The intent behind The Expendables (2010) is now legendary; a chance to bring back the past action stars of yore, all heralded under heavyweight director/writer/star Sylvester Stallone’s banner. The Expendables introduces (or should that be re-introduces) us to a gang of mercenaries, hard as nails but with hearts as big as their biceps, including Jason Statham as ‘Lee Christmas’, Jet Li as the snappily named ‘Ying-Yang’ and Terry Crews in the role of ‘Hale Caesar’.
Stallone doesn’t quite stoop to the embarrassing levels of Cobra’s (1986) ‘Marion Cobretti’, instead plucking for the more pedestrian ‘Barney’, and unlike the big purple dinosaur, you can’t help but want to hug Stallone for bringing these veterans back onto our screens.
The plot of The Expendables is as ‘out there’ as its characters, revolving around an evil dictator and an army, some drugs and a small country suffering – you can fill in the blanks yourself (answers on a postcard). In one scene, after a nifty escape from the island where most of the action is set, our heroes decide to turn back around simply to kill a few more duty-bound soldiers and generally blow everything up. Any excuse is justified, it seems, to watch another high-five between head honchos Stallone and Statham – who actually share a real sense of camaraderie. Overall, however, we are expected to just accept the creation of deep and meaningful relationships between characters within the space of two-minutes worth of conversational dialogue.
At one point, a scene is devoted to a bedraggled Mickey Rourke (yes, he is here as well) reciting a profound verse explaining the torment he holds as an ex-Expendable. At least, that is the conclusion I came to. And there are also plot holes and unanswered questions aplenty, like what exactly was the thing that Gunnar (Lundgren) whispers to Barney? Is this really all about cocaine? And why do the Somalian pirates have subtitles whereas Stallone and Rourke don’t? These brief criticisms ultimately don’t really matter, however. When the action gets going – and when I say get going, I mean as soon as the opening credits have finished – Stallone is truly in his element.
I’m not going to even attempt to give an in-depth criticism of this film, as if you’re immature enough (like myself) to see The Expendables, then you will know exactly what to expect. The key word here is ‘retrospective’. While recent 1980s franchise reboots such as Transformers (2006), G.I. Joe (2009) and The A-Team (2010) claim to offer pleasure and appeal in reliving past nostalgia, we at least have an ounce of intelligence to realise that these films have obviously been made purely to cash in on a once-successful brand. The Expendables, on the other hand, is a real labour of love, an excuse for Sly to chomp cigars, throw knives with his mates and to repeat what Cobra’s Marion once did in hostage situations…
Cinema has always sought to make the impossible possible and The Expendables, no matter how childish, offers the possibility of seeing some of action cinema’s greatest heroes reunited for one last shoot-em-up, providing both blatant and implausible escapism. Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010) has been credited for thinking highly of its audience, rewarding its intelligence rather than its ability to merely sit back and switch off. I, for one, deem this way of thinking applicable to Stallone’s The Expendables. The film treats its audience as a friend, inviting one and all to share in the fun; the dialogue, as atrocious as it is, is recited knowing wholeheartedly the very audience sharing the joke on the other side of the screen.