If you grew up on a steady diet of action movies if your bones hardened every time a muscle-bound guy dove away from an explosion in slow motion if you hit puberty the first time you saw the hero of the hour bed his scantily clad damsel in distress then it’s impossible to resist the allure of a movie like The Expendables. It’s the superband version of an action movie. It was created by an action star its cast consists almost exclusively of action stars and the only reason it exists is to put a smile on the face of action fans. And invariably it will do just that.
The question is how wide one’s smile will be. The answer depends on how forgiving one is willing to be of The Expendables' faults and there are many. It’s a little slow-going at first the characters are very thinly defined some of the acting is spotty and on the production front Sylvester Stallone’s knack for action scenes is thrown under the bus by a ton of visual shortcuts (CGI blood being perhaps the most egregious) that belie the film’s obvious low budget. That said Stallone’s knack for gory ultraviolent action is indeed so strong his mind so tuned to the quirks and cliches that make action movies beloved despite their faults that The Expendables kicks more than enough ass by the time credits roll to be worthwhile beyond just the novelty of seeing Stallone Statham Li Lundgren Austin Rourke Couture Crews Willis and Schwarzenegger all under one explosion-filled roof.
That was actually my biggest concern at the offset of the film that the only ace up star/co-writer/director Stallone’s ripped sleeve was his cast but the best thing about The Expendables is that it could have worked with a roster composed entirely of no-name actors. It’s fantastic to see some of these action movie titans go head to head (particularly so in the case of Lundgren) but the headliners surprisingly neither make nor break the movie. The script which involves a gang of mercenaries overthrowing a South American dictator who has become a puppet of a rogue CIA agent isn’t particularly strong but no one goes to an action movie expecting it to be a David Mamet-scripted battle of wits. The story just needs a firm enough framework to allow for enough scenarios for our heroes to punch kick stab shoot and explode an army of bad guys. To that end Expendables could have been given to a cast and crew of newcomers and still stomped in tons of face.
What actually hurts the film the most is that it is filled with veterans and promises of a return to old-school action an era where the only thing bigger than the heroes’ muscles was the body count left in his wake. The only thing wrong with the body count in The Expendables is that it takes too long to begin piling up whereas the rest of the movie feels too small too amateur hour considering its cast of pros. Nu Image the chief studio financing Stallone’s grand endeavor is known primarily for making low-budget straight-to-video movies; sadly The Expendables isn’t going to shake that image any time soon.
There is a disappointing amount of poorly-rendered CGI blood and flames throughout the film which completely goes against the “do it old-school” mindset one expects from all involved. It’s hardly unwatchable but there are times where the look of the film brings to mind the Syfy channel and as any brave soul who has ever wandered into a Syfy Original Movie knows all too well that is rarely ever a good thing.
However even with lackluster production values The Expendables still manages to be a wild throat-slashing elbow-dropping grenade-throwing trigger-pulling and limb-dismembering good time. The last forty-five minutes alone are packed with more carnage than most action movies today can dream of delivering throughout their entire run time. The slow beginning gives way to a glorious orgy of death that generates a body count that would warrant UN intervention were it to have occurred in the real world. And since fictional armies getting absolutely obliterated by a fictional team of the manliest men on the planet is all anyone really requires from The Expendables it’s easy to turn your back on the few obstacles that stand in the way of that holy goal.
If you asked your average fan to draft out his dream lineup for the ultimate action-movie cast -- an action movie superband, as it were -- it probably wouldn’t look all that different from the team Sylvester Stallone was able to assemble for The Expendables. That has me wondering, though: What should a sci-fi blockbuster equivalent of The Expendables look like? Who would be the person to get a sci-fi superband off the ground? Most importantly, who all should star in it? And, keeping with the theme of The Expendables, what would their equivalent role be?
Notes: 1) This is strictly for a sci-fi blockbuster, not what I think would actually make the ultimate science fiction movie. 2) No one in The Expendables is eligible (sorry, Bruce and Arnold). 3) I’ve kept the casting pool limited to people with mainly movie careers; TV opens that playing field too wide. 4) I have no idea what this hypothetical movie would be about -- this is just who I’d like to see get together under one blockbuster roof.
'Expendables' Doppelganger: Jet Li
Keanu Reeves is a no-brainer for this list, considering the man’s career of late has been defined exclusively by big-budget sci-fi blockbusters, but designating his Expendables counterpart is a little tougher. On the one hand, he is a big enough fan of the genre to warrant being the Stallone-equivalent champion of the genre, but I don’t think he’s outspoken enough to take up that much of the spotlight. Jet Li, though, is a little light on the dialogue, but he’s always there, eager to jump into the fray. Both are also very well known for how much they respect their stunt teams, so it’s a perfect match.
Sci-Fi Credits: The Matrix, The Day the Earth Stood Still, A Scanner Darkly
'Expendables' Doppelganger: Sylvester Stallone
Choosing who would possibly both be passionate enough about sci-fi blockbusters to really assemble a superband of genre staples and have enough clout to actually attract the other players was the hardest part of making this list. But if anyone could get it together it’s Will Smith. He’s been in more sci-fi smashes than anyone else on this list, he has admitted to loving the genre in interviews, and there probably isn’t a project in Hollywood that he couldn’t get off the ground.
Sci-Fi Credits: Independence Day, Men in Black, I Am Legend
'Expendables' Doppelganger: Jason Statham
Vin Diesel really hasn’t been in that many sci-fi movies (the two Riddick entries, Babylon A.D. and The Iron Giant are it), but he identifies so strongly with the few films that he has been in that he could easily be considered a welcome face. Plus, he’s just a huge geek in his personal life; he’s been a long time D&D player and he founded his own video-game company. He’s also got "rogue tough guy who eventually has to protect his lady friend" written all over him, which is basically the only role Statham ever plays.
Sci-Fi Credits: Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick, Babylon A.D., The Iron Giant
Casper Van Dien
'Expendables' Equivalent: Dolph Lundgren
There’s a reason that both Dolph Lundgren and Casper Van Dien didn’t have bigger careers in Hollywood: The public just could not take them seriously. Lundgren has actually become a much better actor in recent years, but he and Van Dien both started off strong and then wound down to become low-budget, straight-to-video regulars. That surefire disenchantment with the Hollywood system makes them perfect for the wild-card, crazy member of the team.
Sci-Fi Credits: Starship Troopers
'Expendables' Equivalent: Mickey Rourke
It pains me to say that Sigourney Weaver should be kept on the sidelines the same way Mickey Rourke is, but I think the idea of her as the grizzled vet who has gotten too old for this shit is a pretty amusing one. She’s also got the wit and the presence to be able to realistically bust the balls of everyone else around her.
Sci-Fi Credits: Alien, Avatar, Ghostbusters, Wall-E, Galaxy Quest
'Expendables' Equivalent: Eric Roberts
Someone has to play the bad guy, and seeing as Harrison Ford has rarely plays outside his hero range, for once I’d just like to see him play a crazy dude with absolutely no regard for human life. Maybe a good old-fashion sci-fi blockbuster is just what he needs to actually look enthusiastic on the big screen again (let’s not count Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls; let’s never, ever count it).
Sci-Fi Credits: Star Wars, Blade Runner
'Expendables' Equivalent: Randy Couture
Michael Ironside is such an obvious choice for both the Mickey Rourke and Eric Red roles that I want to see neither. I’d just like to see him break his current mold and play a foot soldier. Not the main hero or bad guy, not the one teaching a lesson, just another tool at the disposal of the core heroes.
Sci-Fi Credits: Starship Troopers, Total Recall, Watchers, Highlander II
'Expendables' Equivalent: Bruce Willis
I would absolutely love to see Lance Henriksen kick some ass even in his old age, but these days he’s better suited for playing Willis’ role of the guy who hires everyone else. He’s got the presence of a seasoned pro and can make every line of dialogue stick like a barb when he wants to.
Sci-Fi Credits: Aliens, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Terminator
'Expendables' Equivalent: Gary Daniels
The casting of Jeff Goldblum in pretty much anything these days cracks me up, so it only makes sense that he should play the henchman who talks a bunch of trash the entire time but who you know just can’t back up anything he's saying. Plus, Goldblum just hasn’t really been a part of a high-concept sci-fi movie for a while, so he’d be a sight for sore eyes.
Sci-Fi Credits: The Fly, Independence Day, Powder
'Expendables' Equivalent: Steve Austin
Physically, Milla Jovovich couldn’t be further from Steve Austin, but I still think she would make a perfectly foreboding henchwoman. She doesn’t have to say much -- you can tell just by looking at her that she’s capable of all kinds of asskickery. And as the clear obstacle between the heroes and the big bad boss, that means she’d eventually have to fight their leader. Plus, I would just love to see a Will Smith vs. Milla Jovovich rumble. That would be too weird to pass up.
Sci-Fi Credits: The Fifth Element, Resident Evil, The Fourth Kind