In late high school, like so many action movie fan boys, I dreamt up the ultimate cheesy action movie. That idea was Fight Team, an all-star action extravaganza that would feature the greatest names from action movie history: Sylvester Stallone, Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Segal among them, with a special appearance from Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a surprise final-boss fight with Chuck Norris. At the end of the movie, they would all fist bump and yell “FIGHT TEAM!” It would be action awesomeness on an unparalleled scale.
The year is now 2010, and I have discovered to my great delight that The Expendables essentially is Fight Team. It’s a straightforward action flick with a simple but well executed plot, stunning fight scenes, giant explosions and some killer one liners. It’s also one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve seen this year (a surprisingly close second to Inception – who would have thought!). The driving force behind the project, Sylvester Stallone (Rocky) — who directs, co-writes and stars in the movie — has assembled an all-out who’s who of testosterone-oozing, bulked up, gun-toting, kick-ass action stars for the brawl flick of the year.
Before you all start rolling your eyes however, don’t jump the gun too fast. A film whose selling point is largely its sprawling cast can often turn unwieldy, incoherent and altogether terrible. Stallone, however, pulls off a surprising mastery of direction and control over such a potentially flop-worthy project that turns The Expendables from a bad-joke into a must-see for action junkies. Harkening back to some 1980s classics such as Predator, Commando and Rambo, the film feels old — but old in a good way, where special effects are live-action stunts and the material is treated seriously with a touch of wryness. The cast is huge; however half are really just cameos, with the core group forming around Stallone, Jason Statham (Transporter 3), Jet Li (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor), Randy Couture (Big Stan, UFC), Terry Crews (Terminator: Salvation) and Dolph Lundgren (Direct Contact). If that’s not enough (it never is…), there’s also Mickey Rourke (Iron Man 2), Steve Austin (WWF Raw), Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight), David Zayas (Dexter), Giselle Itié (Bela a Feia) and Charisma Carpenter (Angel). Oh, and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis briefly show up too.
The story follows a tough-as-nails mercenary group called The Expendables, a collection of misfit warriors who’ve found themselves in the lucrative world of international private “security”. They bust up targets with high-powered weaponry, plastic explosives, and when that doesn’t work hand-to-hand smack downs. When a new but dangerous job comes their way, the group is hesitant to take it on, until the mission evolves to the point that it becomes not a matter of money but of personal redemption. In fact, one of the film’s more powerful scenes is a surprisingly dark and heartfelt monologue by Rourke, essentially exploring the film’s key theme of the loss of humanity that is practically inevitable in their line of work. Who said B-action movies couldn’t be deep?
Of course, the story, characters and themes are all obviously secondary to the most important aspect of the movie – the action. That’s where The Expendables truly shines. From the choreography to the stunts to the editing to the sheer amount of gunfire, punches and things that go BOOM, Stallone nails exactly how action should look, sound and feel. The effect is surreal, almost spiritual. The largely young male audience in the theatre literally whooped and applauded (myself included) at some of most iconic moments of carnage and destruction. The film’s climax delivers and delivers and just keeps topping itself, making it possibly the most satisfying experience since cheeseburgers after a very big night.
Naturally, The Expendables will not be everyone’s cup of tea. It is designed through and through to be the ultimate action flick. In this respect, Stallone has triumphed beyond all expectation and left me badly craving a repeat viewing. Oh, and by the way, there was even a fist bump at the end. Fight Team lives!