When I was in eighth grade a new kid moved in and was quickly assimilated into our wandering band of geeks. The new guy came to Louisiana from New Jersey. He brought The Destroyer with him.
I was intrigued by the covers of his paperbacks showing cars, guns, women, ninjas and guys doing martial arts. None of those were things eighth grade me was doing.
I wanted to check out the books, or, at least, books like them. So the next time we were at the department store I made my way to the long aisle containing the paperbacks. They were all there: best sellers, romance, and, down at the end, the “men’s fiction.”
It was there that I met Mack Bolan.
“The Executioner” became my companion. I think I must have carried around one of those paperbacks with me for the next 3 or 4 years. In that time I learned a lot about guns, the Mob and international terrorism.
What does any of this have to do with The Expendables?
It was these books that paved the way for my entry into that sub-genre of movies known as the 80s action-adventure movie. Mack Bolan got me to John McClane. He got me to Red Heat, Commando, Cobra, Lethal Weapon, Predator and Wanted: Dead or Alive.
And, as I was watching The Expendables, I couldn’t help but think of Phoenix Force.
Phoenix Force was Mack Bolan’s transnational team of terrorist busters. Each guy was from a different country and brought with him a unique set of skills and quirks. Sounds just like the cast of The Expendables.
I have to say I really enjoyed the movie. It was fun to see the heroes of my youth back on the screen still kicking ass and cracking wise. Sure, most of them are worse for wear, but who amongst us isn’t.
We are introduced to the team as they facilitate a hostage extraction from a group of Somali pirates. Not surprisingly, they do so on full auto. Pirates get blasted and knifed without a hair on a hostage’s head being harmed.
They may be mercenaries, but they are mercenaries with hearts of gold.
Well, except for Dolph Lundgren. He’s still a tool.
Stallone’s Barney Ross serves as team leader. He, along with his second in command, Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) recon a possible assignment on the island nation of Vilena. You’ve got to love the always exotic, always despotic island nations in these movies.
After narrowly escaping capture, Ross and Christmas return home to tell the team the mission is a no go. Then Ross has a crisis of conscience and decides to return to Vilena to help the obligatory damsel in distress. Of course the rest of the team goes on the mission and that’s when things start blowing up the way they should.
These characters aren’t three dimensional. They aren’t deep. They aren’t meant to be. Each man serves a specific purpose and fits a specific action movie archetype. Getting them all in one movie is quite an achievement on Stallone’s part.
The much talked about scene that puts Stallone, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarznegger on screen together for the first time is an action movie fan’s dream come true. That it lasts no longer than 10 minutes doesn’t matter. That they all stood there, egos checked at the church door, and traded barbs is what matters.
Mickey Rourke brings a surprising amount of gravitas to his role as Tool. His monologue about the true cost of war to mind and soul of the soldier is top notch.
Guys like Randy Couture and Steve Austin are not actors. That’s okay in a movie like this. Austin gives good Stone Cold and Couture is fun as the punch drunk Tollroad. When these two clash in the movie’s closing act its WWE against UFC in the ultimate death match. That’s good stuff.
Eric Roberts was great as the movie’s heavy, James Munroe, a rogue CIA agent who has propped up a puppet dictator in Vilena. I couldn’t help but wonder if naming the character James Monroe was Stallone’s political statement in the movie. Then I decided not to think about it and eat some more popcorn.
There were some really well staged action sequences including one with a seaplane and a pier full of jet fuel, as well as one involving the implosion of a goverment building in Vilena. And, of course, there were one-on-one fisticuffs. The fight sequence between Lundgren and Jet Li was fun. I especially liked Jason Statham fighting a basketball court full of guys who turned out to not be nearly as tough as they thought they were. That scene felt the most like Stallone passing the torch to Statham.
I didn’t care much for the CGI blood or for Stallone’s alarming face lift, but at the end of the day, if that’s my biggest complain, then I’m okay with it.
The Expendables is a throwback. It’s a dinosaur. It’s the Ocean’s 11 of action movies. It did well enough at the box office to generate talk of a sequel. I hope they make one.
It would be good to get the band back together again.