The Expendables (2010): Breakdown by Kain424
A group of mercenaries attempt to kill off the head of a puppet government. Explosions ensue. Lots of them.
[THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THEIR BADASSITUDE]
Sylvester Stallone is Barney Ross
Something of a cross between Marion Cobretti and John Rambo, Ross is the de facto leader of the group. An aging marksman with a lost sense of honor, he is just going job to job until he dies. He has a fatalistic attitude, believing and accepting the possibility his next job may very well be his last. It is this directionless life that ultimately leads him to Sandra, in whom Barney sees a purpose and a reason to fight again. The guy can take more than your average beating and keep on kicking, fires semi-automatic handguns faster than most machine guns can shoot, and is ripped like an action hero should be. Damn right he’s bad-ass.
Stallone plays the part more or less as himself. The guy even likes stogies, motorcycles and vintage automobiles. But it’s in Barney’s hit and miss humor and personality quirks that Stallone really shines through. This makes sense, seeing as Sly seems intent on finding out how far he can go in this new phase of his career. The more he injects himself into his projects, the more successful they seem to be. With Barney Ross, Stallone is able to create a new character that he can freely use to express everything he wants to say that would’ve been uncharacteristic of his other creations. Had Cobra been a franchise, it would be easy to see the Cobretti character ending up where this on begins.
Jason Statham is Lee Christmas
Lee is a romantic with a very intense business side. While not on a mission he showers all his attention on his love interest, apparently refusing to mention what he does to earn the money to do so. While on a mission, Christmas is something of a competitive team player. He’ll attempt to one-up the man next to him, but never at the cost of the mission itself. He has a sense of duty and a somewhat naive sense of justice in the world. All this can make him territorial outside the job, seeing as it is all he works for, but loyal inside his work. An expert with knives, Christmas is an all around efficient fighter who can kill just as easily with a gun as with his bare hands.
Christmas is actually a bit unlike any character Statham has ever played, being a something of a secondary lead and essentially the last pure heart in an ensemble piece. It’s quite something to see him play a serious professional with an occasional lack of confidence. Statham also gets to do something here you almost never see him do: smile. And he smiles a lot in this picture. This has got to be the most he’s ever grinned in a movie, and it’s nice to see the guy relax a bit.
Jet Li is Yin Yang
Yang is, rather obviously, the martial arts expert of the group. What he does with his money and why he seems to always need more of it is a question never honestly answered in the film, but he does carry a complex from being the shortest member of the group. That being said, he is a lethally fast fighter both armed and otherwise. Outside the job he may carry a demeanor of candid innocence, but when it’s time to kill the man is intense and almost scary. Plus, he gets to hold his gat gangsta-like.
I have to admit, I think Li is a bit underutilized in the movie. As far as the three main characters go, I felt Li left the least amount of impact. He’s great in the comedic scenes and he can certainly perform the action when called upon, but one of the film’s major failings is in never giving Li much of an opportunity to shine during his action moments and leaving much his characterization offscreen. Still, he gets some fun moments with Stallone about his height and mocks Couture’s over sensitive nature.
Dolph Lundgren is Gunnar Jensen
Portrayed by Lundgren, Gunnar is the most dangerous man in the movie. A soldier of fortune gradually losing his grip due to both drugs and circumstance, he can change moods on a dime and won’t hesitate to exchange loyalties for money or just to prove a point. He’s a wild card with a gun. A very big wild card with a very big gun. Lundgren is the most fun when playing crazy types and hasn’t quite had the opportunity to go this far off the deep end since Universal Soldier, so it’s a blast seeing him do it again here. Bringing a certain amount of threat and swagger, Dolph pretty much steals the show with very little screen time.
Terry Crews is Hale Caesar
In a role originally intended for Wesley Snipes, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Terry Crews filling Caesar’s tremendous shoes. Caesar is an intense and powerful fellow, who loves his weaponry and won’t hesitate to use it. He’s also got all the muscles we’ve missed since the 1980s. He’s clearly the artillery and back-up plan for the group, hanging back until it’s necessary to unleash hell. And damn, the automatic shotgun he carries is one of the greatest things ever put in an Action film.
Randy Couture is Toll Road
So named because of one were wanting to pass by him they’d have to pay a heavy price, Toll Road is just a big mean fighting machine. This is to be expected, of course, seeing as he’s played by UFC champ Randy Couture. Couture gives Road a slightly geekish personality, a man insecure about his physical appearance but in total control on the battlefield. He crushes his enemies like the nothings they are and would probably ask for seconds if it occurred to him.
Mickey Rourke is Tool
A former member of the group, Tool has burned out from his years as a paid killer and now acts as the group’s guru/tattoo artist/secretary. He sets up the jobs, gives advice, and occasionally manly moral support. Like Lundgren, Rourke makes the most of his limited screen time and attempts to run away with the movie. He manages to form the movie’s emotional center, revealing the womanizing tough guy routine to be a tortured facade, covering a soul filled with pain and regret now too far gone to regain a true sense of humanity. It’s actually quite so done it almost doesn’t belong in the movie.
Eric Roberts is James Munroe
Munroe is your perfect cliche of a smarmy, over- authoritative ex-CIA bad guy type. He’s callous, threatening, and indifferent to the plight of others. He’s manipulative and intelligent enough to get away with it. Still, he’s not much good in a fight and uses money to get his way. His lackeys do the physical work for him, leaving him as something more like a puppeteer. And hey, it’s Eric Roberts. Fuck yeah.
David Zayas is General Garza
Garza is a man driven mad by power, a man who once had good intentions but now sees only the error of his ways and no way but to continue forward. As resentful as he is toward Munroe, Garza is like a junkie. As long as Munroe has the money Garza thinks he needs, he is likely to remain a slavish middle man in Munroe’s quest for power.
Steve Austin is Paine
Since Austin is a giant, muscle-bound goblin of a man, leading roles (particularly as a protagonist) generally fail to suit him. This isn’t a slam against the actor (actually, I think he handles himself just fine), just his presence and overall look. Of course, these same traits make him for an excellent thug or lackey. Here, as the drill sergeant-ish Paine, Austin is perfectly cast. Paine comes off as the most dangerous of the adversaries faced by the Expendables, a big mean motherfucker with no neck to speak of, but no neck is necessary for the man who actually broke Stallone’s in real life.
Gary Daniels is The Brit
The Brit, as he is named in the credits, doesn’t get a lot of screen time but he makes good use of what little he does get. He’s evil Gary Daniels (goatee included), a martial arts bad-ass so hardcore it takes two other bad-asses combining their powers to bring him down. He’s a cocky Brit, but one that can back it up.
Giselle Itié is Sandra Garza
Sandra is the human MacGuffin of the picture, the contact on the island of Vilena, and whose dictator father the Expendables are being hired to depose. She is an artist at heart, but a revolutionary by necessity. Her single goal is the freedom of her people, even if it means the death of her remaining family.
Charisma Carpenter is Lacy
Christmas’s girlfriend, Lacy is an impatient and untrusting woman. Full of excuses for her own incompetence, she blames Lee for her failings in their relationship… or maybe I’m just choosing sides. I don’t know. Her shrill performance really kind of bugged me. But I suppose it’s like walking in on the wrong conversation at the wrong time. She’s clearly been under duress. In any case, she seems like a confused woman whose only purpose in the film is to get Statham to beat on so guys on a basketball court. So nice going, I guess.
[THE SEX AND VIOLENCE]
DUDESWEAT AND MACHISMO:
For a film that’s supposed to be a throwback to the 80s, it’s surprising how very little man flesh is on display here. And aside from the douchebags playing basketball and that scene where Terry Crews implies that he may actually be sleeping with his gun, there’s very little to go on.
Sly does take off his shirt to get a tattoo, and Dolph Lundgren’s explanation as to why he’s not with the Expendables anymore is that they’re having a “lover’s quarrel”, but the only focus on sexuality in the movie is between Jason Statham and Charisma Carpenter. And even that’s glazed over. So very odd.
EXPLOITATION AND MISOGYNY:
To be blunt, women are in this movie for the sole purpose of getting men into fights (or helping to bring Mickey Rourke to tears… that bitch). Giselle Itié’s character is the impetus for much of the plot, which revolves mostly around killing shit loads of Brazilian extras. Meanwhile, Charisma Carpenter’s entire subplot only leads to Jason Statham kicking a bunch of guys’ asses on a basketball court. I’m not saying I have a problem with this, but it probably wouldn’t have killed Sly to write in maybe a couple decent female interaction that didn’t lead to straight up violence. Of course, that would probably belong in another movie.
MURDER BY NUMBERS: [ 188 ]
As expected from a group like this, the destruction these guys leave behind them is nothing short of catastrophic. The bad guys never had a chance. Most of them are shot to death, but a surprising amount are also stabbed or slashed to death. The movie’s alternate title could also have easily been 1001 Ways To Die: The Movie. We have people being burned alive, decapitated, blown up, shot in half, heads crushed, necks broken, and impaled. To say The Expendables is a violent action film is like saying Antarctica has snow. There is a sequence at the end of the film where it is almost entirely just the group killing as many people as is possible in a movie for ten minutes, while also managing to fill in all the massive explosions the last decade forgot to film. Most of the group reach the double digits, and Statham actually scores over 60 confirmed kills by himself. It’s pretty spectacular.
[THE BEST OF THE REST]
Jet Li & Jason Statham versus Gary Daniels
How awesome was it that Stallone put Gary Daniels in this movie? Well it it’s even fucking better that Sly put Daniels it a brutal martial arts fight against both Statham and Li. While Stallone bare-knuckled it against Steve Austin and Randy Couture fought off hordes of faceless goons, these three legends faced off in a nasty little battle of their own. Throat jabs, knee kicks and every other cruel move are used here until Statham gets Daniels hobbled and held still for Li’s axe-kick breaks the Brit’s neck into a position no neck should ever go.
It was sweet.
Fry And Die
The Expendables is filled to the brim with great moments and is another one of those movies that actually improves for me upon multiple viewings. That being the case, I found this to be perhaps the most difficult section to write. I loved the tunnel fight and the ensuing gun battle immensely, but also the action fan service sequence featuring Sly, Arnie, and Bruno. But when I think about it, the one scene that really drew my attention when first watching The Expendables was the dock attack. I was a bit worried the movie might not live up to any of its potential, even up to the escape from the island (40 minutes in), but this sequence turned it all around for me.
Barney Ross and Lee Christmas are forced to retreat from their reconnaissance mission after a battle with several soldiers near the palace. Their mission looking hopeless, their contact missing, and their pride hurt, the two fly away to safety barely holding their lives. But then Ross grimaces angrily and turns the plane around, the two only exchanging the words “Fry and Die” before Christmas descends into the manifold and reappearing outside on the nose.
Diving down toward the opposition on the dock, Statham fires hundreds of rounds into the shocked enemy. But it’s not over. Ross then dumps a few gallons of airplane fuel onto them, which Christmas ignites via a flare gun. As the dock is blasted clear, the message is even more crystal: you do not fuck with The Expendables.
As the team battles the enemy, the hall begins to fill with enemy combatants. Ross is off on a one-on-one with Paine, and though The Brit has been taken out, Yin Yang and Toll Road are pinned down behind a small brick wall under heavy fire from the opposition. Suddenly Hale Caesar appears, unleashing the loud and terrifying power of his AA-12 shotgun, and delivering his promise to turn whatever stands in his way into “red sauce and jello.” The tunnel’s hallway, once filled with soldiers is quickly and violently cleared, and Paine can only watch in horror as his troops are literally eviscerated by the awesome weapon. After pumping several dozen rounds and clearing out his path, Crews delivers the line:
“Remember this shit at Christmas!”
The Expendables is quite the ride, and even more so for fans of the genre. This is probably the best Action film to be released in the last ten years, which is cool but also sad. While the movie still packs a helluva punch and can claim one of the greatest casts of all time, it’s not without its flaws. I still think future fans will look back on the movie as a classic of the genre, but also as something that could have been much better, given the talent involved. In fact, let’s talk about the cast for a second.
The Big Three
Of the many highlights in the movie, none were so anticipated than the meeting of the three biggest Action stars of the late 80s and early 90s. This is something fans of the genre had wished would happen for years. Schwarzenegger (busy as Governor of California at this time, but somehow still able to do the cameo) shows up just long enough for us to remember why we’ve all missed him being on the silver screen and why movies in general have been a sad place without him this last decade. We’ve missed his voice, his quips, and most of all his presence. It’s such a fun little moment too, but one that makes us ask if the big guy would ever return to the silver screen.
Willis proves once again that he needs to be in more action movies and probably also more villain-type roles. The guy is simply a great performer. It’s strange how a little time and a few comic roles can make us forget that when Bruce Willis wants to play a scary bad-ass he can totally pull it off. He’s got the commanding presence to do so and uses it here very well, staring down Sly like he doesn’t give a fuck that this man is Cobra, Rocky, and Rambo all in one. To do that and actually be a bit frightening is a testament not only to the force that is Willis, but also Stallone’s own willingness to let another big star shine in his presence. That’s what’s so great about this scene, really. Stallone lets each of them be themselves and everything we love about them, knowing full well he’ll have the rest of the movie for himself to catch up.
Stallone is often best at working in elements of real life and serving his films up as metaphors. The Rocky films are particularly poignant examples of this, with each film showing where Sly is at at that particular time in his life and career,. With this view in mind, we can see each of the characters in the film as mash-ups of their previous roles and current career relevance. Little backstory is given on each character (at one point, Bruce Willis’s character of “Church” expresses doubt over Sly’s character’s name having authenticity) because we are meant to know these gentlemen from their previous film incarnations. The more action movies you’ve seen, the more you’ll know these men and what they can do.
There are issues with this, of course. The first being that while most of these guys are indeed Action Legends, they tend to play strong stoic types, and in an ensemble film we expect more witty banter than these men usually deliver. This makes much of the movie center around Stallone and Statham which, while not necessarily a bad thing, is a bit less than what we’d expect considering all the names involved. Most of the characters feel absent for a good portion of the film. While this is explained and the strategy does have its merits (you can’t have too many guys running around on a recon mission), it only seems to have been done in order to lead to a couple smaller* action sequences. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but worth noting.
The other issue comes with the fact that there are so many big names someone is bound to leave us feeling they didn’t get enough screen time. Each cast member will have his own following, but my own pick for the most underused in the film has to be Gary Daniels. This guy has starred in dozens of movies but is here relegated to the role of a henchman and never even given a name. Of course, he does get to take on both Jet Li and Jason Statham, while also landing a few blows on Sly himself. So I guess I can’t complain too much. And if you own the extended version (I’d recommend getting both, for various reasons), you’ll get to see a few more moments with the guy, and some more of his battle with Jet Li before Statham joins.
As for that first point on the large number of grim-faced leads, we have a rather lively performance from Dolph Lundgren to thank for rescuing us. Terry Crews gets what may be the best line in the movie, but Lundgren gets almost all the rest, especially in a great smack-talking sequence between him and Daniels (damn, Gary actually had several great moments now that I think about it).
Still, in a movie with such a tremendous cast it’s nice to see some focus put on some small moments between characters. There’s a great little scene between Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham that can be read as an interesting variation on the “passing the torch” scene common in so many old meets new films. Statham (the new) gives his respect to Lundgren (the old), and Lundgren at first seems to offer to pass the action mantle on to Statham before sort of realizing Jason’s already got a torch of his own. Respect is exchanged, and both sides part amicably.
The movie’s actually deeper than I first thought. To start, there is a heavy message about compromising one’s integrity and what it can lead to. We have Mickey Rourke’s moving speech as an obvious plug for this approach on one end, with Sly and company as wayward souls who can find redemption if they only choose to do the right thing in a situation that’s basically fallen into their lap on the other. In between we have Eric Roberts’s over-the-top villain, who cares little for the pain he inflicts on others as long as he profits. Leaning toward his side is Zayas’s dictator character, who compromises everything he is to gain power in the hopes of building a better society for his people. Jason Statham and Giselle Itié represent more pure characters than the rest, something ultra-lost Lundgren detects when he passes on his giant knife to Statham’s Lee Christmas. Statham still defends the honor of the woman who had no faith in him while Itié leads the charge against her misguided father in saving her people from the pain inflicted by his overlords.
But being a Stallone film, what story there is has largely been stripped away and replaced by pure action spectacle. In fact, say what you will about the lack of a clear story or clunky characterization. Go ahead. The fact is The Expendables delivers on its promise to bring back Action to the mainstream. Hyped as a throwback to the big action blowouts of the late 80s and early 90s, the movie certainly succeeds. While not stylistically similar, it more than resembles them in tone and content. The dock attack sequence is more thrilling than most great moments in more recent movies, but it’s the climax of The Expendables which really flattens the competition.
Not only does this finale hearken back to the violent climaxes of the ultraviolent spectacle films of the 1980s, it actually manages to outdo many of them. And watching each of the team’s individual members tear through hordes of enemy troops at least nears the bliss of Schwarzenegger’s one-man army attack in Commando. And while containing none of the style or samurai sword-wielding uniqueness of A Better Tomorrow II, the sheer force of every character’s actions added to the impressive pyrotechnics on display at least nears the blood-splattered hallways and knee-deep-in-bodies visuals in that film. Heads explode almost as many times as vehicles and outposts, there are rivers of fire, Randy Couture fighting Stone Cold, warheads exploding over choppers, and plenty more.
Composer Brian Tyler has outdone himself here, creating what I think to be his best work. Reportedly only having about a week to compose the film’s themes, I’d say they should give the guy three days next time around to see how epic he can get under even more pressure. The music is sweeping and grand in scope, giving the movie a far bigger feel than it probably deserves… and I love this movie. The main theme has hints of sadness, representing the near loss of humanity this group has; but also has heavy rhythmic bits cutting an image of force and willpower. My favorite track (The Expendables) plays while the group sets explosives and Barney Ross searches the underground tunnels for Sandra. It’s a bittersweet piece of music that, like Mickey Rourke’s performance earlier in the film, elevates the rest of the movie and sets an important tone for things to come.
But as much as I enjoyed the movie, I have to call it on its faults. The Li versus Lundgren fight, while an amazingly awesome cinematic concept is nearly squandered by the terrible direction and cinematography, hiding much of Corey Yuen’s choreography behind objects in the foreground and using choppy editing and wavy camera motions. Both men are advanced martial artists, so this Bourne movie-like camera trickery is as unnecessary as it is unwelcome. The failure of the camera operators to get even a single shot highlighting the distinct size difference between the two fighters is inexcusable, but also flat out puzzling until you listen to Stallone’s commentary on the sequence. Apparently, most of the fight was shot by a set of second and third units, each with a different interpretation of the fight. Maybe next time Sly will know better than to give such a prized battle over to so many other heads.
Overall, I quite enjoyed this flick. It’s pretty much a blast and gets even better upon repeat viewings. Does it live up to its hype? Yes and no. It’s great to see all these guys up on the screen, and the action is mostly top notch, but the movie definitely has its flaws (dark lighting, slim script, a couple badly edited fight scenes, bad CGI). If you want to see Couture pull off playing neurotic therapy patient with all kinds of fun character quirks, this one isn’t for you. But if you want to see him fight Stone Cold Steve Austin surrounded by walls of fire… well, you might just cream your jeans. I hope future generations of Action junkies can look back on this film for the awesomeness that it is and not just that it somehow doesn’t include Van Damme in the cast. Because this one is really a must-own for any true Action fan. The Expendables rocks and then some.
*”Smaller” in comparison to the massive finale
[THE MORAL OF THE STORY]
Live for nothing, or die for something… which sounds very familiar.
[THE AOBG ACTION CHECKLIST]
[X] Athlete(s) Turned “Actor”
[X] Clinging To The Outside Of A Moving Vehicle
[X] Crotch Attack
[X] Dialogue Telling Us How Bad-Ass The Main Character(s) Is/Are
[ ] Ending Featuring An Ambulance, A Blanket or A Towel
[X] Giant Explosion(s)
[X] Heavy Artillery
[X] Improvised Weapon(s)
[X] Macho Mode(s) Of Transportation
[X] Main Character Sports Facial Accessory(s)
[X] Manly Embrace(s)
[ ] Notorious Stunt-Man Sighting
[X] Passage(s) Of Time Via Montage
[X] Politically Fueled Plot Point(s)
[X] Senseless Destruction Of Property
[X] Shoot Out(s) and/or Sword Fight(s)
[X] Slow-Motion Finishing Move(s)/Death(s)
[X] Stupid Authoritative Figure(s)
[X] Substance Usage and/or Abuse
[ ] Tis The Season
[X] Torture Sequence(s)
[ ] Unnecessary Sequel
[X] Vehicle Chase(s)
[X] Vigilante Justice
[TOTAL: 21 outta 25]