Michael Moran has been to see The Expendables for us. That was awfully nice of him, wasn't it? Here's his very manly review.
If, in 1985, you wanted to buy a wonder-gadget that combined video recording, computer gaming and mobile telephony you'd have needed to spend a lot of money. By 2010, all of those technologies have come down in price to the extent that you can pick up an iPhone for little more than those sweatshop workers who sew your trainers together earn in a year.
It seems that the same is true of action movies. For The Expendables director and star Sylvester Stallone has assembled the greatest 1980s action movie cast ever seen. He's just assembled it about a quarter of a century too late.
Does it still work? Well that depends on your expectations. If your tolerance extends to cartoonishly macho action flicks then The Expendables is the film for you.
It has a plot that would comfortably fit on the back of an envelope and still leave room for some drawings of guns. There's a 'warm-up' mission against some Somali pirates and then it's time for the main event – taking down mahogany-tanned Eric Roberts with the most extreme prejudice imaginable.
Five minutes in and it's already the most testosterone-soaked movie ever.
Remember that bit in Predator where Arnold Schwarzenegger encounters Carl Weathers and they do that comically manly handshake / arm-wrestle thing? Imagine that, with lots of explosions added in. And some guns. It's as manly as that. Manlier, perhaps. It features not only Stallone, Jason Statham and Jet Li but Stone Cold Steve Austin as a thick-necked villain and, in an almost throwaway part, Mickey Rourke with his Iron Man haircut and teeth.
With so many monster stars on show not all of them get as much screen time as their fans might like. Dolph Lundgren gets the first big laugh of the film with a ridiculously brutal piece of gunplay but then disappears while the movie's 'big mission' takes place.
The Expendables are a crack team of mercenaries who are given the jobs that are too dangerous for everyday badasses such as Navy SEALS or the SAS. Stallone makes only the most perfunctory attempt to humanise his protagonists: there's no lovable moppet to rescue and only the sketchiest attempts at creating a love interest. The team spend practically all of the film blowing stuff up. As long as you like to see stuff blow up, this is about as good as films get.
There's little time to get hung up on the slightly amoral premise. Whenever we're not looking at stunts, we're looking at stunt casting. The Planet Hollywood triumvirate of Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger come together for one somewhat unnecessary scene that's laden with fourth-wall shattering winks to the audience.
The whole film is about pandering to the suppressed desires of the (one assumes almost entirely male) audience. In normal life few of us get to fire exotic weapons. In normal life most of us drive sensible cars. No-one drives a sensible car in The Expendables. It's all superbikes, choppers and custom trucks for these boys.
It's a boy's film all the way. Giselle Itié doesn't have much to do except look sultry and get captured in the Megan Fox style. There's more time devoted to some elaborate gun porn involving the AA-12 shotgun that, now we've all seen it in Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, must by law appear in all new action movies. See, for example, Predators.
Of course The Expendables ups the ante by having it fire some sort of Unobtanium projectile that makes everything on the screen explode. Everything in this movie that can blow up will blow up.
And every scene culminates in some sort of fight. Every single shot, in fact, has a fight in it. Sometimes the fights are interrupted so that another fight can take place in the middle. Then it's back to the fighting.
Lots of crazy stuff happens for no reason. We never find out exactly why the dictator of the imaginary South American island makes all of his troops wear glam-era David Bowie makeup. It's not altogether clear why Eric Roberts takes the only woman in the film hostage. You get the impression that Stallone gave Roberts one character note. A flashcard with the word 'oleaginous' printed on it in big letters.
Sooner or later some bright spark will pop up on IMDB or Movie Mistakes with an estimated body count for this film. It will be wrong. The exact number of disposable goons variously shot, stabbed, shouted at or stamped on can never be quantified.
But it is a lot.
The Expendables sets out to be nothing more than an epic tale of macho badassery and, within the context of its limited ambition, it's a 5 star triumph.
Thanks for the review, Michael.