Review: The Expendables - Director’s Cut / Director: Sylvester Stallone / Screenplay: Dave Callaham, Sylvester Stallone / Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Steve Austin, Randy Couture, Charisma Carpenter / Release Date: Out Now
On the surface, The Expendables is a story of a black-ops-for-hire team – lead by stoic team leader Barney (Stallone) – who essentially kick ass for the highest bidder. In this case, the man with the money is the shady Mr Church (Willis) who hires Barney and his crew for a hit in a South American island. But as you would expect, all is not what it seems and before he knows it, Barney is turning a well-paid job into an attempt at redemption. Or so this movie would have you believe.
In fact, what The Expendables really is, is an excuse to throw together almost every recognisable action star from the '80s and '90s (with a few new ones, most notably Statham) to blow stuff up and relive former glories. Not that this is a bad thing. The concept of having Stallone on screen again with the likes of Lundgren, while Jet Li, Jason Statham and Stone Cold Steve Austin run around is like fan boy heaven. Throw Arnie and Bruce Willis into the mix (albeit in a brief scene) and you’re practically reaching for the Kleenex.
But, what you quickly discover is that the two reasons for The Expendables existence don’t really mix. This is neither explosive enough to cash in the expectations of the mighty cast, nor worthy enough to validate the core theme of absolution. Leaving us with a movie which has managed to capture the feel of the early '90s action movie, but fails to add anything new.
Having said that, of course in this case, there is something new. Being a director’s cut we’re privy, not only to all the extra bits that Stallone wished he’d been allowed to include in the theatrical release, but a total re-cut. That’s not to say that this is vastly different from the original film, but rather than just slot in a couple of cut scenes Stallone has really gone through and re-assembled the film, often including different takes and new music. For the most part, the cut scenes themselves consist of small character exchanges that do at least help to flesh them out more. As for the music? Well, it’s neither better nor worse.
From the extra features Stallone makes it clear that directing and acting in this film took far more out of him than he’d imagined it would do. In fact Sly’s ‘Director in Action’ featurette is so candid that you almost feel sorry for the guy. But hard as it may have been, it doesn’t excuse this from being an action movie cheque that Stallone and crew simply couldn’t cash.
This is where this release finally wins. The aforementioned featurette provides an intimate master class in Stallone’s directorial career from the man himself, which is commendably honest. Feature-length Inferno: The Making of The Expendables is equally transparent in its depiction of Stallone’s time on set. Music video and brief introduction (from the set of Expendables 2, curiously the only E2 content on board) are fine. For the full story, Stallone’s Commentary is a must, if nothing else you’ll get the best argument for his choices (good and bad).