DVD Review: The Expendables



Sylvester Stallone. Jason Statham. Jet Li. Relentless Gunfire. Dolph Lundgren. Bruce Willis. Plentiful Explosions. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mickey Rourke. Obliterated Innards. Terry Crews. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Flambéd Epidermis.

The cast list for The Expendables is the perfect litmus test for whether you’ll like the film or not. Big, brash, bulging with brawn and bereft of brains, Stallone’s latest explosive opus aspires to be no less than a balls-to-the-wall throwback to the bygone days of muscle-filled action movies, where biceps and cheesy one-liners trumped plot and character. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really manage to be anything more than that either, and while it’s surely great to see the Ocean’s 11-style cast of action legends assembled in one place, and the journey from beginning to end is punctuated with enough chaotic bloodshed to keep things engaging, as a collective whole, The Expendables still only ranks as a merely decent entry in the entire cast’s respective careers.

The plot is a wispy, barely-existent bit of connective tissue between gunfights: The Expendables are a crew of highly skilled mercenaries hired by people who might need small countries wiped clean of bad guys. They’re brought on by CIA spook Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) to jet to the Caribbean island of Vilena and oust a troublesome dictator (Dexter’s David Zayas). Guns, knives and fists are put to use and countless nameless third-world soldiers erupt in piles of blood. Par for the course with a nostalgic action film, as long as there’s an excuse for tough guys to maim, mangle and murder things, that’s usually all that’s necessary as the carnage presents the main attraction. Sadly though, actor/writer/director Stallone doesn’t bring enough of Rambo’s gloriously OTT bloodbath action to do the fun heavy lifting, leaving only a few memorable scenes of mayhem in an otherwise serviceable, intermittently fun genre entry.

At times Stallone’s awkward mish-mash of old-school and modern aesthetics only distracts, sullies the action and betrays the spirit of an ’80s throwback. The old-fashioned squibs, prosthetics and wide coverage of action sequences that were the hallmark of the vintage action genre are noticeably absent here. Instead, shaky-cam and overly cramped shots obscure otherwise well-staged fight scenes featuring skilled martial artists and needless computer trickery only gets sloppier in the third act, where CG bloodshed and a man on fire look terrible, while a poorly-rendered, cartoonishly huge knife impaling looks like a cut scene from Final Fantasy VII.
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Worse yet, the action scenes slowly start to peter out after a bloodily promising opening and a great early plane-versus-pier set piece, devolving into a series of bland shoot-outs and tiresome explosions, while the legendary cast are largely wasted. Stallone and Statham get the brunt of the screen-time, and wisely so, as they show a genuine chemistry that makes for some incredibly fun buddy movie banter. Less utilised are the rest of the cast, who get all-too-brief moments to shine before being shuffled into the background. Schwarzenegger and Willis are around for mere seconds, Rourke is lumbered with awkward material, Li is underused and Crews gets a great moment with some heavy artillery, but as a hugely charismatic guy who’s perfect for some overdue exposure, it’s unfortunate that he gets less lines than burly potato-like non-entity Randy Couture.

Still, with aspirations no higher than crafting a competent, brainless, entertaining actioner around a blistering cast list, it’s hard to view The Expendables with much lasting contempt, especially since it does so much right. While the third act is lacklustre in the action department, the rest of the film is sprinkled with moments of pure brawny joy. Even though it’s painfully brief, Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Willis’ scene is worth the price of admission alone. Statham puts his martial arts skills to use by destroying a basketball game’s worth of douchebags. Jet Li fights Dolph Lundgren. Terry Crews saves the day with the world’s most devastating shotgun. Did I mention Jet Li fights Dolph Lundgren? Speaking of the erstwhile Ivan Drago, Stallone must really love the guy as much as any self-respecting action fan should, since he hands him the film. Dolph owns it completely, getting all the best material, the funniest lines, the only character arc in the film (an insanely ridiculous one, sure, but it’s oddly perfect) and the movie’s standout fight scene, and he injects more fun into proceedings than the rest of the cast combined.

It would’ve been amazing to see Stallone embrace the ’80s action movie spirit completely, avoiding incoherent editing and CGI messiness, adopting more of the all-out blood-splattered chaos of his recent Rambo sequel or just putting the stellar collection of talent assembled to better use. As it stands, the movie packs enough testosterone-fuelled mindless entertainment and effective, destructive moments to make it a worthwhile nostalgic throwback. Stallone’s film might not be the ultimate action movie he planned, but it’s plenty of fun, and as a hopeful comeback vehicle for Dolph Lundgren, The Expendables more than delivers.
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On the DVD:

A commentary from Stallone is a great inclusion: like many of his action hero cohorts, he’s a deceptively intelligent, thoughtful guy for someone who’s cultivated a career out of playing burly meatheads. His track is a font of insight and information and he’s a candid and endlessly engaging speaker.

A brief deleted scene shows an extended version of the “Warning shot!” scene, with Gunnar telling a pirate joke. It’s rather terrible, and more than a little indecypherable, so it’s not hard to see why it went. A short gag reel doesn’t offer any huge laughs, but is worth a look. A 15 minute ‘Before the Battle’ documentary feature focuses on the film’s production, the staging of some of the action scenes and Stallone’s on-set injuries. It’s entertaining, but not remotely as in-depth as Sly’s great commentary track.

All in all, it’s a decent DVD set for a fun, but flawed film.

The Film:

The DVD:




The Expendables is available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK now.
Click here to order the DVD from Amazon.co.uk.