You’re certain to walk away from The Expendables with a higher testosterone count than when you walked in, but it’ll cost you a hefty dose of brain cells. Sylvester Stallone’s latest undoes the goodwill earned with his recent franchise entries Rocky Balboa and Rambo. The former was heartfelt; the latter was riveting. The Expendables is neither. It’s a slapdash concoction; a muddled and occasionally puzzling movie that hobbles to its conclusion like a feeble old man. The only reason it isn’t a career lowlight for its stars is because of their typically embarrassing career decisions.
The hook of The Expendables is that it unites the biggest action stars of the past couple of decades for the very first time. Eighties’ brutes Stallone, Mickey Rourke and Dolph Lundgren share the screen with recent heroes such as Jason Statham, Jet Li, Terry Crews, Steve Austin, and Randy Couture (and yes, there is obviously a steep decline of acting talent within those last five names). However, the novelty of these direct-to-DVD mainstays teaming up wears off quickly, and you soon begin to remember why they were banished from the world of blockbusters in the first place.
Allow me to recount what I can from the plot, although I can’t confirm that this is an accurate retelling of events. The narrative is terribly muddy. I found myself scratching my head in bewilderment more often than I did during Inception. Stallone and his cohorts (character names were perhaps given, but completely unnecessary) make up a team of mercenaries-for-hire, experts in succeeding in impossible situations, such as rescuing hostages from villainous pirates and executing evil despots. Where they regularly fail is in their ability to convey human emotion and engage in realistic conversation. They are recruited by a CIA agent (Bruce Willis) to take out a South American dictator (David Zayas) and the rogue American agent pulling his strings (Eric Roberts). Or something like that. I’m using Wikipedia to help piece together bits of information. I could have sworn a reel was missing during the screening…
The character drama – even in comparison to similarly stupid actioners – leaves a lot to be desired. I can’t even believe I’m asking this of The Expendables, but what are the characters’ motivations? They’re supposedly a group of ragtag mercenaries with nothing to lose. OK. Why? What brought them to that stage in their life? And, if they have nothing to lose, shouldn’t the possibility of their death always be imminent? Shouldn’t the stakes feel high? At no point do you believe any of these dudes are in any form of danger. Unless…was this meant to be a comedy? If so, why wasn’t it funny?
Shakespeare, author of the immortal line “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”, must have somehow predicted the atrocious action sequences of The Expendables. That’s not to call Stallone, the film’s writer/director, an idiot. I once believed him to be one of the better action directors working today. Not so any more. I can’t remember the last time a director struggled so much with composition. Stallone just does not know where to put the camera. The nonsensical madness is only augmented by laughable special effects (seemingly cobbled together by the team who worked on Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus).
Final notes: this is a movie in which Dolph Lundgren is expected to convincingly portray a junkie and have an American accent. Also, Jet Li plays a character called Yin Yang. Do with this information what you will.