The Expendables opens up brilliantly. The opening scenes show a hostage situation off the coast of Somalia. A team of mercenaries called “The Expendables” is sent in to rescue the hostages. We get to meet our primary cast, and we get to see how they relate to one another, noting their minor interactions. They aren’t taking the job too seriously either, which is always a plus. The opening is wonderfully well-done, and ultimately is the best part of the film.
The rest is not as good — not anywhere close. The opening scene showed us that the actors had good chemistry, that the dialogue was smart and funny, and that the action scenes would be entertaining. What happened? The majority of the film doesn’t even come close to the greatness of the opening scene, and this is a problem. Our expectations are raised after seeing the first part of the film, and they end up being crushed over the next 90 minutes.
The plot, if you can call it that, is very basic. The Expendables, (composed of Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Terry Crews and Randy Couture), have been hired by Bruce Willis to go into Latin America and overthrow a dictator. Actually attempting to accomplish this task ends up taking about the last 20 minutes of the film, while the rest features the scouting of locations and wasting your valuable time with absolutely nothing of importance.
Well, that’s not completely true. There are two scenes before they actually attempt to assassinate the dictator that are worth watching. The first is a monologue delivered by the group’s manager, Mickey Rourke. It was completely out of place in a film like this, but it was heartfelt and definitely worth listening to. The second was a fight sequence between Dolph Lundgren and Jet Li. Everything else was completely forgettable and a waste of the talent that was involved.
Once we actually get to the invasion of Vilena, the movie actually comes somewhat close to giving us what we witnessed in the opening scene. It doesn’t quite match the level of intensity and humor that the first scene had, but it at least attempts to reach those heights. This invasion is entertaining, and if you haven’t turned the film off by this point, you get a fun conclusion.
However, there’s the possibility that all of the film’s problems will get to you before this point. First and foremost is the dialogue, which is, at times, cringe-worthy. Sometimes, it’s almost unbelievable that a real actor is saying those lines. But then you realize that they aren’t really saying them — they’re whispering them instead. Most of the principal cast end up being really hard to hear. I don’t know if this is a problem with the way the film was made, or if the actors were just too embarrassed to properly enunciate their dialogue, but it was often difficult to hear what was being said.
There is also a large amount of pointless scenes scattered between the opening and the conclusion. There are two in particular involving Statham’s character that made absolutely no sense to the overall story, or even in a sub-plot. The first involves him finding out that his girlfriend is seeing another man. The second involves him beating up said other man. And that’s the end of that. If they were trying to make us sympathetic towards him, or offer him some character depth, it didn’t work. In fact, Mickey Rourke’s monologue offers more character depth than the rest of the cast combined.
The clever writing and chemistry between the cast also seems to disappear part-way through the film. In the opening few scenes, we see them joke around with one another; they don’t seem to be taking anything to seriously. At one point, this stops. They no longer seem to be having a good time, and any fun little stabs at one another that they were taking earlier have now ceased. They’re in less danger now than in the first scene, so it can’t be explained by them having to focus on not dying.
Not even the majority of the action scenes can save The Expendables. Some of them, like the aforementioned Li/Lundgren fist fight, are fun and entertaining, but some of them are actually kind of boring. I found myself yawning, even during scenes that should have been more entertaining than they were. There’s a fist fight between Steve Austin and Sylvester Stallone, and it bored me. It had no creativity, and it even seemed like they tried to slip in some wrestling moves into the fight.
I also feel the need to bring up some of the casting decisions. Now, Sylvester Stallone wrote and directed The Expendables, so I can see why he would want to be the lead actor. He shouldn’t have been though. There’s one scene that has him running to catch up with an aircraft that is starting to take off. (First off, there was no reason for it to start taking off with him not on it, but that’s just poor writing). Despite the physique that Stallone has, it was clear to me that he shouldn’t be running like that, nor would he actually be able to catch up to a plane. Casting someone younger, or having Statham doing this particular scene, would have improved it, if only marginally.
The Expendables starts of well, but only goes downhill afterwards. The opening scene is one of brilliance, but after that, it loses steam quickly. The writing stops being clever, the action stops being entertaining, and there is little to hold your interest up until the final 20 minutes, when the film starts to pick back up again. This can’t save it though, because there’s just too much downtime to make it a worthwhile watch.