The Expendables has been one of the films I’ve been highly anticipating this year, alongside Toy Story, Inception and The A-Team. Toy Story and Inception exceeded expectations and were something quite special, The A-Team was just a lot of fun. That is the film that set the bar for The Expendables, and even though they’re two films that revolve around a group of guys with military backgrounds with lots of action set-pieces, they’re pretty different kettle of fish. Both are 80’s throwbacks, The A-Team for fun TV shows, this for the big action movies of the day, First Blood, Commando etc. But which one is better?

The story follows a group of mercenaries known as The Expendables (hey, that’s like the title!) who are the best at getting any high risk operation done, with maximum force. The group, compromising of Sly Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Randy Couture and Terry Crews, are offered a job that as Mickey Rourke describes it as a job to hell and back. The mission is to head to a small island to take out a dictator and the ex-CIA operative who controls the dictator and uses the island for drug production. The team decide to put everything at risk in order to fight for something they believe is right.

Now for a film like this, story is something that usually takes the sidelines in favour of full out action. While this film is certainly more about the action, the set up for it has had some thought put into it, it isn’t just a simple slap dash now just shoot. The characterisation, although at times quite familiar, is also well-rounded and taken into consideration. There are some moments of genuine emotion as well, one in particular being Mickey Rourke’s monologue of the moment he feels he lost his soul as a mercenary. Not all the characters have great development, Terry Crews and Randy Couture very much miss out on that (also Crews gets to use the best gun of the film). The story being better than expected is all well and good, but how’s the action!? This is where the film notches past The A-Team. This film has much grittier action yet maintains a sense of fun, a sense that The A-Team but the action didn’t pack half as near as many punches as this does. It’s violent, bone crushing and awesome. The pacing is pretty non-stop featuring car chases, airplane strikes and full-out shoot-outs. The final set piece in the dictators complex is where the film goes full lout, giving all the members of the team their chance to shine. For over the top action at its best, you can’t go much wrong here.

Now for a film that prided itself on advertising itself as the greatest action ensemble ever, how does the cast fair? There is no doubting the heavyweight action cast on display here and it’s certainly boiling over with testosterone. But certain cast members get more time to shine than others. Stallone is the main man of course, taking on directing and writing duties as well as team leader Barney Ross. He does seem to be playing his age a bit more than usual, although I doubt Ross is a pensioner, but he does still convince here in the action scenes, particularly in the fight scene between Steve Austin. Jason Statham and Jet Li get a lot of focus as well as Lee Christmas and Ying Yang. Both their characters are fleshed out quite well and both get some excellent opportunities to show off their fighting skills (at one point double-teaming on one guy, with neck breaking results). Dolph Lundgren is also given a decent character arc, but as for the rest of the team they’re there to just kick some ass. But the camaraderie is certainly there between them all making it fun to watch. Eric Roberts is also having a lot of fun as the villain of the movie, CIA man gone bad who the team go to take down. And how about the infamous scene involving Stallone, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger? Well although it is very brief, it is very funny and just puts a big smile seeing all three of them up there on the screen. And if recent rumours of the sequel are anything to go by, we may be seeing them together for quite a bit longer.

Stallone is certainly becoming more confident with his directing, although there are some shots which you wish would stay still for a few bloody seconds. But he certainly is starting to form his own identity as a filmmaker, with quick pace edits which are well suited to the genre. I would happily like to see Stallone make another successful franchise for himself out of this, but perhaps leave it at a nice trim trilogy depending on how well the second one performs. It certainly has the potential, especially if more big name action stars come into the mix to deliver some more gritty, fast paced entertaining action. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants to see Chuck Norris next time around.

4/5- If you want some gloriously OTT action, in the best possible sense of the word, then look no further as The Expendables delivers on its promise of awesome action and a kick-ass ensemble cast.

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