A gang of pirates have captured a group of hostages and there are only a handful of men capable of saving them from almost certain death. Led by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), this top rate fighting force are brought in as mercenaries to do the dirty work that governments do not wish to do themselves, and they're damn good at it as shown by their handling of the pirates, sending them flying in a hail of bullets and knives. The hostages survive, the ransom does not need to be paid, and the mercenaries get away unscathed, with the satisfaction of a profitable job well done...
The cult of the eighties action movie had only grown over the intervening years, with the appreciation of those uncomplicated celebrations of firepower and good old fashioned brawn striking a chord among those who grew up with them and those who came to them later. Whether it was the blockbusters of Rambo or Commando, or the lower budget followers-on of Cannon films, they all enjoyed a loyal audience, so when it was announced that Stallone was going to hark back to those days with The Expendables, there was much salivating at the prospect from those old school action aficionados.
When the film finally arrived, many were keen to let their nostalgia direct their indulgence of the movie, as in the cold light of day it wasn't exactly a triumph as far as the filmmaker's art went, but it did make a lot of money and proved there was an audience for this type of entertainment. And Stallone knew his way around this material, so many felt they were in safe hands as he crowbarred contemporaries Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis into the big exposition scene near the beginning, not that it advanced the plot particularly, but it gave the opportunity to set the stage for the mammoth amounts of macho posturing that were to come. Naturally, those two guys didn't hang around, but lent the production their seal of approval.
The guys that did hang around were no less impressive in their field, although tended more towards the tradition of filling up the shelves of the video rentals rather than appearing in a solid run of blockbusters. Barney's sidekick was Lee Christmas, played by Jason Statham as a representative of the newer breed of action stars, and engaging in the lion's share of the slightly homosexualist banter, as was traditional in these movies. Also along for the ride were Jet Li, although his fight scenes were disappointingly cut too fast so it was difficult to get a sense of how well he was doing, which was doubly a letdown as one of the combat sequences saw him take on Dolph Lundgren, here as a rogue Expendable turned bad.
The actual plot sees our heroes band together to take down a dictator, only to discover that the power behind the throne is none other than dodgy C.I.A. operative Eric Roberts. There were women in this, but they existed mainly to be saved from bully boys, with leading lady Giselle Itié subjected to topical waterboarding torture at one point, a nod to how savvy Stallone thought he was being, conspiracy theories and all. Actually what The Expendables most resembled was not so much those eighties hits, which tended to depict one man going against the system of bad guys and prevailing amidst a barrage of gunshots, but one of those British action movies of the late seventies or early eighties. You know the sort of thing that tried to emulate The Dirty Dozen and ended up with a bunch of ageing stars in The Wild Geese or Escape to Athena - or even Stallone's Escape to Victory? That's what this was like. Not that this was a bad thing, and there were a few amusing moments plus a last act that featured nonstop explosions and gunfire, but you couldn't help wish it had been a shade better. Music by Brian Tyler.
[Lionsgate's DVD has a Stallone commentary, a featurette, a deleted scene and a gag reel as extras.]