Review: The Expendables You Could Probably Do Without

The nature of true evil is a comforting one, actually. Because if someone, or a group of someones, is in full-on "Hey, let's torture that lady!" mode, then there's no hesitation about pulling the trigger to stop the monsters. If villains don't have quiet moments of introspection late at night, cuddled up next to their cat, where they think "Ugh, I am the WORST, I gotta make that change," then we don't have to have to feel the slightest pangs of sympathy for their plight. The good guys are going to kill them, probably after breaking their ankles, and we needn't have the tiniest bit of guilt over the transaction. Yes, it was a kinder time when you could just kill everyone in sight without any hint of plot or context, it was a gentler era when you could kneecap a fellow while uttering a sassy one-liner.

The Expendables seems painfully aware that times have changed. The muscled-up hulkers engage in moments of therapy babble and talk about each other's feelings, though of course with a wink and a nod toward the audience. Ha ha! Look at these chiseled gladiators discussing the perils of dating! The difference is that films like Rambo didn't play the genre for laughs, those were films that authentically believed in their mission. The fact that The Expendables can't take itself seriously indicates just how cognizant the entire crew is of the shifting landscape. Now throw in some sneering villains running over hapless (and quite avoidable) farmer's markets in their military vehicles and you've got yourself The Expendables. Not a good movie, but a movie all the same.

Now then, one can't reasonably talk about The Expendables without getting into the cast. The main team is comprised of Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Randy Couture, and Terry Crews. Dolph Lundgren is in about half of the film. Other notables make appearances (Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger), but they aren't involved in any of the action. Schwarzenegger in particular ambles into a scene like a wounded water buffalo, his ill-fitting suit and jarring dialogue reminding us that the stars of this world got old while we weren't looking. Mickey Rourke channels Elvis (Val Kilmer) from True Romance, dispensing folksy wisdom while calling people "brother" a lot. On the bad guy side "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Eric Roberts do their best to make it reasonable to want them severly damaged. They largely succeed!

The aforementioned good guys are contracted to kill all of the bad guys who have taken over an "island in the gulf" called Vilena, which happily doesn't exist in real life. David Zayas (who is pretty solid in Dexter) is the general in charge of the island that the bad guys have subjugated. Fortunately he's also completely bonkers and ready to serve as collateral damage. His daughter Sandra (Giselle Itié) lines up with the good guys and shows off her best "help meeeeeeeeeee" eyes throughout the film.

The Expendables must be given some credit for the sheer amount of death unleashed throughout. I mean, these guys really kill a whole mess of folks in new and creative ways. Jason Statham in particular shines as the next generation of action hero, if indeed that generation has put out a "help wanted" sign in their "go kill everybody" department. If you're looking for 10 minutes of legitimate dialogue punctuated by hundreds of bodies flying around you'll be very happy here. It's only if you're looking to recapture the magic of the '80s that you'll find disappointment.

I think it says plenty that the end credits of The Expendables feature the same song that was employed in a disastrous scene from Navy Seals 20 years ago. The boys may be back in town, but the town is all grown up. I suppose it might be ironic, or an homage, or a shot in the dark. Whatever the case, it feels ancient, awkward, and somewhat sad. The world has changed since Rambo and Arnold held sway, which no, isn't the film's fault. But it's going to be held accountable anyway.

Grade: C