“The most awesome action cast ever assembled...” proclaimed the gravel toned Cinema Voice Over artist reading the tag line to promote Sylvester Stallone’s ‘The Expendables’ upon its theatrical release. On the face of it any movie that included Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Jason Statham, Jet Li as well as Sly himself could quite reasonably make this claim but it was also the reason that most people who forked out their hard earned readies for a seat felt rather cheated and disappointed. Not that it’s a lie, all those names are in the picture but the given impression was that Brucie Boy would be there in his dirty vest alongside Beeg Arneee telling everyone that he was baaaaaack, both of them leaping through the air while simultaneously firing guns at a ridiculous angle. The reality that stuck in most people’s throat was the fact that Mr W. an Mr S. appear for around two minutes near the start of the film, have a quick chat then clear off and let the rest of the cast get on with the carnage.
While Dolph Lundgren appears in an action scene at the outset, he too goes back to his trailer for most of the movie. Mickey Rourke lends his presence for a few scenes and, admittedly, he looks pretty cool in them, then he too goes for a bit of a lie down. So the guys who actually get their hands dirty for most of the movie are Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham and Jet Li – along with a few other people known only to our colonial cousins. Now this is rather a cheeky con to work on anyone, but I suppose it was all to do with budget. Nonetheless it did leave a rather sour taste in the mouth of many a punter, who then had a chip on their shoulder the size of a King Edward for the duration.
But – and it’s a big but – if you know this in advance, you won’t be disappointed by this fast moving, action packed, sweaty, blood soaked, bone crunching tale of a group of mercenaries who jet off to a small South American country to overthrow a ruthless dictator. A corny storyline, you say? Maybe so, but come on, this really ain’t about the story. Sylvester Stallone had announced to the world that he would direct a film that would be a homage and also a send-up of many a 1980’s blockbuster flick, so everyone had their hopes set high for some cracking good action sequences. Very few people seemed too worried about the storyline.
‘The Expendables’ - Uncut Version, now out on UK Region B locked Blu-ray, gives the home entertainment viewing public the chance to see it for themselves in a format that rivals the local multiplex in terms of picture and sound quality. We’re introduced to our team of warriors for hire as they take on a bunch of pirates in the opening sequence, so right from the start Mr Stallone sets out his market stall. Sly himself plays Barney Ross, the leader of the mercenaries, backed up by Jason Statham as Lee Christmas and we get our first inkling that Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren’s character) is smoking something stronger than cigarettes when he decides to hang one of the pirates. Mission over, Sly meets with a Mr Church (Bruce Willis) in a macho confrontational style briefing session, where Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) also drops in for a quick insult or two. That’s the extent of Sly’s two pals input, after which they got in their cars and headed for home.
On a recce mission to Vilena, Sly and Statham are confronted by General Garza's troops and make their escape in their Catalina Flying Boat. You’d think they’d simply fly off into the sunset, but as they turn the plane around and Statham takes to the forward gun hatch you’re right with them as they indulge in some payback. The bullets strafe the jetty, taking the troops unawares, but then Sly dumps aircraft fuel on them before Statham fires a flare into it. Wooooooomph!
By this point, the movie had got my attention and I was thoroughly enjoying it. It was a great release from the day to day diplomacy with which you have to deal with people who try it on with you. Have some of that!
Naturally, the team is put together for the raid and we learn of each one’s motivations and shortcomings. Sly takes just enough time to get us to like the characters by painting a background story for each one. Mickey Rourke appears as a kind of go-between in the deal making process, but he is also completing a tattoo on Sly’s back in between missions. He’s very gently spoken and sometimes you have to strain your ears to catch his dialogue. There’s a sequence where mad as a hatter Dolph Lundgren’s character takes on Yin Yang (Jet Li) and Sly in a truck chase that gives us a chance to see what kind of self defence is in fashion these days.
The action sequences are very fast paced, with much use of mobile camera movement and some quick cutting to transmit a dizzying sensation. So much for the style of a 1980’s war movie, but you could argue that it has been brought up to date for the current audience. There’s no compromise shown in some of the later fight scenes as many opponents get a knife in their neck courtesy of Mr Statham. There’s an ongoing friendly rivalry between Sly and Statham over which is faster, the knife or the gun – which can be seen as a nod to an early scene in ‘The Magnificent Seven’.
Eric Roberts turns up as the rogue CIA agent using the General as a fulfilment house for his shady deals. We get a real sense of nastiness from this guy and can’t wait to see him get his come uppance – or does he?
‘The Expendables’ is great fun and it does capture the gung ho spirit of some 1980’s action flicks, along the lines of ‘The Wild Geese’ or even some of Sly’s own Rambo movies. It fills the viewer with a ‘go gettem boys’ kind of enthusiasm and on that level I certainly didn’t feel short changed. I was impressed by Sylvester Stallone’s direction of the movie as I initially thought that in his hands, it would be a mess. In actual fact, it’s a very competent movie and – for the right audience – highly enjoyable. Watch ‘The Expendables’ kick some ass tonight!
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