Old school action: The Expendables review

The Expendables
Image by Paul Lowry via Flickr

The critics hate it, but audiences seem to love The Expendables and I’m on the ‘love it’ list.

Obviously the haters came in with the wrong expectations. This is old school 80’s action, in the vein of Rambo and Predator. Plot? What plot?

Watching Jet Li beat up on Dolph Lundgren is worth the ticket price alone.

Now, back to the barely there plot. Deja vu here: it is over familiar – a bunch of mercenaries up against ridiculous odds? Sounds a lot like The Losers and the A-Team.

From what I hear The Losers wasn’t particularly notable but I adored the A-Team. The A-Team is more enjoyable to be sure but The Expendables is an adrenalin-fest that doesn’t try to be too smart.

If you’re too young to remember classic 80’s action fests, you won’t appreciate what The Expendables brings to the table. Old school action films were all about muscle and plenty of explosions. Acting? You want great acting, go elsewhere.

Some people might think the script could have been smarter. I say: get real. You have to work with what you got: fine big hunks of testosterone who are so likeable you cheer them on as they go on a massive ammunition-dispensing spree.

You can find many decent character actors but I bet you none of them have the dazzling martial arts prowess of Jet Li or the riveting physicality of Jason Statham. The movie plays to its strengths – the kind of action star power ensemble you and I will likely never see again.

As to be expected, the female characters served as barely there window dressing. The men and the explosions are the stars so the less you saw of them the better.

Some might take offence at the level of gratuitous violence on display. There’s lots of overkill in that area. Instead of safely putting a bullet through a target’s head, the ‘heroes’ empty entire rounds through a man’s chest.

There’s no heavy subtext but the understanding that these men kill for a living because it’s what they’re good at and the only thing they do well. At killing people and blowing things up, they are stunningly proficient but have all the grace of hippopotami when it comes to things like maintaining relationships.

Performance-wise, Stallone is likeable and believable as the de facto leader of this group. Jet Li and Dolph Lundgren are an entertainingly mismatched pair of rivals, Statham is in fine starmaking form and the rest, well, Stone Cold is a tad underwhelming as the token baddie’s hired thug.

Men, leave your Sex and the City-loving girlfriends at home for this one. Bring your mates along and have fun laughing at every ludicrous, over the top stunt you’ll see. Rest assured they’ll be plenty of them.

A solid 4 stars out of 5.


Micky Rourke – as a retired badass, he delivers the finest acting chops

The Arnie and Bruce Willis cameo – seeing the two of them with Stallone just made my movie year.

Terry Crew and his Big F***ing Gun – hilarious.

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