Some people fondly remember Disney movies. Others wax nostalgic about video games. And then there are some people who just miss the good old days of blow-em-up, rock-em-sock-em violence.
How has it taken me so long to see this movie?
Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) is the leader of a team of mercenaries. Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) hires them, ostensibly to assassinate the evil General Garza (David Zayas) but really to take out the evil ex-CIA money man behind him, James Munroe (Eric Roberts). Bombs and bloodshed ensue.
1. For the most part, I really enjoyed watching The Expendables. There were things I wished had been better, mostly thematic issues and moral of the day stuff that either should have been stronger or taken out entirely. But I was very happily surprised with the level of ridiculous violence in this film, and most of the banter worked well for me. It could have been a better film, I suppose, but I also think I was expecting it to be far worse.
2. So, seriously, let’s talk about violence for a second. I think The Expendables won me over in the first ten minutes when Gunnar (Dolph Lundgren) uses a gun to blow a guy in half. I mean, this dude exploded. It was messy. It was red. For some reason, I was not expecting Ninja Assassin levels of outrageous bloodshed. But I was happier for it. Does that say something about me?
Also, Stallone takes off a guy’s head with a knife. I mean, it’s a big knife, but still, it’s a knife. I laughed hysterically. It was awesome.
3. All of the acting is pretty much okay. This isn’t the kind of film that requires heavy duty acting . . . although Mickey Rourke goes for it anyway, in one scene that’s actually kind of emotional and, you know, good. Everyone else here is pretty much around to blow shit up and get in awesome karate fights, and that’s totally fine . . . except that because Mickey Rourke acts the shit out of his whole I-had-one-chance-to-save-my-soul monologue, there’s sort of a balance problem when Stallone himself doesn’t rise to the material.
See, Stallone and his team are mercenaries, right? They’re fighting for money, not for honor. And so of course there’s this whole I’m-dead-inside conflict that Stallone—I apologize, Barney—is supposed to have. But the writing is pretty thin, and while Mickey Rourke does his best to elevate the material and concept, Sylvester Stallone just doesn’t have the acting chops to compare. And Eric Roberts only makes it worse with his shrieky you’re-just-like-me nonsense towards the end of the film. Of course, the whole, “We’re not so very different, you and I,” spiel is pretty much tradition in this kind of movie, but it’s really a lot more effective if the film in question bothers to create actual similarities between the hero and villain, not just bullshit ones.
4. Still, it’s Eric Roberts. While I have never been (nor will I likely ever be) impressed with his acting, Roberts is kind of the quintessential go-to B-movie bad guy. Has he ever played a non-schmuck in his whole life?
Oh, nostalgia. If only we could have had crazy Gary Busey and candy-munching Al Leong (Die Hard, Lethal Weapon) as bad guys too. Good times.
5. Also, you have to give some props to Sylvester Stallone. No, not for directing, acting, or co-writing the script—he does an average job at all three, I think—but for being one of the biggest action stars in American history with a name like Sylvester. I can only assume that he named his character Barney as a nod to this struggle, although Barney may, in point of fact, actually be worse than Sylvester. Because when you hear the name Barney, at best, you’re thinking of this guy:
And at worst:
It’s a challenge, all right.
6. Here’s an idea: you’re a part of this mercenary group, right, a bunch of ex-military badasses who have probably done more than a few things to piss people off. While I’m aware you’re not, like, top secret government agents or anything, perhaps you shouldn’t be slapping the team name on everything in sight. I mean, come on. Expendables is written on their private plane. It’s tattooed on Barney’s back. This is not covert, people. I’m a little surprised Mickey Rourke’s tattoo shop—which is pretty much their headquarters—isn’t called Expendables. (Actually, for all I know, it could be. I don’t remember if they gave it a name or not.)
7. I’m pretty sure it takes more than two minutes to finish a tattoo, even if you’re only doing five letters on a guy’s back. And I know you don’t just slap a shirt on top of a fresh tattoo without bandaging it first. What, Barney Ross is too manly to get an infection? Please.
8. While some of the witty rejoinders are less than, well, witty (like “Who sent you?” “Your hairdresser” — ha ha ha, Steve Austin’s bald, ha . . . ha . . . yeah, that was lame), there are a few fun quotes in this movie:
Barney: “What the hell’s he doing?”
Christmas: “Hanging a pirate.”
Barney: “Don’t be ridiculous. Gunnar! What are you doing?”
Gunnar: “Hanging a pirate.”
Yin Yang: “Your lucky ring stinks.”
Munroe: “Being wealthy is good. It allows people to be the real asswipes nature intended them to be.”
9. Randy Couture and Terry Crews easily have the least to do, which probably would have bothered me if I had known who either of them were prior to watching the film. Still, the movie does compensate them a bit for their total lack of character development: Couture gets the big fight with Steve Austin, which only makes sense, and Terry Crews has the Awesome Gun of Awesome, which may, in fact, be the best thing in the whole movie.
If you haven’t seen the film but would like to see the Awesome Gun of Awesome, here is a short clip. The gun is featured near the end. Warning, though. There are exceptionally mild spoilers in this scene (meaning it shows the death of a bad guy who, while not that important, is slightly more prominent than, say, the thousand of other red shirts and henchmen who bite it in this film). You have been forewarned.
Also in this clip? The scene that actually made my neck hurt. Ow. Ow.
10. The main girl is not that interesting—she’s pretty, she’s spunky, she paints!—but I feel obligated to feel sorry for almost anyone who goes through waterboarding. Eeep.
11. I’m not sure all Jet Li fans felt the same way, but I kind of thought his character’s whole argument that he needed more money because he was smaller and thus had to work harder was hilarious. He’s such a cute little opportunist! But then again, I’m biased, because I knew going into the movie that I was probably going to like Jet Li no matter what. I’ve always liked Jet Li. I need to watch more of his movies. I’ve really only seen like four and that’s including this one. And Lethal Weapon 4.
12. Finally, before spoilers, Jean Claude Van Damme apparently passed on this movie because he felt the role lacked character development. While this clearly would have been the case . . . whatever, Street Fighter. You’ll be seeing him in the sequel, though, and I bet this had less to do with character development and more to do with the fact that The Expendables was a huge commercial success and that he’s probably getting a lot of green for doing it. (I did read that JCVD was playing the villain, though, and that does interest me, for novelty’s sake, if nothing else.)
I’m only hoping Steven Seagal doesn’t show up too, or if he does, he’s a relatively small part that doesn’t talk at all. Sorry, but Seagal was always the one action star I could never take seriously. I mean, I know he’s the real deal, and he could kick my ass in about 80 different ways, but his complete inability to act coupled with that voice . . . I’m sorry, but I just find him more annoying than anything else.
For more about the movie (and less about Steven Seagal), follow below . . .
So, the movie begins with Barney and the Gang taking down a bunch of sea pirates (as opposed to, say, internet pirates). Gunnar quickly shows his stripes as the motherfucking crazy member of the team when he starts blowing pirates in half here and hanging them by their necks there. The team as a whole opposes hanging pirates, Yin Yang (Jet Li) in particular. Yin Yang tries to stop Gunnar, and Gunnar nearly kills Yin Yang. Thankfully, Barney stops him in time.
Barney later throws Gunnar off the team. He’s all reluctant to do it because Gunnar’s not a bad guy or anything—he’s just a junkie. Gunnar, in all honesty, does not come off anything like a junkie—you never see him weak or shaky or aching for a fix—but that’s not really important. What’s important is that it’s not Gunnar who’s bad; it’s the drugs. (If you’re picking up on some scorn here, well, yes, there is some. But that’s less because of my own personal views on addiction and more because of the absolutely ridiculous twist ending. Don’t worry. We’ll get there.)
So, Gunnar gets booted and joins forces with the bad guys because he’s all hurt or whatever. He and Stone Cold Steve Austin—er, I mean, Paine—immediately start a pissing contest, both calling each other pretty boys, and while I understand that this is meant to be an insult and all . . . you know, neither of them are exactly what I’d call pretty.
I know that’s a silly thing to quibble about, but seriously. Couldn’t they have just called each other pansies or princesses or something? In slightly more relevant topics, though, I had just assumed that all of the stars in this film were on Barney’s team. Instead, Paine is a bad guy, Gunnar becomes a bad guy, and Tool (Mickey Rourke) is a retired good guy. Barney asks Tool to join his team after he kicks Gunnar off, but Tool’s like, no dice. He doesn’t want to die alone in a jungle, see. He wants to die happy, beside a woman. While this is a completely reasonable desire, I was surprised that Tool actually stuck by it, because the second he started talking about not dying alone, I was like, “Dude, you’re so going to change your mind at the last minute and are thus marked for death.” It was a nice surprise when he stuck to his guns and made it out alive.
Anyway. Church (Bruce Willis) pops up quickly to hire Barney and the Gang. Ahnold pops up for a minute too, but the cameo is so brief, it’s barely worth mentioning. Barney and buddy Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) go to Vilena to do some reconnaissance, and they meet up with Sandra (Gisele Itie) who shows them around the island and is clearly passionate about helping the people. To absolutely no one’s surprise, she turns out to be Garza’s daughter, and when things quickly go to shit, she refuses to leave with Barney and Christmas. Instead, she is captured and tortured.
Barney agonizes about this for awhile back home because he can’t understand why she wouldn’t leave. Tool basically tells him its because she’s not soulless. You know, she’s fighting for something. He talks about a time he watched a woman kill herself, and how he knows that if he had stopped her, he could have saved what was left of his soul. It’s a surprisingly emotional scene for this movie, and it could easily be considered both an advantage or a disadvantage to the film as a whole. On one hand, any time an actor brings his A-game to a project, it’s generally a good thing. On the other, it’s harder to argue the whole It’s The Expendables, not The Shawshank Redemption! It doesn’t matter if the story or acting are any good when you have a single performance like this thrown in there. Like, that’s just an excuse, guys. Clearly, you could have done better. Mickey Rourke did.
Like I said, though, I was pretty much won over in the first ten minutes. So I could overlook certain problems that other people might have had with the film.
Anyway. While this is all going on, I forgot about Unimportant Side Plot B: Christmas’s Love Story.
So, Christmas is dating this girl, Lacy (yes, Charisma Carpenter), only when he stops by her place, she doesn’t exactly light up to see him. He refuses to take every hint that there’s another man in the house—I swear, it’s like he’s never seen a movie before in his entire life—until the other man says something like, “Yo, babe! Is there a problem here?” Apparently, Lacy got tired of waiting around for Christmas, as he’ll take off for weeks or months at a time, and she has no idea where he is or what he’s doing—she doesn’t even know what he does for a living.
And while the film clearly wants us to side with Christmas . . . I’m not entirely sure she’s in the wrong here. Yes, she’s cheating on him because they never officially broke up, blah blah, but a month is a long damn time to go without any kind of guarantee that he’s ever coming back. (Or, hell, even a text message saying howdy.) There is no way in hell that I would ever put up with a man who just showed up whenever he wanted, a man that I knew nothing about. After all, there’s a difference between I work for the CIA. Here’s my badge, but I can’t talk about my secret missions and Oh, you want to know if I’m a couch salesman or a professional assassin? Ha ha ha . . . you know, I don’t really like talking about work. Let’s just have sex instead, okay?
Of course, Lacy’s new boyfriend turns out to be an abusive asshole, so Christmas is forced to beat the everloving shit out of him and his buddies on a basketball court. He leaves them crying in pain and tells Lacy that now she knows what he does for a living and, also, that she should have waited.
Two things about this:
1. Watching a dude kick a bunch of other dudes’ asses all around a playground does not necessarily mean you know what he does for a living. Let’s skip past less realistic possibilities like mailman who has seen and memorized every episode of Kung Fu and skip straight to the various careers that Lacy could have actually considered based on that performance.
A. MMA Fighter
B. Professional Assassin
C. Navy Seal
D. Stunt Actor
E. Exceptionally Skilled Bouncer
See? There’s a lot of different career paths to choose from right there alone. So all Lacy can really infer from this display is that, at best, Christmas really doesn’t like men hurting women, and at worst, Christmas has some serious temper control problems and may, in fact, be a deadly psychopath.
2. It didn’t bother me as much when I watched it, but now that I think about Christmas saying, “You should have waited” . . . it bugs me a little. Cause I think it’s supposed to imply I love you and I never would have hurt you. See how I kicked those guy’s asses over there? That was for you. That’s how much I love you. But is that really so far from This is what happens when you leave me. This is what you get? I just think that Lacy isn’t as in the wrong here as the movie clearly wants her to be. She certainly doesn’t deserve any of this. And, honestly, the time they’re spending on this weak storyline, they could have been spending on people exploding!
So back to that, well, to people fighting anyway. Barney has decided that he’s going back to save Sandra alone, but Yin Yang decides he’s tagging along. They’re driving down the road when Gunnar and his cronies come along and try to kill them.
Gunnar and Ying Yang have a cool fight scene where Yin Yang uses his small stature to his advantage—bringing the fight to a place where Gunnar can’t even stand up straight, he’s so tall, but Gunnar eventually gets the upperhand and tries to impale Yin Yang. Barney comes along in the nick of time and shoots him. (Barney, you’ll notice, gets to kill most of the major villains.) And while Yin Yang’s line later (“I would have won!”) is kind of funny, I still wish he had won because that’s twice now that Barney has saved Yin Yang from Gunnar, and dammit, I like Jet Li. I wanted to see him take Dolph Lundgren’s ass down.
Anyway, Gunnar lies bleeding out on the ground. He asks if he’s dying. Barney’s like, I got you just above the heart. Gunnar’s like, I’ll take that as a yes. Heh. Gunnar’s actually kind of funny, for all his trying to kill off my favorite character. Barney’s wants to know who hired Gunner. Gunnar asks him to get closer. Barney does. Gunnar does not bite off his ear like I wanted him to. Instead, he tells Barney what he wants to know. Which . . . that’s sort of disappointing. Gunnar seems like the ear-chewing type to me.
So Barney goes back to Vilena with his whole crew—like there was any doubt they were all coming—-and effectively storms the castle. A shitload of awesome fighting ensues. General Garza, who’s been complaining about Munroe this whole movie and whining that money isn’t everything and blah blah blah, finally grows a spine and stands up to Munroe in the absolute stupidest way possible. Munroe, quite rightly, shoots him in the back. Sorry, David Zayas. You’re cooler on Dexter, anyway.
Let’s see. Thankfully, Paine almost kills Barney, proving that Sylvester Stallone doesn’t have to be the True Badass in this movie that takes down every single major bad guy. (Just most of them.) Toll Road (Randy Couture) is actually the one who shuffles Paine off his mortal coil. Yin Yang and Christmas team up to kill The Brit—I believe Yin Yang gets the final, cringeworthy kick—and while Hale Caesar doesn’t kill anyone important, his gun is still the most awesome thing in this movie.
Finally, there’s a showdown between Barney and Munroe. Munroe, naturally, has Sandra hostage, and the second Barney has laid down his weapons, Munroe, again quite rightly, shoots him. Of course, since he can’t shoot straight, it’s just a shoulder wound. (We all know what action movies think about shoulder wounds.) He then decides to talk like a James Bond villain for few minutes so that Barney has enough time to recover and shoot him instead. (In the chest and not in the shoulder, like a man.) Oh, and Christmas throws a knife at Munroe’s back too, which means it’s supposedly a tie. But I’m pretty sure Barney had already shot him first, which means the knife was just overkill.
Barney and the Gang leave Vilena. Sandra makes Barney promise to come back and visit her, but there is surprisingly no big kiss or declarations of love, which made for a welcome change. Then things wrap up at Tool’s tattoo shop, where everyone is happy and enjoying themselves including . . . Gunnar?
Yes, not only is Gunnar still alive, he’s actually back on the team. See, he went to the hospital for his whole bullet hole issue, but then his body got cleaned of all those nasty drug toxins and presumably he went to rehab or something, because he’s back with the boys, and everyone’s happy! Meanwhile, Mek and I are sitting on our new couch, jaws hanging open, going, Are you fucking kidding me right now? I mean, it’s one thing for Gunnar to still be alive. His head didn’t get chopped off. Hell, we didn’t even get the death rattle. So, sure, he made it, modern science and all that. But he’s actually back on the team?!
Cause look, drugs are bad, kids. They make you do awful things. But there are things you potentially forgive and forget—stealing money, sleeping with your best friend’s girl—and then there are things that are kind of unforgivable—trying to murder your coworker. I mean, I get it: I’ve fantasized about murdering coworkers too. But I’m also saying, if I ever tried it, sober or not, I wouldn’t expect the guy to invite me to his happy times denouement party, you know what I mean? We aren’t going to be singing into the end credits together.
And if I did ask for forgiveness, and I had to actually specify for which time I tried to kill him . . . yes. Yes. This is complete and utter insanity.
Thoroughly enjoyable old school action movie. Could have used a bit better writing and lead acting though, cause if you’re going to go for the dramatic arc at all, you shouldn’t half-ass it. Still, the gore and ridiculous violence absolutely makes the movie. And it succeeded in doing the one thing that no action movie should ever fail at (even though they often d0): I was never bored.
Hale Caesar’s gun.
CHARACTER WHO MOST DESERVES TO BE SLAPPED WITH A BIG, DEAD, SMELLY FISH:
General Garza. Seriously. You whine and whine and whine, and when you finally stand up to the psycho who’s been running your country and torturing your daughter, you just turn your back to the guy? To give a speech? Buddy, you deserve what you got.
Attempted murder is totally forgivable, as long as you were under the influence and feel really badly about it later.