The latest from Sylvester Stallone since 2008’s Rambo, The Expendables is a movie where the testosterone flows like enemy blood. Both movies have similar themes of redemption, regret, and courage, and also thankfully similar is that the moments of awesomeness are plentiful. The Expendables put up a lot of hype, and it had a lot to live up to with it’s cast of action star greats, but it doesn’t let the audience down. It’s not the cerebral meta-violence of Inglorious Basterds, but a simpler, old-school, fun action movie kind of violence. You can root for your favorite action hero, watch them kick a little bad-guy ass, and sit back and enjoy the show.
The characters, despite the star-studded name dropping on the film’s advertising hype, follow Barney Ross (Stallone) for the most part, and his right-hand-man Lee Christmas (Statham) a close second, with most of the other actors merely rounding out the team. Despite what would seem to be a ripoff from what they advertised on their posters, each character still gets a crowning moment of glory, albeit with less screen time than expected. In addition, these “major” side characters share frequent snide remarks that truly give each person on the team their own humorous depth of character. If you’re a fan of Jet Li or Terry Crews for example, rest assured that they all get their shining moment in the sun.
The plot, while not so simple as to be boring, surrounds an attempt by the team to overthrow a dictator in a small South American country. Complications arise, interpersonal conflicts come up, and from there, the plot takes off. Mercenary soldiers do a lot of bad things, and Stallone and co-screenwriter Dave Callaham give a good shot at prying open the inner world of some of these men as they go about their jobs, and the consequences that their actions (and often inactions) have on the way they see themselves. Granted, this is a fairly emotional touchy-feely way to describe the heart of the film, but don’t worry, these discussions are done with the stoicism and deflective humor you would expect from large men with bulging muscles and raging testosterone. The Expendables isn’t just another mindless action movie; it’s got enough going on beneath the surface to be worth watching again.
For an action blockbuster, it succeeds on most of the metrics we measure such films by, and surprisingly didn’t have many negatives. Do I care about the characters? Yes. Were there long periods without action sequences? No. Was the use of action cliche, or was it clever and original? Hilariously original at times. Was it fun? That’s an explosive yes.
Four out of five stars.