Film criticism by Ian Kay.

Another word or two on ‘The Expendables’

A recent discussion with a fellow movie lover got me thinking more about my opinion of Stallone’s new action flick, The Expendables.  No, I’m not recanting my opinion that the film is mildly fun but also mildly disappointing.  Instead, it recently occurred to me what the real problem is with the movie. And as far as spending ‘too much time’ arguing about a summer action throwaway, my desire to write more on the matter has more to do with fleshing out of my own opinion, rather than adding any importance to a film almost nobody will be talking about 6 months from now.

On the surface, The Expendables is no more shallow than many of the 80’s classic action films, like Rambo, Die Hard or Commando. The plot is thin as a reed, but so were many of the type I just listed. And acting? Yeah right. No, the thing that defines the 80’s pictures is character. John Rambo. John McLaine. Arnold as the Terminator. Easily recognizable characters with names we remember, personal characteristics that brand them as superheroes, and style that lead fans to either love them or hate them (or to love one brand more than the other). Stallone’s grumbling voice is infamous, but the red bandana, the bursting out of the water to surprise the enemy, sealing a bullet wound with gunpowder; these all defined Rambo and embedded him in our imaginations. Bruce Willis as McLaine, running barefoot on glass and screaming ‘Yipee kay-ay, mother-fucker!’ is a line repeated probably a couple of million times by now. And McLaine’s refusal to give in, his drive to save his wife, his discussions with the doughnut-eating cop outside the building – we knew who McLaine was.

The Expendables has none of that. I can’t recall any of their names. And what is Stallone’s character all about? He doesn’t seem to be particularly good at anything, he doesn’t have much of a defined stlye of fighting, or joking, or… well, anything. He is dry as a bone. Of course, I’ve heard the shouts of “It’s supposed to be stupid,” It’s supposed to be a cheesy throwback”, or it “is the film that they intended to make”… simple and fun. Well, if that’s the case, then so be it. Unfortunately, if your target is low, you don’t deserve much credit, even for succeeding.  Stallone and company tried to let their past importance carry the film; their fame as actors substituting for character within the characters of The Expendables. And I will tell you, their past personas are the only thing that keeps the movie afloat at all.

So was it a fun film? Kinda. Was it a really fun film? No. Did they succeed in matching the excitement of the old 80’s movies? Not even close. They get a brief nod of the head from me, but no pat on the back, let alone a cheer. Not bad, guys. Not bad. But not so good either.

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