situation. They meet their contact, Sandra (Giselle Itie) and find out that Church left out a lot of information, including who the real target is. Barney decides to back out of the job and wants Sandra to go with him. She refuses. Barney and Christmas escape and go back to America, but guilt ridden and unable to get Sandra out of his head. Barney decides to head back to Vilena by himself. His crew insists on going on the ride to hell with him to rescue Sandra and face the betrayal of one of their own, dealing with the dictator and killing the real target are side effects. It’s going to be a fiery ride to get back.
In its own way, the Expendables is rather groundbreaking. Action movies are generally one man shows and Hollywood seemed loathe to invest in trying to put together an ensemble cast of their greatest money makers of action movies outside of comic book franchises where the ensemble is already built in (see Avengers and X-Men.) Even a lot of comic franchises are still one man shows (see Batman, Spiderman, Blade, Ghost Rider etc.) So, the Expendables was something of a risk at the time. I can’t really compare this movie to anything, because there is essentially nothing to compare this movie to. It broke the ‘formula’ of traditional action movies, while still being a homage to those same action movies at the same time. Not bad, Stallone.
So Stallone called in a lot of favors, probably invested a bunch of his own money, directed and partially wrote the story and still managed to star in the film. This probably accounts for the movie being made at all. The film was distributed by Lionsgate who has a decent track record of non standard movies in their warehouse (Twilight, the Hunger Games) and seem to be always looking for new franchises. Lucky them. They stuck gold with this one. All for $80 million dollars the movie almost tripled it’s budget at the box office to cash in at over $274 million. Even though 73% of a movie’s money making potential is in DVD sales, no one seems to keep track of this information for more than a few weeks. But in the first 20 weeks of DVD and Blu Ray sales, it made almost $74 million dollars, almost earning back it’s initial production budget in those first 20 weeks alone. So, even in the eyes of the studio, who focus on the bottom line of cash dollars, this movie was a success.
But money is boring and the average viewer doesn’t really care about that.
The story for the Expendables is sparse without being non existent. It’s the pretty standard fare, took a job out of their league, are out numbered and out gunned, but we’re going to do this shit anyways, because of the girl. There is always a girl. The girl, Sandra, played by Giselle Itie, is the fulcrum which the story, the theme and the characters revolve around, sort of like a sun and the planets. In this world of mercenaries going to war for others for money, Sandra stands for something. She has a vision of a future for Vilena that could be, a vision of freedom. Where it is obvious that Barney and Christmas instantly give up on the island as a lost cause. Sandra represents a sort of salvation for Barney, while still being a woman with her own motivations and story in her own right. Her character isn’t dependent on Barney and refuses to be dependent on Barney. Perhaps, the most poignant moment in the story is when Tool makes a speech to Barney about the point where Tool feels he lost his own soul and alludes to the idea that Barney is at this same tipping point and that Barney has a chance to choose to save his soul, unlike Tool. The proverbial, don’t be me, bro, moment. And it is in that scene, I feel it explains why this movie works so well.
Within the first ten minutes of the movie, it sets the tone of how it is going to play out, over the top action with dry witty dialogue sprinkled with subtle allusions and nods to other movies these stars have been in. You get the sense that these men have worked together a long time, like each other to an extent and are, in a sense, a type of family. This sense of family climaxes to where Tool give his advice, giving Barney the classic choice of change or die and brings the family together into an adventure instead of for money but for ‘it is the right thing to do.’ All without being overtly cheesy or making anyone cringe by being hit over the head with the message.
Because the cast is so large, it is impossible to spend time focusing on every character. However, you get enough sense of all the characters to feel they are dynamic people. Barney is the leader. Tool is the father figure. Christmas is the wise cracking best friend who will always be at your side. Yin Yang is the tech who is beginning to feel the itch to settle down. Toll Road is in therapy, intelligent, and over thinks things. The character, Lacey, played by Charisma Carpenter, is entirely forgettable, except for the fact she sets up a foil for the type of man Christmas is versus the type of man her new boyfriend is. Perhaps, the least used character of the main cast is Hail Caesar, who is sort of just there as big muscle support.
The fight scenes are fantastic and also blend seamlessly into the story. With a cast this large of big name action stars, wrestlers and martial artists, the viewer wants to seem them square off against each other. Jet Li versus Dolph Lundgren, you got it. Stallone versus Austin, there. Coutoure versus Austin, check. Statham against a whole bunch of goons doing what Statham does best, check, check and double check. The fight scenes also work because they aren’t purely relying on martial arts skills. Jet Li is perfectly comfortable using a gun and does so many times. Jason Statham uses knives, guns and his fists. One of the major in jokes of the movie is Stallone isn’t as fast as he used to be, as Barney Ross the character favors hand guns that require speed and accuracy to fire, but one of the major fights versus Austin is purely Stallone and Austin going at it hand to hand. For an R rated movie, there isn’t a lot of blood. Perhaps, the most graphic deaths are of the men who are about to rape Sandra (because rape is bad, yo.) So much, that this movie should be acceptable for those with a low tolerance gore factor. (I am one of these people.)
By my count, there were at least four gratuitous, what the fuck, was that really necessary, explosions in the movie. Just for that, I would give this movie an extra half a cookie if I could.
There isn’t anything I can really say bad about this movie. It’s an action movie that knows what its viewers want and gives it to them in spades. It is very smooth and leaves me satisfied at the end of it. Entertaining fights, extra explosions, a strong woman character, decent plot and dialogue, good characters, oh and a kicking classic rock soundtrack gives this movie, five gingersnaps.