Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Steve Austin, Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Bruce Willis and Governator Arnie. With the most manly cast of any movie in history, you should at least have an idea of what to expect from The Expendables.
Stallone is proving himself a perfectly able director of quality action movies – 2008’s Rambo was entertainingly gory fun. The Expendables isn’t quite so brutal, but what it lacks in gratuitous gore, it makes up for in its sense of fun. It’s a simple tale about a group of mercenaries with a very diverse skillset out on a mission to stop a corrupt CIA agent in a generic Latin American island. It delivers action in spades, the entire cast are on top form, and I was kept highly entertained throughout.
So, about that ridiculous cast. Where to begin? The team is led by a haggard Stallone, who seems to be absolutely enjoying himself as the world-weary leader of the group. Next in rank is the ever-awesome Jason Statham, who plays a knife expert, then there’s Jet Li as the (what else) short martial artist. The numerous ex-pro wrestlers are all surprisingly watchable as actors, though Steve Austin stood out for me as a particularly nasty villain. Rourke’s character doesn’t play a big role, but he’s great as the guy who looks after the team’s hideout while they’re away on jobs. Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cameo scene is almost worth the cost of a cinema ticket alone – its a short scene, but the surrealness of it all is absolutely hilarious.
There’s some fantastic action set pieces, with huge chunks of scenery being blown up all over the place, and the gunfights are as satisfying as you’d expect. Crews’ automatic shotgun provides one of the most brutally satisfying conclusions to a fight I’ve ever seen (he’s got a gun capable of destroying BUILDINGS). The hand-to-hand fights are equally violent – with the likes of Li, Statham, and all the wrestlers, this was always going to be a key part of the action moments. But its on this note that my only real complaint with the film comes from…
I suspect this has something to do with the likely absurd insurance policies which were taken out for so many big names to gather in one place, but a lot of the fight scenes were so clearly done by stunt doubles. Statham doesn’t get any cool improvised martial arts fights like he did in movies like The Transporter, and Jet Li’s 1 on 1 battle against Lundgren was shot in such a way you rarely see that it is Li himself… Minor gripes, since even with stuntmen, all of the action is superbly choreographed and expertly shot in what is a thoroughly satisfying action movie.
It’s not a serious film by any means, but I was surprised by the odd little emotional scene they threw in, and to be perfectly honest the whole movie wasn’t nearly as testosterone-fueled as I was expecting. The characters were pretty likable and slightly more interesting than the average action heroes. Most of all, you get exactly what was promised – a huge list of A-list action stars beating and shooting the crap out of each other, and I heartily recommend it for exactly that reason.