Viewer's Notes - The Expendables

     Just to avoid being too sensitive and thoughtful here in the holiday season, allow me to admit a guilty pleasure from the aftermarket, a film I missed from the summer: The Expendables.  Panned by critics for its brain-dead qualities and clearly marketed to a particular gender and age -- even knowing this -- I could not resist.
     As a man in my 40s, I'll confess that the details of this movie are right in my wheelhouse. A group of highly skilled mercenaries navigate their ways through the professional and personal complications that inevitably arise when you are a highly skilled mercenary.  Their names? Barney Ross (Stallone), Lee Christmas (Statham), Yin Yang (Li), Toll Road (Randy Couture), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), and so forth.  There are lot of guns and knife killings, lots of blood, and lots of crunchy punching and kicking.  There's a plot about a job nobody else will take to a jungled nation nobody has heard of, but that's beside the point.
     The Expendables is so clearly over the top that it's value is in that peculiar realm of action homage that is as much parody as tribute, along the lines of both volumes of Tarrantino's Kill Bill and Jet Li's best features, Fong Sai Yuk and its sequel.  What makes this film distinctive is what ends up being borrowed from 80s action movies -- the sheer volume of the guns (both in number and sound), the fire and explosions, and sheer the splattery crackling mess of the general melee.  I didn't even mind the laconic attempts of the characters to show their emotional sides, the grim detachment of the warrior-poet, best personified by Mickey Rourke in his role as the mechanic-painter Tool.
    But enough about warrior-poets, and more about the violence.  The Expendables is old school in its approach to mayhem, with hand-to-hand fights that look more like ass-kicking than dancing, blanks rounds in the firearms, and a taste for really blowing things up.  You'll be hard-pressed to find too much CGI in this movie, and the sudden shift to slo-mo is refreshingly absent.  The last half hour of the film is as entertaining an action climax as I've seen in years.
     All this is to say that the director, Sylvester Freaking Stallone, really knows exactly what he wants to do and he does it.  Awesome. Stallone should not have to apologize for making this movie, and you shouldn't have to apologize for enjoying it.

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