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The Expendables

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of action movies.  Movies are a form of escapism, and heroic sacrifice driven action movies always take me away from the mundane world and keep me amused.  I can cope with a lot of cheese if the action is dramatic and the quotes memorable.  I don’t need much of a plot.  Some good guys, some bad guys, a reason for the good guys to be after the bad guys, and I’m a happy man.

Cool shots, dramatic action, sassy dialog and plenty of sarcasm and the movie is approaching action nirvana.

I grew up with two kinds of movies.  John Hughes / Harold Ramis / John Landis comedies, and Stallone / Schwarzenegger / Willis / Lungren / van Damme / Gibson action flicks.  My tastes are clear.

It was therefore with both excitement and trepidation that I sat down in the cinema today to watch The Expendables.  So much potential, so much that could potentially go wrong.  There have been three ensemble action movies this year.  The Losers, The A-Team and The Expendables.  Unable to commit to seeing them all – we picked The Expendables by dint of timing and health.

Was I going to leave the cinema regretting it?  Was it going to sour lasting memories of enjoyable 80’s action flicks?  (Could anything sour it more than Twins?)  Was I going to be left with a lasting image of 60 year old men trying to relive their best years?

No, no and well, yes actually in that order.

The Expendables gets plenty right and only a few things wrong.  I thought it was actually too slow in places, some of the bonding scenes didn’t have enough pace or enough wit to elevate them to the right level of interest.  However, that’s a minor quibble in what otherwise was an excellent homage to the 80’s our rose tinted glasses show us.  Don’t be fooled by the trailers, this is actually quite a small cast.  Willis and Schwarzenegger have tiny walk on roles (and I’m not even sure they were all in the same room).  The focus is Stallone, Statham and Jet Li and for me that ended up working really well.

I love Statham and he plays this role to the hilt, I wouldn’t describe his acting range as ‘broad’ but this isn’t the Transporter or Crank or Lock Stock.  His by-play with Stallone is great and if they’re not great friends in real life I’ll eat my socks.  Jet Li is suitably amusing, Stallone is superb, Dolf is hulking and brooding, Randy Couture was surprisingly entertaining and Terry Crews was okay.  The weakest roles were the bad guys, they were pretty flat cardboard cut-outs and never really delivered any serious menace.  I could have done with a Hans Gruber or a Karl, maybe even a Mr Joshua.

After the setup to demonstrate how Bad Ass our heroes are, and an underused relationship bit with Statham and Charisma Carpenter, we are given the rest of the plot in 3 scenes and then slowly watch the tension build (too slowly at times).  Just before the final epic action sequence started I was thinking ‘there hasn’t been much actual shooting yet?’  But they fixed that!

Mickey Rourke added an interesting reflective moment, which you can take on the surface to be banal and patronising or you can choose to accept it for what it is – a statement that if we give up on others, then we’re basically giving up on ourselves as well.  I was glad they used Mickey as the wizened old wizard archetype, I’m not sure it would have been credible watching his pot belly take on the bad guys.

As I said, the interplay between Statham and Stallone was excellent, and the chemistry between all of the main good guys was very good.  These guys clearly respect each other and clearly know how to poke fun at themselves.  The conversation with Schwarzenegger felt forced but it got some good laughs (he wants to be president).

There’s plenty of exploding bullets, vehicles and bodies once the action gets going, and I laughed as much as I cheered.  I’ve seen reviews which say the movie was tired, awkward or ancient.  I can’t disagree more.  Rather than remake the movies of the 80’s and get it so glaringly wrong (hello Clash of the Titans), Stallone has lit a candle for the memories we have of how good those movies were, and given us something to cheer for in an otherwise bleak world of terrible reality.

The Expendables – it is what it is and it’s very good at being it.