Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Expendables

I’m somewhat of two minds on this film. On one hand, it is really neat to see Sylvester Stallone in his first big non-sequel hit in well over a decade, especially when he brings all his old friends along with him. On the other hand, I just wish this had taken place in a better movie.
It’s a shame, because the general premise of the film is pretty cool. A group of the baddest mercenaries in the world (Stallone, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Randy Couture, and Terry Crews) gets hired to overthrow the evil general/dictator (David Zayas) of a poor Caribbean nation, but are betrayed by a former crew member (Dolph Lundgren) and a bunch of fights, gun battles, and car chases ensues. It’s hardly the most original premise for a film (kind of like The Dirty Dozen, but with generic Hispanics and CIA spooks instead of Nazis), but for a silly action movie it’s everything one would really need. Plus, it’s pretty damn cool to see all these action stars fighting together, particularly Lundgren, who looks like he’s having the time of his life here. There’s even one great scene where Stallone meets up with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, in a scene that really has no point to it beyond that the three of them have never been in a film together before (Stallone’s “cameo” in Last Action Hero notwithstanding), and is basically the three of them just squabbling like big old bitches.

So what’s the problem with the film? Well, the directing and editing is what’s wrong. It’s weird, as the last film Stallone directed, Rambo, was a really good, intense action movie, so it’s hard to see why he dropped the ball so badly here. He crafts an unholy combination of the shaky cam and lightning-fast cutting in all of the action sequences, so that a good deal of the time I had difficulty even figuring out what I was supposed to be seeing, much less which two characters were fighting at that moment. For a movie that relies so heavily on its various action scenes, Stallone sure didn’t feel any particular need to let audiences see those action scenes. The shaky cam is something that’s been around since Saving Private Ryan, and while it worked in that movie (in part because the camera was generally panned back so far you could still see everything) it’s since been used in almost every action movie made since then, and rarely even half as well.

In a way, it’s as though the makers of these films have zero confidence in the action featured in their movies, and so are deliberately making them next to impossible to see so that nobody can negatively judge what they’ve created. I’ve heard someone defending this by saying that it then requires you to fill in the blanks with your imagination, creating an even more satisfying experience, which is actually a fabulous defense of reading, but is not such a quality defense of a primarily visual medium. That he also combined the shaky cam with rapid quick cutting, to the point where every time a blow lands we need to jump to a different camera angle, makes the film completely incomprehensible during some of its most important moments (which in this film’s case would be the moments where people are hurting each other).

Of course, it would be dishonest for me to say that the film was a complete failure. It’s still pretty cool watching all of these guys interacting with each other (in addition to the ones already mentioned, we also get Steve Austin and the Nogueira brothers on the villains side, Mickey Rourke plays a bit of a father figure to everyone, and there’s even a small role by Charisma Carpenter, though she’s given the thankless task of the disapproving girlfriend. Hopefully she’ll get to do more in the sequel. Each of the main characters also gets their own chance to shine (though it is primarily the Stallone and Statham show), so nobody really has to feel neglected, and I am optimistic about the sequel, which Stallone says will feature an even larger cast of action stars.

I just hope in the sequel I’ll be able to get a good look at them while they’re fighting.

Rating: **

No comments: