As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.
If you've been paying attention to the trailers for this film, you'll have noticed the advertising hasn't been heavy on plot. That could mean that it's not giving anything away, which would be good, or it actually means that there isn't much of a plot. I'm sure you'll tell me if I'm wrong, but I thought this should be to action fans what The Five Doctors is to Doctor Who fans, or what the highly anticipated film version of The Avengers will be to Marvel fans. A plot with a central threat and motivation that no single one of these action heroes could have solved on their own, even in their prime, hence the massive collaboration.
Instead, there's a screenplay that bears more than a passing likeness to Rambo, territory we entered just two years ago. Even with a character we knew very well, that film wasn't all that good. And this new one that reminded me as much of Son of Rambow as of Stallone's last outing- the story is the kind of adolescent flight of fancy played so well in that film, but taken much more seriously and done without a flying dog or evil scarecrow.
The violence, which this 15 certificate film was apparently destined to bring back to cinemas in a big way, is pretty routine. I can't deny that the last half hour is a hardcore head-sploding orgasm for action fans, but that's more in choreography than in the actual gore. The gore is cartoonish and, much to my chagrin, CGI. Certain things are done to hundreds of nameless bad guys that you obviously can't do to an actor just to make the film look cool. When have you ever seen CGI fluid dynamics- particularly when blood is involved- done well in live-action? Don't expect The Expendables to be a game-changer on that score.
As you'd suspect from the under-powered plot, it's better in concept than in execution. The promise of bringing a bunch of big action stars together isn't entirely delivered upon, and in any case, there isn't a villain to match up to their combined might. What this needed was a Vernon Wells in Commando or some other over-the-top crazy bad guy right out of the films this is supposed to homage. Crucially, if this had been made in the 1980s or 1990s, it wouldn't be remembered in much higher regard than say, Nighthawks or The Specialist.
If you're still shaking your head, you can stop now, because it's really not all bad. Jason Statham is relentlessly watchable in any action film he turns his hand to, and regularly upstages the supposed legends, while Jet Li excels in the position of Stallone's old favourite- the underdog. Any fight scene either of these guys appear in is pretty superb, with Li busting out the martial arts and Statham flinging knives like a man possessed. It's also nice to see Eric Roberts. Not that I want to see him in a film next month, or even next year, but it's good that we get him in small doses, in films like this and The Dark Knight.
We've seen Stallone act better than this, and he's also written better scripts than this one. Just see how many of the excruciatingly unfunny scenes of camaraderie you can withstand. His direction has its faults, as shaky-cam sits entirely uncomfortably with his brand of action cinema, but I can't fault certain parts of the action choreography. Watch out for the scene that's already being acclaimed as Jason Statham's R2D2 scene.
It's a film where Dolph Lundgren is fourth-billed, showing in cinemas, so to many fans of its stars, the flaws will be the minor part of a gory, hyper-masculine flashback to the films they grew up with. Fewer will notice that Lundgren's character has a patently ridiculous character arc that reaches the absolute apex of stupidity that an action film can reach, with Stallone wanting to feed that character his cake as well as just giving it to him.
Then again, the inverse will be true for me. In around three or four years, I'll come in from a night out drinking, complete with takeaway pizza, and this will be on TV. And I bet when that night comes, I'll enjoy the shit out of it.
The Expendables is showing at cinemas nationwide from 18th August.
If and when you see The Expendables, why not leave a comment on the film and/or my review? Why was I so disappointed? Well, because this trailer gets me more excited than the actual film did!
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.