Sly Stallone knows action. With The Expendables he combines his brand of visceral bloodletting with a once-in-a-lifetime cast of action movie stars and famous fighters. The bouts of explosive warfare are brilliant, once again utilizing extreme violence to accentuate the intensity of each encounter, yet on an emotional level there’s a disconnect – many of the action sequences don’t directly relate to the primary task at hand. A lot of time is spent focused on the wrong protagonists and the wrong aspects of their integrity, and with so many characters introduced, those that really need the attention rarely receive it. The final showdown is certainly awe-inspiring, but it arrives far too soon and without any planning, sacrificing much of the catharsis for broken bodies and big bangs.
Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) leads the “Expendables”, a band of highly skilled mercenaries including knife enthusiast Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), martial arts expert Yin Yang (Jet Li), heavy weapons specialist Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), demolitionist Toll Road (Randy Couture) and loose-cannon sniper Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren). When the group is commissioned by the mysterious Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) to assassinate the merciless dictator of a small South American island, Barney and Lee head to the remote locale to scout out their opposition. Once there, they meet with local rebel Sandra (Giselle Itie) and discover the true nature of the conflict engulfing the city. When they escape the island and Sandra stays behind, Ross must choose to either walk away and save his own life – or attempt a suicidal rescue mission that might just save his soul.
Sylvester Stallone has crafted a hyper-violent action film that delights with extremes. He’s turned excessive violence into an art form. Unfortunately, it’s not as good as Rambo, which took the one-man-army motif to all new heights – in The Expendables he attempts to one-up the idea with an unstoppable team of elite warriors that routinely execute a plan of reconnaissance, infiltration, rescue and demolition. It’s a surprising accomplishment to assemble such a sizable (physically and dimensionally), renowned cast of action movie stars in one picture, including several who were only marginally successful – but it’s also The Expendables’ downfall. So much time is spent developing characters such as Christmas, Jensen and Yin Yang, which all have their specific purposes, but detracts from the opportunity to add to the really entertaining stuff. Particularly, the plot suffers, losing momentum when Ross decides to return to the island after a few teary-eyed words from longtime friend Tool (Mickey Rourke); instead of building up to the exciting final assault, seconds after a brief plane ride the group is submerged right in the midst of a plan blueprinted offscreen.
With such a generic, poorly generated story, The Expendables is nothing more than a few shockingly intense action sequences tied together. However, Stallone definitely knows what will please fans of action, creating moments so monstrously energetic and laughably macho they’re sure to be on anyone’s list of greatest action moments. But as over-the-top and boundary-pushing as some of the featured violence is, at times it seems the director could have gone a step further – several segments are so impressively berserk it’s a shame not to have stretched them out for a few minutes more (which is something he didn’t shy away from in Rambo). No one would have complained. It is, after all, a simple job for money, stripped of details, involving the typical oppressive third-world-country dictatorship and above-the-law soldiers, with dialogue that constantly breaches the domain of seriousness and realism due to politics, ethics and self-indulgent wisecracks – set in a world where no explosion consists of just one blast, where makeup and wardrobe seem nonexistent (with cast members just showing up on set like the tough guys we would expect them to be in real life), and where sweat, blood, bullets, knives, women and meaty fists are the ever-present ingredients for a catastrophic dance of wondrous mayhem.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)