So much potential.
Long version: includes some spoilers.
This movie had so much potential. I mean, seriously: what a cast! Jason Stratham! Sylvester Stallone! Jet Li!! Dolph Lundgren!! And the people not mentioned in the credits but unfortunately shown in the trailer!
This movie should have been the greatest thing I could see all year.
But it wasn’t.
I realised afterwards that I was hoping for Space Cowboys – awesome old dudes still being awesome, with great history and chemistry, and a really fun plot. Expendables did not deliver. Partly, this is a function of character. There were two characters whose names I didn’t even know, by the end of the movie, but they were meant to be part of The Gang. And I just didn’t care very much about them. I didn’t know enough back story, there wasn’t enough character development, to suck me in. And this is from someone who will watch Die Hard over, and over, and over again. I’m not asking for much.
The other main problem was that the story didn’t really know what it was trying to do. I had basically hoped for a movie that acted as a vehicle for the awesome cast: a little vignette for Stallone here, maybe shooting in the jungle; a little vignette of Statham there, maybe in a really great car chase; and of course a couple of magnificent martial arts scenes for Li. I would have been content with an entertaining plot that connected those scenes together – I guess a better version of DOA, with a better cast. But I didn’t get that. I also didn’t get a movie that accepted it had huge names and played them as an ensemble, like the Ocean’s movies. Instead, I think this tried to walk some sort of a middle line, and it failed at both.
Did I mention the plot? It sucked. This is largely, I think, a factor of the middle line I just mentioned. It tried to start as the “let’s be a fun vehicle” style of movie – and the opening scene is really cool. But… it lost its way. It tried to get serious, and it didn’t do it in a clever or original or twisty kind of way. Instead, it just turned into a standard revenge/save the girl/be bad-asses movie, without even much clever dialogue to keep it up to a higher level.
The best scene, bar none, for what it managed to do was the one including Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Arnie. Seeing those three guys, together? On the screen? Worth every penny. And the best lines of dialogue, too:
Willis: What’s up his ass? (of Schwarzenegger)
Stallone: He wants to be President.
So much kudos to Arnie for letting them use that! And that, sadly, also epitomised what I wanted the entire movie to be. I wanted Rambo jokes, boxing jokes, I wanted Stallone and Lundgren to shadow-box, I wanted Li to have karate jokes – although his explanation that life was harder because he was shorter was indeed amusing.
Don’t get me wrong, of course: there are some great chase sequences, some awesome explosions, and some witty-enough banter. But none of that was enough to tip this movie into the ‘fun in a bad sort of way’ category. And I think it was unnecessarily MA-rated, too. Yes, some of the gruesome violence had its shock value, and I don’t mind that when I’m expecting it. But the fight sequences? Too long. Boring. If they’d been enlivened with different ways of kicking bad guys’ asses, it would have been different. But they just kept doing the same thing over, and over, and over again. It got dull.
So, in sum: I was disappointed. I am unlikely to get this out of DVD, even in a few years for nostalgia’s sake. And that makes me sad.