Back in the good old days, before the Premier League with its £100k a week salaries came along, when a footballer came to the end of his career his club would organise a testimonial match in his honour. Current stars and former legends would turn out to play a one-off friendly to mark the contribution of the retiring hero who would receive all the proceeds from the game to put towards the start-up costs of his new scaffolding business.
The Expendables is essentially Sylvester Stallone’s testimonial.
Somehow he’s managed to assemble the most awesome line-up of action stars ever seen together in one film. It includes the clunking fists of Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lundgren and Stallone himself; relative new-comers like Jet Lee and Jason Statham; UFC machine Randy Couture and WWF legend Steve “fucking hell he’s enormous” Austin. Oh, and Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger turn up as well. Pound for pound, this has got to be the most heavyweight cast ever seen – you can almost smell the Maximuscle protein shake emanating from the cinema screen.
Together they are The Expendables, an elite squad of mercenary warriors who take on only the most foolhardy and suicidal of missions. Missions that largely involve killing thousands and thousands of anonymous South American goons in a brutal and spectacular fashion. Sometimes they throw a knife at the goon, slicing gruesomely through his throat. Other times they wrench the goon’s limbs out of their sockets and smash their fists through his bones with sickening force. And sometimes they shoot the goon with a special bullet that makes him literally explode in a CGI-enhanced plume of blood and gore. If, like me, you have the appetite of an over-excited 12-year-old boy, you will find of this all fucking outstanding.
The Expendable’s latest assignment is to overthrow a murderous dictator, General Garza, and his slimy CIA backer on the fictional island of Vilena (not the most imaginative of names – they may as well have called it Badguyland.) Along the way, they meet a beautiful local freedom fighter called Sandra who becomes Stallone’s “Adriannnn”-style love interest. However, when the op goes bad, the gang are forced to flee the island in a hail of bullets and massive explosions leaving Sandra behind to face a certain death. Haunted by his failure, Stallone must convince the rest of his team to return to Vilena to rescue Sandra and finish what they started. Then maybe, just maybe, he can save a soul… his own.
"If you have the appetite of an over-excited 12-year-old boy, you will find of this all fucking outstanding."
That, admittedly, sounds shit. This is undeniably far from being an amazing film with lots of areas you could pick holes in if you wanted to… the plot is wafer thin, the characters thinly sketched and it feels as though Stallone has delegated the dialogue-writing bitentirely to the animated paperclip man on Microsoft Word – “it looks like you’re writing a gratuitously violent nostalgia-fest...”
However, while all these things would obviously be a problem for any other production, in this case it doesn’t really matter. The Expendables, you see, doesn’t really count as an actual film. It’s more just a loose collection of awesome things, with stunts, fights and cameos all thrown in for no other reason than Sly thought it’d be cool. The bit with Schwarzenegger is a case in point; his cameo has precisely zero dramatic bearing on the plot (it reminded me quite a lot of his “So vot are you vaiting vor” appearance at the end of that Visit California advert) but it was still a genuinely exciting moment that got a massive cheer in the auditorium.
Essentially, this is a film that gets by on the charm and novelty of its line-up and requires a certain amount of goodwill from the audience. It’s almost like one of those Comic Relief charity singles - I kept expecting Pudsey Bear or Mr Blobby to show up. Actually, how amazing would that be? Imagine Stone Cold Steve Austin versus Blobby in a vicious fight to the death! Maybe something for the sequel, Sly?
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