Wednesday, August 18, 2010
And, no, I'm not going to qualify that by saying “at least, the best movie starring Sylvester Stallone,” or even “at least, the best action movie.” This was possibly the best movie I've ever seen in my life because it was almost as though Sylvester Stallone set out to make a film with a single purpose: to entertain Donald W. Pfeffer. Seriously, if Hollywood handed me a bunch of money and the freedom to make any movie I wanted, I would've made The Expendables. In fact, the only thing that keeps this from being the perfect film is that there are no dinosaurs. But it does have Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts, so that's close enough.
But, seriously, this film was a love letter from Stallone to fans of classic, old school, bad ass action films. But, more specifically, it was written as a love letter to Donald W. Pfeffer. Stallone must read my blog because there's no other way such a perfect film could've been made that not only matched every impossibly high expectation I had, but drop-kicked those expectations and blew them away in nuclear explosion. I wouldn't be at all shocked to learn that, after every take, Stallone said to the crew, "that was good... but would Donald W. Pfeffer love it?" And, in the end, I did.
The Expendables is a film about a group of mercenaries who are sent in to some Latin American country to take down some evil dictator. And that's the entire story. There are a few little asides here and there (Jason Stathom's girlfriend may be cheating on him, Mickey Rourke gives the occasional tattoo, etc), but for the most part, it is just a movie designed to have an entire army blown to bits by Stallone and his crew, and the film is the better for it. If you are interested in learning some profound truth about the human condition, go rent My Left Foot or Sophie's Choice. If you want to watch a movie where the dad from Everybody Hates Chris shoots people with a gun so powerful it tears them apart at the torso, go see the Expendables. I guess this movie actually does say something about the human condition after all: our bodies look awesome when they explode.
Everybody already knows that this film has one of the best casts in action-movie history, but I'm going to take a minute to talk about just how epic and amazing this ensemble really is. Let's start by discussing the Expendables themselves and how each one connects to Stallone and to the action genre at large. Even the name of the film and group is already a reference to a monologue Stallone gives in Rambo: First Blood Part II about how he is expendable to the American government. Unless I'm reading too much into things.
The greatest action star of all time. I suppose that could be a matter for debate, but it's a debate I would win every time, hands down. He is just a virtuoso of the action genre, having written, directed, and starred in some of the most awesome movies ever made. Only Stallone could have created this film and assembled this cast. When it comes to the Expendables, he was the only one who was absolutely essential.
Stallone Connection: Stallone Himself
The best current action star, and maybe even something of a young Stallone himself. It was important to cast a current star who is still relevant to the film industry, and Stallone made the right choice with the actor whose character is as much the star as Stallone. Even considering the huge ensemble cast, the film still plays as something of a buddy film between Stallone's Barney Ross and Statham's Lee Christmas. Yeah, that is his name. Don't ask me why. Anyway, Statham is awesome, having the brawn of Stallone and the martial arts skill of an Eastern action star, he also gave the film a sense of wit and grit.
Stallone Connection: He recently starred in the remake of Stallone's film Deathrace 2000
After Stallone and Statham, the actor I was most excited to see was Dolph. Most people won't remember this, but Lundgren was a certified movie star during the mid 80s and early 90s, featuring in such notable films as Masters of the Universe, The Punisher, and Showdown in Little Tokyo with Brandon Lee. Dolph is a great looking, physically imposing giant who's also a pretty good actor. Anyway, he was good in this movie, standing out as the Expendable with the most interesting story arc. Dolph pretty much stole the movie in my opinion.
Stallone Connection: Starred opposite Stallone as the villain in Rocky IV
Jet Li is a certified, world-renowned movie star, but I've never been that big of a fan. I have tremendous respect for his acting and marital arts talents, but I simply never got into his films all that much when I -- and he -- first got into martial arts movies. I was always a bigger fan of Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen. But I give Li his props and think he's a fantastic fighter and actor. I just don't have much nostalgia for him or even know much about his films. He was great in this movie, although I wish he had had a chance to do a little more fighting.
Stallone Connection: None, but he did star in War and The One with Jason Statham
I'd never heard about this guy until I heard about this film. I guess he's some kind of UFC fighter turned actor. Before today, I'd never seen him fight and I'd never seen him act. But judging by this, he does both fairly well, though he probably succeeds a little bit more at fighting. He had a good screen presence and got some really funny lines. I liked him.
Stallone Connection: No idea. Probably none. But he was in Cradle 2 the Grave with Jet Li. I never saw it.
Now this guy should be in every movie, and luckily it seems like he is. He's just always funny, always imposing, and always cool. He didn't have a very big role in this film, but his few moments were memorable. His main characteristic was that he had a really big gun that blew people up. So that's pretty sweet right there.
Stallone Connection: Just that he's awesome.
His role was that of an ex-Expendable, who runs a tattoo parlor where the team goes to relax and gather between missions. He also may be the man who sets them up with missions, but that's kept somewhat mysterious. Anyway, he plays Mickey Rourke. He only has a couple of scenes, but in a way his character is the heart of the movie. His big monologue about why he got out of the mercenary business is one of the best scenes in the movie, and it was powerfully acted and filmed. He should get an Oscar.
Stallone Connection: A fellow washed-up action star from the 80s, and I mean that as a compliment. Neither man would deny it. He was also in Get Carter with Stallone, but nobody saw that.
And now for the villains:
Up there with Gary Busey as one of the all time great scenery-chewers. Really, if you're going to make an 80s throwback action movie, why not get Eric Roberts as the main villain? I can't think of anybody who is cooler and more obnoxious, in just the right measures and combinations. He did fine here as an a 80s movie cliche.
Stallone Connection: Other than being another relic from the 80s, he starred with Stallone in the Specialist and with Mickey Rourke in The Pope of Greenwhich Village. He was also in the Ambulance with Stan Lee, but that's another blog post.
AKA, Stone Cold Steven Austin. Austin was a WWF (WWE?) wrestler who rose to fame after I grew out of wrestling. But he was so fun and cool, I did watch a few matches here and there just because of him. His trademark was drinking beer in the ring and then giving the crowd the finger. He also attempted an acting career, but it didn't really go anywhere. But he was good here as the silent but imposing muscle to Eric Roberts's brains. He got to beat the crap out of Stallone, and according to rumor actually broke his neck during filming. That's bad ass.
Stallone Connection: Um... he wrestled with Hulk Hogan, who acted in Rocky III?
Don't feel bad that you haven't heard of this guy, since his name wasn't even on the poster or mentioned alongside the other actors. But when he popped up alongside Steve Austin and Eric Roberts, I got excited. Gary Daniels is a kickboxer turned B movie star. More than that, there isn't much to say. I only saw one of his films (the abysmal Epicenter), and only because I bought it as a joke for my friend Anna. Anyway, this guy is actually a pretty cool kick boxer and a likable enough actor. He had a pretty good fight scene where he got to be killed by Jet Li. That will probably by the highlight of his career, but I think that's pretty cool.
Stallone Connection: Stallone put him in this movie. Maybe he said hello to him on the set.
This guy was probably cast because he's a pretty good actor. I'd seen him before, but he certainly wasn't as big a name as these other guys. But, like I said, he stood his own because he's a good actor. Stallone had to cast at least one, right?
Stallone Conection: None.
And then we have the cameos by:
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis
I don't think I need to introduce these two, since they are action icons themselves. Much has probably already been written about the single scene featuring these two and Stallone, but I thought it was amazing. Honestly, from start to finish (including the amazing intro and exit by Arnold), I was completely giddy and smiley and amazed. It was just perfectly shot, perfectly written, and acted to perfection as well. I finally got to see Arnold and Sly together on screen, and it was hilarious. This was the best moment in film history, and I'm only kind of joking.
So enough about the cast, how was the rest of the movie? It was awesome. Honestly, it was just one long action sequence starring the above mentioned actors. What's not to like? The story was somewhat cliched and unoriginal, but it worked as a hinge upon which to have a bunch of action set pieces involving armies of people getting killed. And, sure, the body count was exceptionally high, but the filming of the action was what sold the movie. Even if he stops acting (and let's home he doesn't for a very long time), Stallone could have a big career as a director. This is just an exciting, awesome, balls to the wall action film that never lets up. Honestly, the last 45 minutes or so was one long, sustained action sequence that was the best action sequence I've ever seen. And in a review that has used a lot of hyperbole for humorous intent, that was absolutely the truth.
The only real criticism I have is that some of the action scenes are more heavily edited than I would've liked. Considering how this is an old school action film, I would rather Stallone had used more old school action film techniques. The editing was very well done for the most part, but the inter-cutting was a little too fast during Jet Li's too big fights, which was kind of a let down. When you have a martial artist with the prowess of Jet Li, you set the camera down and let him show off his stuff. Also the car chase scene was filmed way too close, which distracted a bit from the drama and made it hard to tell the distances between the cars and to follow along with the driving. But none of this killed the film at all.
Bottom line, if the studio wants a blurb they can use for the DVD box, here's my main reaction: If you have a pair of balls and a dick, go see this movie, or else have them removed and returned to god because you don't deserve to have them.