"The Expendables" is a merry cheerful genocide between old friends à la sauce testosterone, a very violent and in the same time surprisingly tender, nostalgic, full of humour and less than half serious movie - and I loved every minute of it!
The story is in principle about a group of mercenaries, many of them a little bit aged, who are hired by the CIA to eliminate the military dictator ruling a little island in the Caribbean - but the plot is really really NOT important, and so it will not be discussed further.
The team of mercenaries is small but lethal (of course!). Its leader Barney Ross is (of course!) played by Stallone himself, who also wrote the scenario and directed the film. Ross is the oldest member of the team; he is also a man of few words, without much personal life, very calm and slightly sad. His great pride is to be the fastest man to draw and shoot the gun - "Only light is faster"...
The second in command, Lee Christmas, is played by Jason Statham, who gives an IMPRESSIVE performance!! Christmas is much younger than his commander (and best friend), much more extraverted and with a gorgeous, although unfaithful girlfriend played by Charisma Carpenter. He is an excellent marksman and an accomplished martial arts expert, but his personal specialty is knife fight and especially knife throwing. In homage to the "Magnificent seven" old western classic, Ross and Christmas have at every possible occasion a friendly speed competition between knife and revolver...
The third most important member of the team is Gunner Jensen, a gigantic sociopathic and borderline insane sniper played with great brio by Dolph Lundgren - who gives in this movie his (in my modest opinion) best screen performance ever. Considering the fact that Lundgren almost killed (accidentally) Stallone when they turned "Rocky IV" (Sly spend eight days in ICU), their reunion is a particularly touching cinema moment.
Number four is Ying Yang, played by Jet Li. Much shorter and smaller than his pals, Yang is also a good shooter but (obviously) he is the most dangerous in close combat - although his character clearly also is no more in his prime and will realise it during this mission...
The other members of the team, Toll Road (ex-wrestler Randy Couture) and Hale Caesar (ex-footballer Terry Crews) have less screen time, but they also have their stories to tell and they add some flavour to the whole thing.
Other than the names of some of the mercenaries, the big gag which I appreciated the most is that they all have deep and concerning issues: Ross has the aging problem, Christmas has a girlfriend problem, Jensen has an addiction problem, Yang has money troubles, Road has depression issues (and the whole cinema went amok with laughter when he confessed why) and Caesar has a fixation on absolutely enormous guns, which is most of the times a sign of..., well, you know what kind of problem...)))
Stallone's team is assisted by a former soldier and mercenary known only as Tool (played by Mickey Rourke), who now is retired and earns his living officially by making tattoos to bikers and exotic dancers - but in fact he is a go-between arranging "jobs" for the mercenaries. Mickey Rourke gives in this movie a great performance and it is a pure pleasure watching him on the screen.
This testosterone laced ensemble will have to face not only the usual hordes of evil gun fodder but also three particularly nasty bad guys: a fiendish former CIA agent turned free lance criminal (Eric Roberts) and his two vile and brutish henchmen: Paine (played by ex-wrestler "Stone Cold" Steve Austin) and Brit (played by kickboxer and martial arts expert Gary Daniels). The two apocalyptic close quarter fights between Ross and Paine and between Christmas, Yang and Brit towards the end of the movie are a particularly great treat. Martial arts shown in those duels are nothing like karate from Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris movies - they look rather like battlefield fighting styles (Israeli krav maga or Soviet sambo), very violent and brutal and designed to kill rather than to display one's ability.
As almost everybody probably already knows there is one scene in the movie when Stallone meets Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. This short scene takes place in a church - and I am almost certain that this is homage to the scene from Sergio Leone's most famous western, when the three heroes meet in a cemetery... Although short, the church scene is a simply incredible moment of cinema! In my modest opinion even if somebody got a Nobel Prize, found the cure for cancer or climbed Mount Everest wearing only strings, still his/her life is not complete without watching the church scene from "Expendables"...)))
The cast is clearly impressive, but what makes this movie so enjoyable is the tone Stallone adopted for the whole movie. No matter how much we try, it is simply impossible to take this film seriously. The violence is certainly omnipresent and very graphic, but it is also so exaggerated that it finally starts to have an almost comic effect. Stallone also took care to soften the violence of fights by giving the "bad guys" face paintings which make them look more like plastic figures than real human beings - which gave as final result more the impression of a video game for teenagers than a real fight.
Another great thing is that this movie has many surprisingly touching and even tender moments. Stallone did a good choice by giving his character a soft touch: as he gets old he clearly regrets less his youth than the fact that he does not have any family, other than the handful of desperados he hangs with. He also clearly has some bad things on the conscience and as his life enters its last stage, he longs for some redemption. This is why Ross decides to commit himself so heavily in this "job" - not only to earn his wage, but also to save an innocent person... who reminds him of a daughter he never had... And finally the relation between the whole team (and Tool) reminds one of an extended family or tribe reunion - with Rourke and Stallone playing the role of aging tribal ancestors, watching with tender care (and also some concern) their young and not so young braves.
I enjoyed this movie greatly and I really hope that there will be a sequel - if possible with Chuck Norris making at least one cameo! Another great idea somebody launched on internet is an "oestrogen" version of "Expendables" - a remake with an exclusively feminine cast, with Sigourney Weaver, Lucy Lawless and Michelle Yeoh taking Stallone, Lundgren and Jet Li roles... )))
The title of this review (which was inspired by a not so good Mel Gibson's movie) reflects quite well my feelings, when I left the cinema. This movie - and especially the ending - made me feel some nostalgia, gave me a lot of fun, but it also made me feel good. I will certainly buy the DVD as soon as it is available and I will watch it again from time to time to remind me of the old good action movies from the 80s, a time when I was an action movie fan... and young!