I grew up with two kinds of movie fans. One (my mom) was a hardcore horror buff, and the other was an unabashed action buff (my dad), so for most of my life before I sought out various genres, all I sat and watched were sleazy action flicks and gory horror films. “The Expendables,” while not a perfect movie, is a call back to the classic action films of the seventies and eighties when men were buff, grizzled, hairy and fired off huge guns while also getting the woman in the end, it’s a traditional action film that is also director Sylvester Stallone’s own version of “The Wild Bunch” about old cowboys who have one last stand to reclaim their dignity and self-respect. They do the missions because they feel as if they have to, and they don’t take in to caution their own well beings.
While the movie is scant on a complex plot, the characterization is pretty bare knuckles allowing us a look in the more core characters of the action film. The Expendables are men of honor trying to atone for their own misdeeds and cruel acts in the past, and like the classic westerns, they make up for the lost souls they took or let perish by taking up deadly suicide missions guaranteed to end their lives at any moment if they don’t step lively. Stallone invokes the themes of the western with his own Magnificent Seven, a small group of warriors who also happened to be played by modern rough necks who aren’t exactly movie tough guys.
Stallone gathers some sports stars like Randy Coutoure and Steve Austin and assembles an intricate array of genre veterans like Eric Roberts as the slimy villain, Mickey Rourke as the group’s wise leader, and assorted gents like Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, and Jason Statham a conglomerate of film heavy hitters who make “The Expendables” an action fan’s dream with a story that is down to its core the classic story of political corruption, a foreign warlord, and the American soldiers trying to free the land and save the day. This is strictly a movie for men in a market that’s been saturated with films for the youth and women where Stallone appeals to the male gender by providing a cavalcade of action set pieces, explosions, gun fights, and car chases making sure to pay respect to all of the men he casts and providing a fun but dignified re-visiting of the classic action movie tropes most of us love so much.
Stallone oddly enough tries to squeeze in every stunt imaginable so the movie is not without its share of top notch choreography, incredible chases, and wicked fight sequences all of which feel like Stallone taking a last stand in a genre looking for younger men who can fit the bill and bring in the money. This is his last hurrah for the guys of the world who grew up with hard boiled, tough talking anti-heroes who always worked on shades of grey and took their beatings with a chuckle, and Stallone has all of his ducks in a row with a script that is paper thin in plot, but rich in the spirit of the classic action films as well as some clever characterization.
Jason Statham, Stallone’s partner in crime, takes the film and never gives it back stealing every single scene he shares with his fellow actors, and there’s a considerable camaraderie that seeps in to their characters both of whom have a Butch and Sundance relationship where they compete with one another, toss snappy one liners back and forth, and hate each other, but can’t picture being friends with anyone else. “The Expendables” doesn’t try too hard to nod to the classic action films and is set on giving us its own tale about a group of buff old timers who find a purpose one last mission and gain a sense of affirmation when a country is on the line.
Sylvester Stallone squeezes in action and thrills in one neat little blood soaked package, and it’s a love letter not only to the bygone era of action heroes, but to his fans all of whom have always secretly had a movie such as this in mind but could never quite get it to be made. Papa Sly gave it to us and I am more than grateful for its rewards. It’s not a perfect movie and it won’t actually appeal to all audiences, but for those willing to chow down on what Stallone feeds them, “The Expendables” is a marvelously entertaining, action packed, and wicked little balls to the wall love letter with a Western vibe suitable for a night of cold beer, chili, and a hot woman at your side.