Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Gary Daniels, Steve Austin, Eric Roberts
Fight Choreography (for Jet Li): Corey Yuen
Directed by Sylvester Stallone
I mulled for quite a while on whether or not I viewed this film as a martial arts film or not. After viewing it again I decided that yes, there was enough.
As a kid in the 80’s this was a film I was eagely awaiting: a team up of action heroes from both the 80’s, 90’s and today, in a manfest of badassery. Stallone is a competent writer and a decent director who knows action, so how could he go wrong?
From a martial arts standpoint, he got a LOT wrong.
The film opens as we meet the mercenaries known as the Expendables: Barney Ross(Stallone) Lee Christmas (Statham), Ying Yang (Li), Toll Road (Couture), Hale Ceasar (Crews) and Gunnar Jensen (Lundgren) as they are just finishing up a mission to free a group of hostages aboard a ship held by Somali pirates. During the mission Jensen goes nuts and tries to hang a dead pirate from the bow of the ship, and after Yin Yang intervenes Jensen is kicked out of the group. Unfortunately they get no rest as they are hired by the mysterious Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) to take down a South american warlord General Garza who is in league with an ex-CIA agent Paine (Roberts). Things get complicated when Barney meets their contact, a beautiful woman who gets captured by Paine. Will The Expendables set aside their greed for money to do the right thing and save her and liberate the tiny island?
The film is a by-the-numbers film, the exact kind of film you would’ve seen in the 80’s. There really isn’t a lot of hardcore acting involved as everyone basically just plays badasses. Statham gets the most character development, and I have to admit Jet Li gets more dialogue in this film than all of his other Hollywood films combined ( the funniest scene in the film involved a conversation with Stallone about his place on the team). Eric Roberts was a snake, which is a character he’s played many times. There wasn’t a lot of chances taken with the film. The paper-thin plot exists to give the good guys a bad guy to beat, and nothing more. The gun play and explosions were great, and not something you see much of nowadays. I admit I didn’t like the CGI blood. I understand it’s easier, and does save a ton of time and money, but until it can be perfected…it just doesn’t need to be done.
The fights were the most disappointing thing about the film. The talent was there with Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture and Gary Daniels, but their talents were wasted because 1) none of them were able to have any length of time in their fights to show their stuff and 2) Stallone suddenly forgot how to shoot a fight scene and sent the fights to MTV quick-cut edit hell. I was looking forward to the Jet Li vs Gary Daniels fight, and when it occurred I couldn’t tell what the hell was going on, and it got worse since Stallone cuts back and forth between the gun play and the other fight with himself and Steve Austin. You have two Hong Kong Cinema veterans choreographed by Corey Yuen and that is what they were able to do? Really weak. Slightly better (but not by much) was Jet Li’s fight with Dolph Lundgren. Once again the quick edits kill the fight (maybe it was done this was was because there’s no way in hell Dolph’s as fast as Jet?) but it was slightly more coherent. Statham’s playground fight was equally disappointing, for the same reason. Stallone seems to have forgotten how to shoot action, opting for shakey-cam Jason Bourne style camerawork, which works, but only for Jason Bourne films.
The Expendables is a fun reminder of the 80’s, but it ultimately borrowed too much bad stuff from today.
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):
CHOREOGRAPHY: (4) The editing simply killed this, which should have been some of the strongest things in the film. Stallone doesn’t know how to shoot a martial arts fight scene. Corey Yuen needed to open his mouth and say something to Stallone.
STUNTWORK: (7) The stuntmen did a good job, especially during scenes where things blow up, which happened quite a bit.
STAR POWER: (10) Check the list above and note that three people were missing. Oh yeah, it doesn’t get much bigger.
FINAL GRADE: (6) While it’s fun to see all of those stars in the same film, they needed to give the actors a better story and better camera work to show case the talents involved.
NEXT: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Yu Nan and Scott Adkins join the boys in The Expendables 2!