Forget about the naysayers, for action fans it's time to celebrate one of our wildest action film wet dream casting on screen with an ensemble of screen heroes uniting mostly in cooperative mode and collectively taking down faceless, nameless goons led by villains you know that are just going down for the count. It's Rambo and The Transporter with Wong Fei Hong amongst a pack of guns for hire in black operations, hired by anyone who comes with a bagful of dough and needs to get a dirty job done. It's the A-Team, only with an A-list membership consisting of some of the best action stars of our generation.
Who would've imagined that a film like this can be pulled off, since action stars usually like to marquee their own films for that ego boost of one versus impossible odds thrown their way. But never say never, and Sly Stallone as director managed to get the likes of Jason Statham and Jet Li as headliners, joined by Dolph Lundgren, Steve Austin, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, and speaking roles for Mickey Rourke, with Bruce Willis and even the Gov'nor Arnold Schwarzenegger making time to appear in an uncredited cameo, in a film where Sly had a role in crafting the screenplay, and the opportunity of being the unofficial leader of the pack.
Story wise, I've got to admit it's nothing but the bare basics in providing an excuse to put everyone together, and it balances some real world wish list such as the attack on Somali pirates alongside silver screen fantasy with the taking down of a dictatorship in a fictional island state that had gone rogue with what else but American bad influence and money, courtesy of the characters played by Eric Roberts and henchmen Austin. Somehow it's more fun to use the actors real names than the characters they play, since each individual have achieved larger than life status, and heck, it's just more fun that way.
Structurally, most of the action takes place in the beginning and the finale, while in between we get fillers such as the inevitable dramatic moments where we have to witness Stallone and Rourke reminisce their past lives and provides for a guilt trip to catalyze the mission, Statham having to wrestle a romantic relationship gone awry, and Stallone and Statham demonstrating their BFF status with their constant ribbing. It's logical of course that they feature together almost throughout the film given their primary star billing, with Statham given a rather sexier caricature boost as the user of knives, and boy does he let it rip.
Jet Li too has his own field day, although his fighting prowess has been dumbed down quite a bit from what we are used to, and just barely veering clear of being the butt of self-deprecating jokes that makes his character Ying Yang (seriously Sly, a better name please?) come across as money-centric to solve some unexplained family issues. As one of the leading names of the film, he has relatively significant screen time as well, with an action sequence involving himself, Stallone and Lundgren, and some wicked cooperative fisticuffs together with Statham, where they had twice been on opposite sides in films like The One and War/Rogue Assassin.
Action wise, it's unadulterated violence through and through, where the first shot ever fired in the film involves a complete separation of torso. The Expendables employ just about everything from cargo plans fitted with machine guns to van chases for variety, and having its characters equally adept at breaking limbs with basic martial arts, possessing edged weapons that dismembers, slices and dices, and mowing down opponents with a spectrum of rifles and machine guns that punctures bodies to look like cheese. Heck, even Stallone's character is a self-styled Caucasian equivalent of India's Quick Gun Murugun! Mind it!
In some ways I thought The Expendables followed what I felt was 80s styled Hong Kong action flicks where guns aside, there is always room for heroes go fist to fist with the villains during a finale. I'm not sure why some have said it's hard to figure out who's punching who, so seriously, don't sit so close to the screen. It's tough for an ensemble film to split screen time equally to allow everyone to shine and look good, and expectedly this outing is a little bit skewed toward the three main stars, and both Couture and Crews having just about a scene each to shine and demonstrate just what they can do.
But despite all the action and promise of explosive mayhem, the best scene hands down will be the meeting of minds between three iconic 80s/90s action heroes and rivals Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger in a church, with countless of comical references letting it fly between the three that it warrants a second viewing just to catch them all again. Never has anyone seen them sharing the same frame together, and this scene along is the money shot well worth the price of an admission ticket.
Now if a sequel is in the pipeline, can I say to include one of more of the following such as the Muscle from Brussels Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Jackie Chan (hey, I believe Stallone and him are on first name basis), Sammo Hung, Kurt Russell, Donnie Yen, Dwayne Johnson, Collin Chou and having Bruce Willis do more than just talk? Man, it'll be action film wet dream come true again, part deux.