Back in the good old days of football, before the Premier League and its £200k-a-week salaries came along, when a footballer reached 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 franchise is essentially Sylvester Stallone’s testimonial.
Somehow he’s managed to assemble the most awesome line-up of action stars ever seen together on screen. It includes the clunking fists of Chuck Norris, Jean Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren and Stallone himself; relative newcomers like Jet Li and Jason Statham; and sporting legends Randy Couture and Terry Crews. 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 upon thousands of anonymous non-Caucasian 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 just shoot the goon with a special bullet that makes his head literally explode in a CGI-enhanced plume of blood and gore. If, like me, you have the appetites of an over-excited 12-year-old boy, you will find of this all f***ing outstanding.
This time around, The Expendables are out for justice when one of their number is viciously killed by Jean Claude Van Damme’s villainous character ‘Jean Vilain’ (he doesn’t put a massive amount of thought into his character names does Stallone…) Hell-bent on payback, The Expendables cut a swath of destruction through enemy territory with a ferocious arsenal that includes knuckle dusters, glocks, assault rifles, submachine guns, RPGs, anti-tank missiles, attack helicopters, a nuclear warhead and perhaps the most lethal weapon of all… their banter.
These guys have absolutely terrible chat. Stallone’s capacity to craft realistic dialogue is at roughly the same level as his character naming abilities (and, to be honest, his acting. And storytelling. And directing. And cinematography.) It’s really weird; massive superstar action heroes like Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris, are introduced with great fanfare and excitement but then have to endure five minutes of uncomfortable small talk with Stallone…. “Soooo, been up to much lately?” Oh, you know, this and that...” It has the feeling more of an awkward Guardian Soulmates date than a meeting of bloodthirsty warriors.
That aside, it’s all a lot of fun. This is the kind of film that gets by on the charm and novelty of its line-up rather than any artistic merit and it requires a certain amount of goodwill from the audience. The action scenes are predictably mental and it has a number of bizarre little quirks that I found endearing – Randy Couture bringing along his own One-portion Coffee Maker and refusing to share it with his fellow Expendables was one of my favourites…
Above all, you get to see Chuck Norris doing his own Chuck Norris joke – which has got to be worth the price of admission alone.