Action films with big, bad budgets don’t get made that often. Most of the time with big-budget films involving action, you’ll get an action-comedy (MacGruber), a martial-arts action-comedy (Shanghai Noon), a comic-book-turned-action film (The Punisher), a spy film (Bond, Bourne, and Hunt), or even a Western (3:10 to Yuma). The Expendables doesn't fit into any of these categories. Instead, it is a throwback to the action film of old, a wild, blown-up, over-the-top-yet-straightforward R-rated vehicle, meant to give its over-17 audience one hell of a ride. The Expendables, if it is about anything, is about fighting for the three m’s: money, mamacitas, and macho authority. Forget that there are no female characters of substance, forget that lines don’t get more entertaining than, “You gonna fuck me in some weird cockamamie scheme of yours”; movies like these should be made more often. Case in point: The Expendables opened the same weekend that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World hit theaters. Both movies are action films of sorts, Pilgrim falling under the comic-book-turned-action film category. The Expendables made more in its first weekend than Scott Pilgrim made in the United States.
I’m going to digress back into my comparison of Pilgrim vs. The Expendables, because I feel there needs to be a discussion of ideas, what makes them successful, and why Scott Pilgrim failed at the box office while The Expendables made bank. And it’s not because people are stupid, in case you were hypothesizing. To the avant-garde mind, a dance of ideas as swirly and shocking as a19th century waltz might seem preferable. Forward ideas are always best when done right, they’ll keep you watching until the last strong breath has spit out his or her line, but when done in a brittle manner, they can be unwatchable. That’s what Scott Pilgrim is: a million ideas spit out so quickly they lead to dry mouth and then the death of audience interest.
The Expendables, on the other hand, is the hero quarterback of the football team. He knows who he is and what needs to be done, he knows what he can or cannot accomplish. He can sleep around with hot bitches that don’t matter, but when he finds an honorable girl, he treats her with the utmost respect. But above all, what is most important about this quarterback is that he is thrifty. Avant-garde plays are not his thing, because he doesn't have the capacity for them. But he does spit out enough genius for the old men in his town to still be talkin’ about ‘em 40 years later. The ideas are small, local, conceivable, but generally interesting. This is why the Expendables succeeds where movies like Scott Pilgrim do not. In the world of ideas, The Expendables decided to play the town’s local hero.
The Expendables, aptly named, are a team of mercenaries led by Barney Ross and Lee Christmas (Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham, respectively). Their gang also includes Ying Yang (Jet Li), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), and Toll Road (Randy Couture). To really hammer home the scope of the shameless promotion of action here, the movie -- but not necessarily the review -- includes appearances by Dolph Lundgren, Steve Austin, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenneger. The plot is fairly simple, beginning with a group of men taking down a group of pirates who have kidnapped some innocent civilians (as Rocky IV aptly proves, Stallone’s one for bringing current topics into his movies). Seriously though, in the first five minutes, you know this team of Expendables is down to kick some serious ass.
Soon after this introduction, the team is given the opportunity to do a job for a CIA agent named Church (Bruce Willis, uncredited). The job is simple: assassinate the horrible dictator of Vilena (Dexter’s David Zayas) who is killing his people. Ross and Christmas decide to complete a reconnaissance mission to check out the situation. On this mission, they get into some crazy shenanigans involving guns and violence (but no sex), and they decide that returning to kill the dictator is too dangerous. However, on this trip, Ross meets Sandra (Gisele Itíe), a beautiful rebel whose heart is set on saving her island nation. After a conversation with his best buddy, Tool (played by Mickey Rourke), Ross realizes the key to saving his hard-earned soul could be saving the island. And so, the Expendables decide to take on the death-defying mission.
I’m already going to spoil a great scene in the last paragraph, so I don’t want to get too specific here. What’s important to realize about The Expendables is, not only is this movie fun, there is nothing about it that is inherently bad. The Expendables acts harder than most action films, the action scenes are crafty and carefully culminated, and even though saving the day is in the cards, the journey to that winning moment is not exactly predictable. The real question is: when was the last time you saw an old-school action film? Amidst all the other action genres running around, The Expendables came about at the perfect moment. Above all, that’s what makes it special: against the Knight and Dayss, the Watchmens, and the Transformerss of the world, The Expendables actually stands out. By playing old, The Expendables seems new.
Like Tangled, or anything else very specific to a certain genre, The Expendables is easily written off, but the thing is, it’s really better than that. Remember that every time Stallone tries a weird camera angle. Remember that every time Steve Austin breaks Stallone’s neck to get the perfect shot. Remember that when Terry Crews jumps into an action scene (no, not brandishing the American Flag cape and obsessively groomed hair we all fondly remember from Idiocracy), points a giant machine gun straight at a roomful of bad guys, and starts shooting, chocking the room full of blood, smoke, severed limbs, and ricocheting fire. And as he yells, “Remember this shit at Christmas,” don’t pretend like you’re not the least bit invested. After all, even the guy who hates the high school football hero sort of wants to be him.
The first thing I’ll say about the disc is that the extras are really long. The extras are on the Blu-Ray copy, but a DVD and digital copy are both included with the set. The most exciting extra is the first one. It’s an interview from Comic Con, and not only will you be able to make fun of Harry Knowles’ awful beard, you also can sort of get the feel for how the main members of the crew (minus Statham) get along and work together. Also, Stallone’s kind of the man.
The next two extras are documentaries. The first was shot while the movie was being filmed. It’s kind of cool, you get an introduction to Stallone’s process while writing the film (I feel bad for his assistant), and you get to peek into his personal life. It is an hour and a half long, though, so make sure you are ready to get invested. The other offering is a post-film documentary. It seems more hastily thrown-together, but both are enjoyable, especially if you are excited about the film.
I will say that I was super disappointed by the deleted scene. I generally enjoy deleted scenes far more than blooper reels, but for The Expendables there is only one deleted scene to be had. On top of that, there is no video to accompany the scene, only audio.
There’s also a marketing archive -- trailer, TV spots, and a poster gallery. And an “Also from Lionsgate” section. Blah.
Finally, I was actually shocked to see the Metamenu. It includes basic information on how to download an application to your phone so as to be interactive when watching The Expendables. I expect things like this from films that spend more time with staying Tech 2.0, but everything about The Expendables is old school other than this little feature.