The Expendables – A Study In Blowing Up That Which You Love

by ryankl

Why am I even going to take the time to deconstruct this movie? I don’t really know, but there are a few thoughts I simply need to get out there. Here’s goes, get excited.

This movie is the ultimate action flick as unashamed action flick. It harkens back to the 80s where action stars led the box office and explosions were massive plot points. It is also mirrored by a current crop of action spectacle films, usually led by either Jason Statham or a wrestler/UFC/MMA fighter. These movies are out to entertain, and often will do that.

The Expendables certainly entertains, if you know what you’re going in there looking for. It wants to be a deconstruction of the genre, and thus of the men, but ultimately it’s just another instalment and nothing that elevates or transcends like it thinks it might.

The plot is easy; Stallone has a team of mercenaries.  They go blow things up and fight fights with dictators and other people who represent the ills of the world. They usually win.

Here, they’re fighting Eric Roberts. Whom else would you expect? Sadly, no, he doesn’t get a great crying scene in this flick. I was waiting for it. He’s the guy who thinks money makes right, and he treats objects like women, man, you know it.

Most of the character work for The Expendables is pretty thin. You’re basing each character more on what you think of the actor than what you know of the person they portray. It’s an effective shorthand but it’s shorthand nonetheless. Stallone has cast well and he doesn’t let too much story get in the way of things going bang; be they guns, explosions, whole mini-towns, or people’s bodies.

There’s a formula to this flick that you’ve probably seen a million times before. Team of mercenaries. Overall bad guy. Lone woman who stands for love in this mad mad mad mad world. It’s Predator without the alien, or Commando times 20, or The Transporter on a larger scale. Or it’s all of them blended with a soupcon of Stallone on top.

Stallone plays the last stage of all the characters he’s ever played before. I know, he already did this in Rocky Balboa and Rambo but he’s doing it again here. Why? Well, I guess everyone likes to play in their wheelhouse.

I appreciate Statham getting second billing. His character is given room to breathe and is fleshed out. He stands out above the crowd and his dynamic with Stallone works, for what it is. Much of this flick can be enjoyed but only with an apologetic understanding and knowledge of the constraints of the piece.

There is one great piece as Stallone hands Terry Crews a gigantic artillery shell and tells him to throw it as hard as he can. Stallone then shoots the shell in the air and blows up a helicopter. You get it? These guys, all the other action stars in the movie, are just Stallone’s weapons. He’ll aim and shoot them as he pleases. I think it’s actually quite crafty.

The finale is the best part as a mini-encampment is attacked and the explosions and bullets fly amongst the fistfights in an operatic ballet of movement and light. If you want to get fancy about it. You probably don’t. This looks like one of those urban training camps the Army use to get their soldiers used to warfare. Hell, it probably is one in real life. Here, it’s a South American village under the grip of Roberts’ money and menace.

There’s a great back and forth between Stallone and Roberts and it plays out, in my mind, like Stallone arguing with the suits that ruined the action genre. If the pencil pushing desk jockeys hadn’t fiddled with action movies (and movie making in general) perhaps the true creative pursuits of action stars like Stallone could have continued on exponentially. It’s up to Stallone to take it back from the studios and make these flicks personal projects, and considering Stallone wrote and directed this flick then perhaps he’s actually doing it. Either that or he’s fanning his gun as Roberts gets riddled with bullets and then one massive (and massively redundant) knife from behind courtesy of Statham pops his chest open.

This movie is all about handing the reins off to Statham, though Stallone still wants to be along for the ride. He’s not passing it across, he’s just allowing Statham up onto his pedestal – even though Statham is now the master, if you ask me.

The end shows Stallone hugging the woman he saved, the one he did it all for, yet they can’t even summon a kiss together. This lady who has been near death, and been waterboarded, won’t even pucker up for the man who saved her life. Perhaps Stallone understands that action stars aren’t sex symbols, especially not anymore, and especially if you’re not Statham.

This movie is not exceptional. It isn’t a swan song, no matter how much it wants to be, though it is for some of the actors. It’s the last time Dolph Lundgren will be made to feel relevant. The smartest choice Stallone makes is capping the flick at an hour and a half. He doesn’t want it to be more and seeing as he’s no Shane Black it certainly won’t ever be more.

The Expendables. You might think it’s dumb but just think back to all the dumb action flicks you loved back in the day. I still love Commando and Kickboxer and Predator. Now imagine this flick is some younger buck’s first. He’s probably loving it right now so let’s not rain on his parade. He’ll do it himself once he gets a little more mature.