Itâ€™s understandable that a film may want to capitalize on a cameo from a big name star by showing them frequently in the previews. However, there may have never been a more misleading marketing effort than the one that preceded Lionsgateâ€™s release of the Sylvester Stallone action movie The Expendables. Arguably the two biggest action stars to ever grace the big screen, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, appear in the film with uncredited cameos despite their faces being all-over The Expendables TV spots and theatrical trailers. Unfortunately, that bait and switch was not the only thing that made this potentially great film a disappointment.
Expectations for the Expendables seemed to be set pretty firmly by Sylvester Stallone in interviews leading up to the filmâ€™s release. This was going to be a one-hundred percent adrenaline-pumping, motorcycle-riding, explosion-filled man movie. The level of testosterone present in this picture was above the doctorâ€™s recommended annual intake with its glut of action stars from Jason Statham to Sly Stallone himself. The movie had to make sure it never took itself seriously for a minute and was able to thrive in its own absurdity by doing everything completely over-the-top.
For the first half of the movie this is exactly what we got. Dolph Lundgren shoots a gun so powerful it tears a guy in half with one shot. A team of about seven men takes down a ship full of pirates. A slew of gunfire manages to hit every bad guy and miss the hostages. Stallone is so manly that instead of using a sitting in a chair to get a tattoo he straddles a motorcycle. About 15 minutes in I thought to myself â€“ this is exactly what I signed up for.
However, something got lost in translation about a third of the way through the movie. The fight scenes started to look familiar, I became numb to the sound of gun fire, and even the car chases were nothing to tingle my testosterone. It appeared that Stallone was attempting to assemble the cacophony of blood splatters and bone cracks into some sort of semblance of a plot. I found myself scanning through my childhood and thinking – none of the great action movies that these stars are known for seemed to care this much about plot, so why does this one? The result was that the film seemed to lose its sense of humor and self-deprecation and along with it went my ability to enjoy the movie.
The plot that existed was misshapen and thematically confused. An American ex-CIA agent is controlling a General who is the leader of a South American island that produces a large amount of cocaine. The team of Expendables is hired to take out the General and by proxy take the ex-CIA man out of power. While attempting their mission, the General decides he does not want to take any orders from the American agent and he fights to take his country back. The resulting fight pits Americans against Americans with a South American country casually in the way of the conflict, instead of directly involved with it.
Another one of the filmâ€™s main issues was that the action lacked creativity. Some of the most dynamic action stars to ever work in film were on screen and they just werenâ€™t given enough to do. Jason Statham can light up the screen with charisma, but the best he gets is a brief fist-fight on a basketball court. Jet Liâ€™s masterful kung fu ability was wasted on a gun-heavy battle scene. I was even hoping Stone Cold Steve Austin would at least get to pile drive somebody, but that moment never came. Instead we saw the CGI blood and explosions that are more akin to a Michael Bay blockbuster than the nostalgic action films of the 1980s.
Despite everything in this review that seems to point to the contrary I didnâ€™t completely hate The Expendables. Mickey Rourke actually turned in one of the greatest performances of the movie with his brief cameo as the philosophical tattoo artist. Overall the performances were solid, which made the movie watchable and the first third of the movie is hilarious and fun. However, with the inflated expectations and the filmâ€™s enormous potential I find myself reacting like an upset parent â€“ Iâ€™m not angry, just very disappointed.
Bottom Line: Too much plot was The Expendablesâ€™ downfall when all we really wanted was some nostalgic action.