What if you took every single movie star who appeared in some kind of badwrongfun action movies in the 80s and 90s and gathered them together like they were all competing in the testosterone Olympics for a gold medal in giving other people lead poisoning, and then you gathered all of the action stars who were too good for badwrongfun movies but realized that they were missing out on something magnificent and they all got to be the bad guys and walk-ons and everybody just picked up fully automatic weapons and rocket launchers and throwing knives and grenades and went and killed entire countries that nobody ever heard of because they were invented for the express purpose of being destroyed by a movie and then it all worked so freaking well they did it two more times? Well, my friend, if all that happened, then you would live in the best era in human history, because you would be alive when they made the Expendables.
Yes, this is a single review covering three movies at once. No, there is no difference between any of these three movies except maybe the cyclical rate of fire minute by minute but eventually somebody whips out a minigun and makes even that distinction too pointless to—what’s that?
I’m sorry, what?
The story? Are you seriously wondering what the storyline is for a set of movies where the logo is a skull backed by two wings made out of guns? The story is irrelevant. I just told you what it is. What isn’t irrelevant is that this is a movie franchise that somehow managed to bring together Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Micky Rourke, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Ronda Rousey , Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Eric Roberts, Steve Austin, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Robert Davi and Mel Gibson. No, that list of names isn’t some weird Christmas List I made once during lunch for a dream project that would probably caused a global shortage of fake bullets and movie demolitions. This actually happened. Stallone managed to call up every freaking person in his contact list and went. “Ey, yo, I’m putting together a movie,” and they were all like “Is it big,” and he was like, “Yo,” and they were like “That’s pretty big,” and they signed on and a few weeks later they were all in South America or Eastern Europe just running around and blowing crap up and really not acting so much as kind of hanging out and talking about all the times they bench pressed a truck or stabbed a crocodile or whatever these people do when they’re not being paid to break necks for fun.
Anyway, Charisma Carpenter is in this as somebody’s girlfriend, which makes her almost 25% of the female cast of the entire franchise. Liam Hemsworth is in here somewhere, but mainly so he can die in a way that shows that there is a 1:1 correlation between your age and your survival percentage. And Kelsey Grammar shows up at some point as a kind of mercenary recruiter and you kind of wonder, Frasier wasn’t an action movie, but you’ll give the dude a pass anyway because we’re not about excluding people.
There’s also the entire sport of mixed martial arts in here. I’m not kidding. Like, anybody who ever threw hands behind a chain-linked fence is in one of these damn movies. There are so many you kind of wonder why Dana White isn’t listed as an executive producer.
In fact, there are enough people in these movies that you begin to wonder who hasn’t been in the Expendables yet. Well, Forrest Whitaker and 50 Cent for starters, because they somehow didn’t have an agent badass enough to figure out how to make their schedules work. But in the end, it’s okay, because neither of them have Terry Crews’ titanic pecs. Kurt Russell said he didn’t want to be in an ensemble movie which just means that he thought when Sly called him it was for a Tango & Cash reunion and he got all hurt when he learned that it wasn’t. Charlie Sheen never made the cut because the best part of him got blown up at the end of Red Dawn and there isn’t enough coke left in the world to keep him interested in much of anything. Jackie Chan couldn’t be bothered, but you know what, that guy can do whatever the hell he wants. Nic Cage somehow was making so many Netflix movies he couldn’t make it, and John Travolta never showed up either but if he did we all know it would be so he and Nic Cage could trade faces and impersonate each other again. Or maybe Sly’s just saving something for The Expendables 4.
Right, okay, so where does that leave us? Oh, right, in a set of movies whose characters have names like Yin Yang, Hale Ceasar, Toll Road, Trench Mauser, Jean Vilain, Max Drummer and Doctor Death. It’s a set of movies where, when an actor can’t make it for the entire shoot, they just include him until he has to leave and then they just write him out because with 428 other people in the movie, who’s gonna notice? It’s a set of movies where—and I kid you not—they killed off a bad guy in one movie and then nearly cast the same actor to play the dead bad guy’s brother in the next movie, because nobody would have raised an eyebrow.
If there is a moment of truth in all of this, it’s that point in every Expendables movie where Sly kind of looks at the camera and smirks as if to say, “That’s right. I did this. And none of you could stop me.” And it’s a good thing he did, too, or else all of these dudes would have run for governor somewhere, which would have been awesome, but it wouldn’t have been Expendables-level awesome.