Movie Review: The Expendables

This summer, one film I was excited to see was The Expendables, a movie featuring a quasi-badass ensemble of 80s action heroes written and directed by the ultimate 80s action star himself, Rocky Balboa John Rambo Sylvester Stallone. In his latest film, Stallone plays Barney Ross, leader of a Hells-Angels-rejects group of mercenaries who take any job “if the money’s right.” When they’re not somewhere in the middle of the Arabian Sea negotiating with Somali pirates, or overthrowing a militant regime on some imaginary South American country, Stallone and the gang are hanging out at some tool’s tattoo parlor* owned by retired expendable / pimp Mickey Rourke, (who looks fresh off the set of Iron Man 2 still rocking that “Ivan Vanko” look).
For most of the film Stallone partners up with Jason Statham (that wannabe badass from all those horrible Crank movies), first reconnoitring Vilena (on the Gulf of said Blatantly Exoticized Imaginary Island) and then unleashing hell soon afterwards. Perhaps the partnership is a juxtaposition employed by writer/ director Stallone as a symbolic acknowledgment of whom he believes to be his predecessor. That Sly, he is so clever.
Anyway, as (some guy who everyone keeps calling) “Christmas,” Statham is a paradoxical figure: a reticent knife-throwing charlatan yet also a misunderstood, sensitive soul: one who beats the shit out of his lady friend’s new man after he pulls a Chris Brown and fucks her ass up. In a fighting scene that is as hardcore as a dance battle in Step Up 2 The Streets, Statham takes on the alleged thug’s entire posse and wins back the affections of his bitch. But it’s worth saying that I can actually tolerate Jason Statham in this film; I am quite satisfied with his performance. It’s one of his best ones yet. . .
 . . .Everyone else’s performance, however.
Anyway, it starts with this guy right here.
Ivan Drago a.k.a. that Russian dude from Rocky IV, (which is the best one of the series in my opinion), a.k.a. the greatest fictional boxer of all time returns to the big screen this year since. . .well I’m guessing Rocky IV. (Does anyone really care if I don’t have the precise details of this guy’s filmography all worked out? Does anyone even know what his real name is before looking it up on IMDb? Probably not. We all just know him as the dude who punches the life outta Apollo Creed and then sums up his apathy by saying, “If he dies, he dies.”) Ivan Drago Dolph Lundgren is an expendable sniper named Gunnar whose character is incomprehensible and erratic but for seemingly less superficial reasons than the last time he was incomprehensible and erratic in Rocky. However, I’m not really sure why. There are references throughout the film about him having possible substance abuse problems, maybe, but it is never properly indicated in the movie and trust me no one cares. I sure don’t care. I just wanted to see Drago and Balboa on the same team.
And they are on the same team. Sort of. When one of them doesn’t temporarily betray the other, and before one doesn’t have a gun pointed at the other’s head, they are unequivocally on the same team.
As with all deep, meaningful films, one can easily interpret the friction occurring between the members of this ensemble cast of mercenaries as an emphasis on the complex layers of human relationships. That’s really what at the crux of all action movies, isn’t it? Per his usual, The Expendables may be characterized by Stallone’s rampant use of Biblical motifs of good v. evil, and crime and punishment contrasted against a restrained, minimal use of violence. The conflict between Gunnar and expendable martial arts expert Ying Yang (played by Jet Li, who still hasn’t won me over btw) deftly alludes to the parable of David and Goliath, for example. The constant knife-throwing contests betwixt Statham and Rourke is a manifestation of Oedipal anxiety. The struggles of kinship between father and daughter (Giselle Itié, David Zayas) is not Bad Shakespeare as this guy claims, but rather a modern cinematic adaptation of Greek tragedy à la Antigone. And Stallone is definitely this generation’s Sophocles.
UFC Champion Randy Couture and WWF legend “Stone Cold” Steve Austin bring the testosterone to dangerously high levels in the movie, the former as the expendables’ demolititon expert named Toll Road, and the latter as numero uno bodyguard to Eric Robert’s “ex-CIA agent” character Munroe, (who is the least believable character of the whole bunch). You should not be surprised to find yourself growing chesthair and an adam’s apple whenever these two are on screen. I sure wasn’t.
And then there is Terry Crews.
With a little help from the MPS AA-12 Sledgehammer: a semi-automatic, Frag-12 explosive rounds shotgun with drum magazine and flashlight/laser attachment, Crews, a former NFL star and current tv star (Everybody hates Chris, Are We There Yet?) is HANDS DOWN the star of the movie. The weapons expert for the group, his character, Hale Caesar, supplies the bulk of the action with every shot of this weapon and every charge of dynamite he sets up around the island. Single-handedly leveling the playing field for the crew, who are outnumbered by an army of fighters, Caesars’ pithy one-liners (“Remember this shit at Christmas!“) armed with the lethal fire of his combat machine (whom he maniacally refers to as his “girlfriend,” the adequately named O’Maya Kaboom), make him the toughest man of the bunch. And Terry Crews’ charm radiates off the screen, making him both lovable and dangerous at the same time. Chicks love that.
The Governator and Bruce Willis are obscenely underused also make an appearance in the film. The former is a rival mercenary named Trench, whose brief exchange with Ross is inundated with tongue-in-cheek references to his political aspirations and make for a good laugh (even though the scene is totally predictable). And the latter is Mr. Church, who hires Stallone for a job and . . .well, that’s it.  : : Yawn : : (If Stallone develops this movie into his next franchise, which he totally should, he definitely should also consider expanding these guys’ roles–especially the one who is newly unemployed–otherwise they will continue to make useless cameos in the next film.)
In the end the men take a trip to “hell and back,” restoring what’s left of  a  struggling nation to a better less shitty state and of course, strengthening their ties of brotherhood, even restoring one of their own who turns out, is not actually expendable to the group.
But then again none of the men are truly expendable, either. Especially not if there’s another awesomely bad sequel to be made. But we knew that, didn’t we? What we couldn’t possibly have been sure of prior to watching this movie is whether or not the cast would have any chemistry with one another. After all, getting together an ensemble cast is not as easy as just putting a bunch of guys together who are superstars within the same genre and just watching the sparks fly. Sure, some of them have teamed up in the past on screen (Li and Statham for a couple of films, Stallone and Lundgren for the classic Rocky IV, obv.) but never before in a supernova group like this. And with all these heavyweights sharing the spotlight, it could’ve easily been a disaster caused by an unfortunate clash of egos. Not at all the case here. Each of the men are paired up well with one another and the chemistry is rock solid: Stallone and Statham make for a great team, Lundgren and Li’s love/hate relationship has the potential to be one of the greatest on screen duos in 21st century action flims, and my favorite pairing of all throughout the movie is that of Crews and Couture, both who bring the charisma and chemistry to an all-time high during The Expendables, a pleasant surprise to see from the two newcomers to action movies.
And the good news is, the sequel is due to be released within the next year or so. Stallone is said to be hard at work creating an even bigger and better follow up blockbuster for summer 2012.
I’m so there.

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