I admit it, Stallone has won me over (again). All film snobs have at least one guilty pleasure—maybe it’s Total Recall or maybe any number of Stallone films (the first Rocky not included). I, for one, am guilty on both counts.
I try to hide behind an image of film snob, but truth be told, I find just as much pleasure in watching Rocky Balboa as I do watching a Godard film. What a lot of people will forget is that Stallone is an Academy Award winner. While his filmmaking style is often old fashioned, that isn’t always a bad thing. Not unlike Clint Eastwood, Stallone keeps things ham-fisted and on the nose.
Stallone’s latest film, The Expendables, is what his career has been leading to. It stars almost every 80s and 90s action star that comes to mind. While I take great joy in watching Stallone’s mindless action films, I actually see a glimmer of greatness in a few; Rocky and Rocky Balboa and to a lesser extent Rambo, fall in that category, The Expendables however does not.
The first couple of action scenes made me realize that maybe Stallone wasn’t going for what he successfully achieved in Rambo; an action film with a story to tell. I quickly realized that this film was not really a tribute to 80’s action films–it was an 80’s action film.
This means that the acting, dialogue, and story are cheesy, even incredibly so. The characters exclusively speak in one-liners, most of which fall flat, but like any action film, the ones that stick are memorable.
This sort of film finds a real soft spot in my heart. Here is a film that really basks in the qualities of the action films of yore. However, saying that, this film has problems, significant ones—ones that go beyond the usual problems of 80s action films.
As I said before, I do love Stallone films, however not in an ironic or so-bad-its-good kind of way. Stallone is a strong filmmaker. Rocky is a true classic, and Rocky Balboa was a very fitting ending to the series.
With The Expendables Stallone seems less preoccupied with the quality of filmmaking and focuses more on the large action set pieces. What this means, is that the shots are not as well thought out, and the acting is an afterthought.
One of the most obvious flaws is Stallone’s use of close up–which is often—and which are often decorative and add little to character or scene development. The scene where this is most apparent is the scene starring Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger which is filmed entirely in close up.
The buzz is that they only had 6 hours in total to film the scene, and that they were rushed shows. The use of close up meant that they would save time setting up shots but it added nothing to the story. It is by far the most awkward and badly-acted scene in the film. The scene is awkwardly self-referential and it would probably have been best for all if the Governator had stayed in Sacramento to sign some obscure Bill.
There is a lot to dislike about this film, but if you are a fan of 80’s action films, then you will probably like most of what people find negative.
Watching films like Commando and Rambo 2 again, you realize these are not good films; they are poorly written, but hugely entertaining. The Expendables, is just that, mindless entertainment–at least for fans of 80’s action films.
This does not excuse the film, it could have been a truly great film. It could have dissected 80’s action flicks and stars, like JCVD did last year. It could have been a look back, and a realization that these heroes are aging or no longer exist. This film is not that, nor is it remotely trying to be.
Part of me is disappointed that Stallone didn’t deliver another Balboa or Rambo, and instead gave us a mindless action flick. However, another part of me is glad. The last 30 minutes of this film feature an energy that has not been seen in an action flick since the early 90s. This is not Michael Bay, this is a real old-style action film, and for that Stallone has won me over; again.