Monday, August 13, 2012

DVD Review: The Expendables

I suppose with the theatrical release of The Expendables 2 just days away, it's about time I got around to seeing the original Expendables film (2010). I had always wanted to see it and heard that it was a good action film, but just never got around to it.

I rented the DVD without doing any sort of research on the film. I didn't talk to anyone about it and whatever "buzz" had been going on two years ago about this movie, didn't stick in my memory so I really had no idea what to expect.

I was disappointed. Yes, of course there was a lot of action. Lots and lots of shooting, explosions, throats being cut, dropping F-bombs, but somehow it just lacked something. I don't know what exactly.

Maybe a direction beyond an extremely high body count.

The film starts out right in the thick of things with Ross's (Stallone) team of mercenaries setting out to rescue some hostages from Somali pirates. The character Gunnar Jensen (played by Dolph Lundgren) is established as a dangerous rogue (even for a member of a team of hyper-violent mercs) right from the start, so I expected bad things from him and he certainly delivered.

The film seemed like standard action fare at this point, but the problem happened when the movie dared to develop some actual characterization for Ross's number two man Lee Christmas (played by Jason Statham). There wasn't any. After the film's first mission, Christmas (yeah, the ridiculous names for many of the characters was a distraction, too) rides off to find his girlfriend, who he hasn't seen in over a month, and he's shocked...shocked to find she's with another man. He avoids beating her or the other guy up (on this occasion) and rides off, wounded but proud. But I found I really didn't care. It was a cosmic "so what."

I know it's tough to pull off character development in an ensemble piece because you've got a lot of people to cover, plus you have to actually insert some action in the movie, but in this case, why bother? Of course, Statham's strength never was actually the ability to act as much as it is to create (or simulate) mayhem. This problem trickled down to the other principle actors.

I stopped looking for real acting ability from Stallone a long time ago, though many of his action films are watchable and even fun, but it seemed like it was impossible to make a real emotional connection with anyone associated with the Expendables...

...except Tool (played by Mickey Rourke). Stallone gave Rourke the job of defining the film's purpose and (literally) soul. There's a sequence (sadly not quoted at where Tool is recounting to Ross a mission they were on many years before. At one point during the op, Tool says he was watching a woman on a bridge. They made eye contact and Tool knows that she's going to commit suicide. His response was to turn and walk the other way leaving her to die. Tool says that if he had saved her instead of walking off, not only would he have saved her life, but he'd have saved his soul. This is the only real emotion and sense of poignancy the film managed to convey and it only lasted about five minutes.

Beyond being the best acted scene in the entire film, you don't actually realize that it is the scene of the film until the climax, when Ross is rescuing the film's female lead Sandra (played by Giselle ItiƩ) from the villain Munroe (played by Eric Roberts). At the point where Munroe either escapes with his hostage Sandra or dies, he screams at Ross that they're both alike, that they both have dead souls (supposedly a requirement for being a long-term merc or a drug dealing ex-CIA scumbag). Munroe is subsequently blown away and stabbed simultaneously, Sandra is saved, and Ross establishes for the audience that his soul remains intact.

But it was a stupid conversation and in real life, it never would have happened. Munroe wouldn't have given a damn about anyone's soul and even if he did, it was a dumb time to wax philosophical. I know that it was important for the film to actually say this stuff and it's how we can apply Tool's lament to Ross, but I just didn't "feel it." Sorry, Sly. Frankly, I think it was the worst part of the film...the attempt to say something more than "I'm a mindless action film...have fun." Stallone tried to imbue his movie with something beyond blowing up buildings and turning people into chunky salsa and failed. More than anything, that's why I was disappointed with The Expendables. Stallone took the one good scene in in the whole film and wasted it.

The cameos. This film marked the first time movie tough guys Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared in the same film and in the same scene (although Willis and Schwarzenegger never appeared in the same frame). Yeah, it was bitchin' just to see them together, but it was an obvious set up for the sequel, since Schwarzenegger's character Trench wasn't necessary for the scene.

After Gunner (Lundgren) tries to kill Yin Yang (Jet Li, and would they please get rid of these stupid code names) in a really nasty way and is shot by Ross for his troubles, I was disappointed to see Gunner alive and with the gang at the end of the film. OK, keep him alive for the sequel as an antagonist or as the lost soul who redeems himself by heroically saving the team before he dies, but don't just reinsert him into the group after he betrayed them and tried to kill one of their own.

This is definitely one film I'm glad I didn't spend money on to see in the theatre. I'm convinced more than ever that I won't see The Expendables 2 until it's released to DVD and then I might wait a couple of years before I get around to viewing it. Yeah, I like a good action film and the action parts were really good if mindless mayhem, murder, and torture (at one point Sandra is "waterboarded" by Toll Road, played by Randy Couture), but in spite of Stallone's best intentions, The Expendables just didn't have a soul.

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