(Disclaimer: I’m going to try really hard to avoid turning this review into some kind of essay on violence in film. Suffice it to say, in principle, I don’t have a problem with violence in film. I do, however, have a problem with the current state of film ratings, wherein fairly extreme violence doesn’t necessarily mean an R-rating, while nudity, sexual situations, and certain language can, each on their own, almost always ensure an R-rating. Granted, we are a nation founded by Puritans, so it should come as no surprise. Still, I think if anything should guarantee an R-rating, it’s violence. And in this case, The Expendables is rated-R, so we’re all good as far as I’m concerned. Game on.)
The Expendables opened at #1 last weekend, proving that mindless, violent action is still as American as apple pie. Sylvester Stallone‘s throwback to the action movies of the 80s is something akin to slamming a shot of epinephrine into your heart as you charge your chopper into a strip club, Guns ‘n Roses blaring Welcome to the Jungle, rescuing a dancer off the stage, snorting a line of coke off her breasts, subsequently getting in a fight with all the bouncers… and winning… then peeling out as you toss a king-size brick of C4 behind you into the remnants of the already fairly well demolished club, popping a wheely as the dancer wraps her legs round your velvet rims and you storm out of the club as it blows, narrowly escaping the monstrous fireball unleashed by the ridiculously massive explosion.Basically, anyone going to The Expendables looking for plot or character development or to learn something about the human condition is in for some serious disappointment. Anyone going in hopes of seeing more action on par with the last 20 minutes of 2008’s Rambo (I’m looking at you Bryan), Sly and co. are here to blow you away…
Again, as far as plot, The Expendables is nothing new… a group of mercenaries, led by Barney Ross (Stallone), are presented with the familiar action movie task of overthrowing a South American dictator. Upon further investigation, they agree it’s a suicide mission that isn’t worth the money, but a beautiful woman’s selfless act makes Ross question his motives, leading him to believe that he might be able to redeem himself by saving this woman and her beloved country.
But, that’s not why you should go see this movie. There are three reasons to see this movie: 1) It’s an hour and forty minutes worth of fist fights, shoot outs, car chases, and explosions… ok, maybe not an hour and forty minutes worth. There’s about fifteen minutes worth of exposition spread throughout the film, but the rest is balls-out action. 2) It stars Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Eric Roberts, and Mickey Rourke, with cameos by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. 3) It’s hard-R action movie… with all of those previously mentioned actors in it! I don’t have a problem with PG-13 movies. The Dark Knight is PG-13. But some things are just meant to be rated-R, and when you water them down it’s really frustrating… a la Terminator Salvation and Live Free or Die Hard. Action movies are supposed to be bloody, violent, full of swearing and explosions.
Sly knows this. He knows that if you’re going to have a fight scene between Dolph Lundgren and Jet Li, it had better kick some serious ass. He knows that if you’re going have Eric Roberts play a truly vile villain, you can’t tell him to watch his language. And he knows when it comes to shoot outs, knife fights and explosions, it’s no guts-no glory… no… really, it’s the 21st century, we can deal with a little viscera. (If Sam Peckinpah saw what passes for a shoot out nowadays, he’d roll over in his grave.) Sly knows action… hell, in the red band trailer for Rambo you see a guy get his head chopped off and another guy get his throat ripped out. We don’t need to see people curving bullets or CGI robots or extreme sports, just good old-fashioned action like the Stallone movies I grew up watching.
My only real complaint is that Willis and Schwarzenegger only had cameos. I would love to see the big three in action together. However, I’m big fan of Dolph Lundgren and seeing him back on the big screen, tearing things up, is a nice consolation. (I’m not proud of this, but I sat through Universal Soldier: Regeneration to see Lundgren and Van Damme duke it out again, even though it didn’t make any sense.) Also, I’m not ashamed to admit that I, too, am gay-tham for Statham. (What can I say? The guy knows action.) Plus, there’s a sort of Pope of Greenwich Village reunion, even though Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts are never actually on screen together, they’re both there adding some flavor to things.
So, if you’re a fan of action and interested in a bloody good time at the movies, then turn off your brain and get ready to be blown away. Stallone’s showed us that he and his band of tattooed, cigar-chomping, chopper-riding, knife-throwing, gun-toting, car-crashing, bad-asses can still bring it. And I hear Sly’s already got a sequel in mind… hopefully next time around Seagal, Van Damme and Wesley Snipes will come along for the ride. (Maybe some villain cameos from Billy Drago and Brian Thompson as well.)