The Expendables review

It’s got guns, explosions, one-liners and Jason Statham at his ball-deflating best. The Expendables is pure action geek heaven, says Duncan, in our second review...

Now, since Simon has already written an articulate critique of The Expendables, I’m going to take this opportunity to be a little less professional.

The Expendables is, to my action movie eyes, awesome. It’s like some kind of fevered dream, a surreal out of body experience, which I still can’t believe happened.

My critical facilities were going to be no use to me when watching the film, for the simple reason that, albeit briefly, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger share the screen.

Everyone knows that fact by now and I feel bad for stating the obvious, but it really is an entire reason for The Expendables to exist, as it fulfils a moment in movie history that I have been waiting decades for, and I can never express the gratitude and excitement that it delivered. I won’t say any more, but how much the action stars mean to you, will directly dictate how much you love, or hate the film.

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Already the initial reaction to the film seems to be mixed and that makes me a little sad. One reviewer was so angered by it that they spoke out of turn about the potential audience, having earlier stated that they weren’t a fan of 80s action movies.

Den Of Geek has always made a habit of trying to encourage positivity and balance, good examples being the fan/non-fan approach to the Twilight film reviews and that we don’t review every rom-com that hits the multiplexes, because they’re simply not aimed at us.

Some writers, in my view, seem to have missed the point of The Expendables entirely, expecting some kind of action movie revolution, perhaps, instead of the blood and guts, one-liner-fuelled entertainment that has been so neglected in the last twenty years.

Any knocks at plot and characterisation aimed at it are entirely moot, for those of us that love and miss the eighties style of action have never questioned why we love the likes of Predator and Commando. Other than an adoration of the cast, a good acid test of how well you’ll respond to The Expendables can be gauged by Stallone’s most recent Rambo. If you loved one, you’ll almost certainly love the other.

They’re both films that revolve around the divide between mercenary behaviour and heroism that take a simple premise, surround it with immense explosions and gunfire and have you roaring with the kind of bloodlust that a lot of us non-sporty geeks rarely get to do.

Stallone knows his audience and knows damn well ,after the Rambo trailer, how ecstatic the response was to his no-frills attitude towards movie violence, and The Expendables carries on that old/new tradition. There is one scene in particular that I won’t give details of, but involves Terry Crews and is spectacular.

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As Simon’s review covered most of the main points at hand, most of which I agree with (except I thought Dolph Lundgren was on great, Universal Soldier-esque form), I thought I’d draw attention to some of the other strengths of the film, which are least likely to garner attention, even though they were just as important as the headline attractions.

Brian Tyler’s score, for starters, is superb. I only became aware of his name when reviewing all the special features on the Rambo DVD, after being particularly impressed by his faithful and respectful tribute to Jerry Goldsmith on that film.

Tyler is a composer that seems to be going from strength to strength and, having just had a quick look on his website, I am thrilled to see is on composing duties for the forthcoming Battle: Los Angeles,. I imagine it’s only a matter of time before he has the kind of recognition he deserves. Like his Rambo score, The Expendables music is every bit as bombastic and exciting as you’d hope, and given a prominent part in the proceedings as, thankfully, there are very few songs to get in the way.

Eric Roberts was also a standout for me. Having last seen him being somewhat ‘broken’ by Batman in The Dark Knight, I’d forgotten how much I used to love him. To say he’s prolific over the years would be an understatement, but (and I mean this is in the nicest way possible) there haven’t been as many high profile roles as he deserves.

Roberts, as the main villain in The Expendables, really gets to relish every moment he gets and for those of you who might be wondering why he was cast so prominently, then I suggest you check out Best Of The Best, though I’ve no idea how well it stands up now. I certainly intend to change that as soon as possible, as the boxset of all four Best Of The Best‘s is available for only a few pounds (though Roberts only appeared in the first two), more’s the pity he didn’t get to do any fighting this time around.

Also making a welcome appearance is real-life kickboxing champion and martial artist, Gary Daniels, whom I didn’t know was even in the film until the opening credits (which garnered more applause with each name that appeared than I’ve ever heard for any film in a cinema in this country), as a character simply called The Brit.

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Sporting a rather fetching handlebar moustache, he was instantly recognisable and has the fortune of being in yet another of the film’s standout moments. I’ve also just discovered that fellow Expendables Steve Austin, Daniels and Roberts are in a forthcoming DVD flick, Hunt To Kill, so I’ll add that to my list.

My main disappointment with The Expendables came from the underuse of Jet Li, which was made more noticeable due to his name on the credits and poster being so high. His character was clearly a part of the Stallone/Statham trio, as he has time alone with the both of them, but any reason behind it was either never written, or ended up on the cutting room floor. Either way, it’s a real shame not to see Li used to his full potential.

As if to balance my concerns regarding Jet Li, Stallone (as director and co-writer) very thoughtfully decided to give the lion’s share of the film over to one man in particular, Jason Statham. Having spent several weeks writing a rather substantial piece on the films of Mr Statham, I can safely say that this is by far his best film to date.

The vibe from Stallone, both on and off screen towards Statham, appears to be quite paternal and an absolute handing over of the keys to his kingdom. Just think about it:  if The Expendables is a deserved hit, then it’s potentially a franchise that could run and run. And while Stallone’s involvement can only be in front of the camera for another decade or so, Statham could continue it for several more.

There’s a certain understandable joy behind The Statham’s performance, and it’s utterly contagious, be it popping out of the nose of a plane, trading lines with Mickey Rourke or, in a scene that had me bouncing off my seat, ‘deflating balls’. You’ll understand when you see it.

So, there’s my glowing endorsement of a film that had twenty years’ worth of expectation behind it, a film that ended so quickly I was ready for a third act, despite running at just under two hours. I can’t wait to see it again, or its sequel.

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And just think, if we all go to the cinema and make it a massive hit, then there’s no telling who might get involved for the next instalment. Bring on the Kurt Russell.

Our first review of The Expendables is here.


4 out of 5