Friday, August 20, 2010

The Expendables (2010) – Review

The Expendables is an action movie in the purest sense. It is billed like an 80’s action movie fan’s dream come true – featuring so many stars of the genre (and a few from violet sports like WWE and MMA).  And the film lives up to that of a nostalgic throwback to great action films of the past. The plot is very shallow, but really is not the point, just a means to an end. It is the action set pieces and the players fighting, driving, shooting, and blowing stuff up within them that is the draw of the film and the point. Here, The Expendables does not disappoint. The action is fast, loud and most importantly engaging and very entertaining for genre fans. Director Sylvester Stallone understands this genre (or sub-genre) well and delivers just the right amount of each ingredient to deliver on the high expectations of fans going in. Stallone is also able to get good performances that fit the tone and archetypes of the film and genre – it is clear that Stallone loves and respects this genre and wanted to make a love-letter to the fans type of movie. The only issue that hurts the film is the camera Stallone employs to shoot some of his scenes. It feels as if he has watched and liked the work of Paul Greengrass (and/or its trickle-down flow through action, thriller and even drama films and filmmakers) and decided to use his “shaky-cam” gritty style for his film. The problem is that Greengrass uses it to a specific purpose, to enhance his narrative – bringing the audience into the movie by making it gritty and feel as if they are a part of the action, while also using it to focus attention on specific aspects thereby telling a precise story. Stallone uses this camera style more so as a means to shot a scene, an aesthetic choice rather than a narrative choice – it does not help tell the story nor feel gritty and real (either he or cinematographer Jeffrey L. Kimball do not quite have the practice or purpose to use this camera style to its full effect), and thus it is a bit distracting during the dialog and plot scenes, but once the action sequences start this is completely forgotten and the action carries the day (so to speak). The script and dialog is also a bit clunky. There are a few scenes and lines that do not really work or are really not needed (aka the scene with Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, but I would rather this scene be in the movie than not, even though it hurts the narrative flow slightly, because it is just too awesome seeing them all together and watching and listening to the banter). Going in, the audience should know that this is not really a narrative film. It is a grand spectacle made for a specific fan base, and in this the film is hugely successful. Onto the technical stuff: Stallone still can make fun action films (and I hope he makes a few more as a director), he is able to layer in some dramatic tension and moral dilemma to give his characters some emotional depth, but knows how to deliver action (as the last big action set piece is very entertaining) and knows what the fans expect and want to see (this is about the action, while his film Rocky Balboa is about the character – Stallone proves that he can succeed in both arenas of filmmaking). Cinematographer Kimball and editors Ken Blackwell and Paul Harb shot and cut the movie to be straightforward, fast paced and tight, at least once the action sequences start flowing.  However, and this is typical of most American action films, the fights are cut a bit too quick and choppy not allowing the audience to really see what is going on (but this is a minor complaint). Brian Tyler’s score is a bit heavy-handed at times, as it seems to force-feed the audience the intended emotional response to what is happening on the screen. The production design by Franco-Giacomo Carbone is quite good. His Island sets, especially the castle are impressive. The crew overall does a good job assisting Stallone is creating the right ambiance for the film.  This is not really a film aimed at getting good dramatic performances, although Mickey Rourke delivers good supporting work in the film. Most of the principal cast are larger-than-life action stars in their mediums and each brings their own flare to the film and is given time to show the audience why they are action-stars to begin with – Stallone does not hog the screen at all, each is given their respect and that helps the film overall. The Expendables is not a dramatic film, it is not art – but who cares – it is a heck of a good time for action genre fans. 7/10 

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