The Review: I think I was born at just the wrong age. I was two when Rocky came out, and still at primary school when Arnie was first flexing his biceps for the camera. I did grow up on a diet of action, but it was Die Hard and Robocop that helped shape my formative years. But as action movies, driven by those late Eighties classics, have evolved and grown more complex over the last thirty years, I’ve come to appreciate the dumber things in life. While I like to be intellectually challenged by some of my viewing, once in a while you just need to see stuff get blown up real good.
So thank goodness for Sylvester Stallone. He’s managed to find ways to extend his Rambo and Rocky series well past their natural lifespans, but especially in Rocky’s case he’s tried to find a different perspective with age. There is a part of the audience for these movies though, in which I shamelessly include myself, that longs for the succession of cheesy one liners and men shooting things until they explode. Forget character development and intricate plot developments – and by and large Stallone has, in a return to old school action movie making.
The concept felt fairly high to start with – cram as many action movie stars, old and new, onto the screen and let them have fun. Sensibly, the central team isn’t too numerous, with the big names evenly divided across the good, the bad and the morally ambivalent, but only a few get any real screen time. The highlights are Jason Statham for the good guys, who Stallone seems to have recognised uses his charisma to cover up his acting deficiencies, but who uses his particular Transporter-style fighting to the best effect in the many, many, many fights and brawls. For the bad guys, Eric Roberts chews the scenery and spits it in every direction, probably about the only one to find just the right tone. Mercifully, Stallone avoids the ageist navel-gazing that ultimately crippled the likes of the Lethal Weapon series, but there is still slightly too much contemplation at times. Come on, blow something up, will ya?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s by no means perfect. The action scenes vary from the pretty good to the I-don’t-understand-what-just-happened-because-you-can’t-shoot-or-edit-properly, Stallone’s attempts to add emotional resonance, mainly in scenes with Mickey Rourke, have all the depth of the shallow end of a paddling pool and are about as enjoyable, a joke about Jet Li’s height wears so thin you can see through it and there isn’t a truly iconic action sequence that will stand the test of time. But it does deliver just enough big muscles, big explosions and giant pulsating stupidity to be a guilty pleasure.
Why see it at the cinema: Actually, if you want an action movie to watch this summer, try The A Team. You can watch that any time. The Expendables should only be seen on a Friday or Saturday night, with a willing crowd who are as drunk as possible. That is a recommendation, in case you were wondering.
The Score: 7/10