*SPOILER ALERT!* ZERO spoilers ahead in regards to plot details/major events, but most of the match-ups in the fight scenes are revealed below.
If you don’t wanna’ know who’s gonna’ be fighting who, stop reading NOW. *SPOILER ALERT!*
Let it be known, The Expendables is just about the most meat-head centric films I’ve ever seen.
Rest assured, The Expendables is all about suped-up cars, guns, tattoos, armbars, stupid one-liners, and one very gratuitous T&A shot.
Meat-heads of the world unite, the film that shall be your gospel has arrived.
Despite my general disdain for the UFC crowd and their, how shall we say, “sensibilities;” I came away from The Expendables feeling pretty good about the whole experience.
The Expendables is, of course; a product of the master of facial paralysis himself, Sylvester Stallone.
From what I remember, Stallone pounded out a script for The Expendables almost immediately after his previous film, Rambo; was proven to be a financial success.
The premise of the film is that of the “men on a mission” sub-genre of yore.
Basically, the plot boils down to a group of heartless mercenaries being sent on a suicide mission to liberate a fictional South American nation, only to discover, through the beauty and courage of a lady freedom fighter; that they do in fact give a shit about something in this world besides money.
While this describes the plot for just about every film in the genre, the one major difference between Stallone’s version and the rest is, of course; the fact that the “heartless mercenaries” in his version, are all played by noteworthy “faces” of action cinema, past and present.
In case you’ve been living under a rock for some time, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Terry Crews, and (unfortunately) Randy Couture all star alongside Sylvester Stallone to make up The Expendables.
On paper, this would make The Expendables just about the greatest action film ever conceived, right?
Just take a look at Stallone’s own Tango and Cash.
No, The Expendables is not the greatest action movie ever, nor will it remembered alongside any of the true greats of the genre, but that doesn’t make it a bad movie.
On the contrary, I felt it was quite good for what it was.
While the script is utter crap, with most of the one-liners coming across as strained and almost painfully weak, like any good action movie the script is secondary to the action.
Thankfully much of the dialogue in the film is brief, although sometimes the “man speak” quotient can seem a bit overwhelming at times.
Seriously, everyone in the cast of this film make this guy seem straight-up femme:
Anyway, we’ve established that The Expendables, a dumb action movie; has a shitty plot and script.
It’s probably about time I got to talking about something we didn’t know, right?
Let’s talk about how The Expendables fared on the action front.
The action in The Expendables is quite good by modern standards.
It’s violent, chaotic, and often over-the-top, and after the awesomeness that was Rambo just 2 years ago, it’s just about everything I was hoping for in an American action film.
The gunplay is especially over-the-top, with terrific sound editing, and a wonderful sense of “oomph” that is rare among action films.
Trust me, from the first time someone is shot in this film, you know just what kind of movie you’ve gotten yourself into.
Oh yeah, despite it being less brutal and gory than Rambo, the violence level is right up there in Steven Seagal territory in terms of blood-letting.
It should be noted however, that virtually all of the bullet hits are done, not with squibs, but through digital effects.
While this saddened me to some extent, as I figured that if anyone was going to do things “old-school,” it would be Stallone, admittedly it doesn’t do much to effect ones’ overall enjoyment of the film.
The cinematography in The Expendables is vaguely Greengrass/Bourne-esque throughout i.e. lots of intentional camera jitter, rapid-fire edits, and shakily framed shots, though personally I didn’t have a problem with this.
Bear in mind, I’ve been watching dumb action flicks from the cradle and on, so MTV style editing, and, well, MTV style camera work are nothing new to me.
My eyes are trained son, ain’t no tricks out there my eyes can’t see…
I will say this though, the cinematography in all of the vehicle-based action sequences in The Expendables, is fucking atrocious, and downright frustrating to follow.
Outside of that though, my eyes are trained son…
While I hate to make such a big deal about this one point, I encountered several reviews, including one by a vlogger I happen to trust and admire, Noah Antwiler AKA Spoony, that took offense to the cinematography in this film, so I figure this particular argument deserves some special attention.
The Expendables is a typical American military action flick.
While there are in fact a handful of protracted brawls between major players in the cast, (which we will get to in a minute) the vast majority of the action in the film is choreographed in such a way that death is dealt swiftly and often.
That is to say, there is not a whole lot of depth or drama to the choreography of the action, both armed and unarmed in The Expendables.
In fact, most of the shots of violence in the film are arranged in such a way that we really aren’t shown a whole of the detail in the various battles that are taking place, but rather just the deathblows in each engagement/exchange.
Think of it as taking a highlight reel approach to editing a number of fight/action scenes together as opposed to putting a premium on drama or continuity.
The Expendables is a film that often has several skirmishes happening parallel to one another, a fact that necessitates overlap between most of the action in terms of editing, resulting in a film that simply cannot stop to do the proper dramatic justice to any one of said action set-pieces.
While I generally disapprove of editing multiple action scenes together, (see Cradle 2 the Grave and virtually every Michael Bay film ever made) I found the last 30 minutes of The Expendables to be a fine example of how to implement said technique effectively.
This leads to most of the fights/gunfights seeming fragmented, and somewhat lacking in coherence, given that much of the cast in this film is past their physical prime, do you really think you’d want to see what these guys looked like without the help of the guy in the editing room?
Speaking of which, let’s take a moment to talk about the fighting element of The Expendables.
The Expendables had a number fight scenes in it, most notably Dolph Lundgren vs. Jet Li, Jason Statham and Jet Li vs. Gary Daniels, Stone Cold vs. Sylvester Stallone, and finally, Stone Cold vs. Randy Couture.
In order, here are my thoughts:
Dolph looked surprisingly spry despite his age.
Sure, the fight was edited to shit, and the framing was frustratingly “off” at times, but the sheer novelty of seeing fuckin’ Ivan Drago go toe-to-toe with Jet Li was enough to keep me engaged.
Dolph employed a fairly linear boxing/kickboxing fighting style of sorts, with most of his punches coming in at straight angles, and more importantly, in bunches.
While the drama of the fight is virtually non-existent, largely due to a few (intentionally) giggle-inducing beats, the scene was good for what it was:
That being said, Jet Li’s performance in the film is rather odd.
His character is legitimately funny throughout, and his physical presence is impressive, but sadly limited.
While industry great, Corey Yuen, is credited as a choreographer for Li’s scenes, sadly the pair isn’t given much screen time to deal with.
Despite this, Jet Li’s performance possesses the grace and flexibility he is known and loved for, though the rapid-edits have the side-effect of obscuring his speed.
Jason Statham’s performance was largely similar to that of Jet Li’s, in that he looked good, but with the “A to C” as opposed to “A, B, C” style of editing, we really couldn’t tell just how good he was.
Having worked with Corey Yuen before, in The Transporter; it’s no surprise that Statham’s movements and execution are pretty much spot on for the demands of his character.
Speaking of “execution,” his character, who displays a penchant for knives in his fighting style, allows Statham ample opportunity to wow with his close-quarters knife work.
Seriously, I haven’t been happy with any of Jason Statham’s performances, physical or otherwise, since the first Transporter movie, but his work in The Expendables, particularly when armed with knives, was downright impressive.
That’s a pretty big fuckin’ compliment coming from me.
Anyway, Jet Li and Jason Statham’s tandem battle with Gary Daniels was legitimately impressive in a brutal sort of way.
Bear in mind, at this point in the film, (which was easily the highlight of the whole thing for me) Stone Cold vs. Stallone, Gary Daniels vs. The Dudes from The One and War, and Randy Couture hiding behind a bunch of sandbags, are all happening simultaneously.
While it makes me sad to see a talent like Gary Daniels as criminally under-used as he was in The Expendables, I have to admit it was pretty neat to see him be on the receiving end of a martial arts double-team in a military action flick.
The reason I keep emphasizing the word military, is because it implies severity, life and death stakes.
When people fist fight in this movie, it’s not for honor, or glory, it’s simply to make the man standing before them stop breathing and get out of their way.
That being said, Gary Daniels fares about as well as any human would when faced with the prospect of taking on 2 men at once.
The fight is not so much a fight, as it is brutal beatdown, but like every Steven Seagal fight in existence has taught us, sometimes that’s a good thing.
Moving on, Stone Cold vs. Stallone was probably one of the most glorious “big man” fights I can recall in film history.
With Stallone being over 60, and Stone Cold turning out truly horrendous fighting performances in The Condemned and Damage, I was expecting a sluggish bar room brawl of sorts, but color me surprised when this unbelievable masterpiece of beefy old-guy fighting cinema came rolling around the corner.
The choreography is sharp, with the punches being swung fiercely and often, and Stallone routinely busting out impressive takedowns, and, in particular; one hell of an agile flying armbar.
In fact, my only gripe with this whole fight, is that, again; most of the drama is lost due to the highlight reel style editing.
More specifically, while Stallone’s takedowns and submission holds are impressive to behold in execution, unfortunately there really is no “why” in regards to his implementation of them.
Stallone’s grappling in The Expendables, is the equivalent to watching Jean-Claude Van Damme do a series of his famed slow-motion aerial kicks.
There’s really no practicality to it in the context of the fight, it’s just flash for the sake of flash.
While it’s a minor gripe, seeing as this has already spiraled into a much more technical and in-depth review than I was initially expecting, I figured I should bring it up.
In one scene, Stallone managed to defy Father Time, and Stone Cold made a believer out of me in regards to his career as an action movie guy.
Which brings us to the last major sequence of manly fisticuffs in The Expendables, MMA legend Randy Couture vs. modern WWF legend, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
I’ll just say this:
This fight was made for UFC and wrestling fanboys, and no one else.
After the terrific spectacle that was, well, pretty much every other fight in this movie, it brought a tear to my eye to see the final brawl in the movie be such a let down.
Randy Couture should not be in movies.
More specifically, Randy Couture should not be in this movie.
Seriously, I’m not even hating on the UFC stuff right now.
Randy Couture, and more importantly, Randy Couture’s character, could have, and should have been excised from the script, as neither has much of anything to offer.
Regardless, Randy Couture, though a nice guy, and a terrific athlete, is a truly terrible actor, and barely adequate screen-fighter.
Throughout the movie we bear witness to Couture body-slamming and, well, fiercely body-slamming bad guys, sometimes with a mean expression on his face, usually without.
To say that the choreography given to Couture in this movie is limited is like saying Hulk Hogan’s repertoire of wrestling moves was limited.
It’s an indisputable fact.
That was 1 of 3 moves Hulk Hogan possessed over the years.
Personally, I preferred seeing Couture body-slamming people as opposed to, well, just about anything else he did in the movie.
Anyway, I don’t want to go into the details of Couture vs. Stone Cold, but I will say this:
It’s not half as good as Stallone’s fight, and Randy Couture is as stiff as mother fuckin’ Frankenstein.
Alright, well I’m officially spent.
I’ve honestly got more to say, but I’m starting to fade, so I think I’m gonna’ try to call it quits for tonight.
The Expendables was a good time, if mayhem, testosterone and explosions are what you’re looking for.
It’s not a classic in the making, but it’s definitely fun for what it is.
The script is ass, though Mickey Rourke manages to carve a soul into the film with one gut-wrenching scene of apparently improv-ed ACTING.
The gunplay is tops, with comparisons to Stallone’s own Rambo in terms of entertainment value,”oh shit” factor, and spillage of bodily fluids of the sanguine (look it up, dumbass) variety, being entirely warranted.
The fighting is difficult to follow for some, (not me) but surprisingly rewarding despite the relatively advanced ages of the majority of the performers.
In all, I had fun with The Expendables, and I’m pretty sure that was the point.
Have fun with The Expendables, ’cause if you can’t, then chances are you’re just being a dick and need to lighten up.