In the same vein as 2010’s Predators, Sylvester Stallone’s ambition with The Expendables was to transport modern audiences back to the action cinema zenith of the 1980s, when enormous muscle-bound stars utilised equally enormous firearms and slaughtered thousands of bad guys with ease. After resurrecting the ’80s aesthetic with 2008’s Rambo, Stallone has given the ailing style a new life to deliver an old-school, action-packed wallop of a cinematic experience. Armed with the most charismatic ensemble of badasses to grace cinema screens since 1987’s Predator, along with enough testosterone and manliness to make your spleen explode, The Expendablesis a blast; a fucking epic old-fashioned manly movie with infinite replay value.Led by the cigar-chomping Barney Ross (Stallone), the titular Expendables are an elite team of professional mercenaries. Following a violent scuffle with a bunch of pirates, the team are offered a job by a certain Mr. Church (Willis) to travel to the isolated island of Vilena and overthrow a dictator (Zayas) whose strings are being pulled by former CIA operative Monroe (Roberts). Upon arrival at Vilena, though, Ross and his second-in-command Lee Christmas (Statham) discover that there’s more to the assignment that meets the eye, and they choose to decline the job. Yet, Ross becomes haunted by a brave young woman named Sandra (Itié) who willingly chooses to remain in Vilena and fight the evils of her homeland. Consequently, the Expendables suit up for battle – this includes Christmas and Ross, along with Yin Yang (Li), Toll Road (Couture) and Hale Caesar (Crews).More than anything else, The Expendables benefits from a fast and furious pace. The film is a taut, fast-moving actioner that never lulls. While the film is probably 30 or 40% action, the areas of exposition between the loud ‘splosions and blood-letting are filled with something: interesting plot development, engaging tough-guy banter, one-liners and nail-biting sections of anticipation. It sustains momentum in the lead-up to the final half hour, when the film truly takes off in exhilarating ways. Stallone’s interest in gory combat scenarios and penchant for amazing, visceral action is retained in The Expendables with a climax capable of shaking the theatre walls via the rollicking sound mix and Brian Tyler’s epic score. There’s carnage aplenty throughout the action scenes; men are blown to pieces, men are sliced to pieces, necks are broken, bones are shattered, and there are massive explosions. Once the bone-crunching climax draws to a close, you’ll be left wanting more. You’ll also be left wondering what exactly Stallone is smoking and why more Hollywood filmmakers aren’t smoking the same thing.The Expendables features a great deal of outstanding hand-to-hand combat in addition to the shootouts, and Stallone’s embrace of old-school cinematic techniques is refreshing in an age of CGI-laden bullshit likeTransformers. While some have complained about the film’s “shaky-cam/fast-cutting” techniques, they’re not pronounced to the point of distraction. Every inch of the choreography is discernible (if you can’t follow the action scenes, you’re blind), as opposed to The A-Team for which you had to wait until the smoke cleared to figure out what just happened. Meanwhile, CGI was used at times for blood and flames, but it looks phoney on only two or three occasions.Unsurprisingly, the critics sharpened their knives in anticipation for The Expendables, and the film ended up being skewered rather harshly. Yet, those critics dismissing Stallone’s magnum opus as a brain-dead action extravaganza are basing those criticisms on untruths. In previous years, Stallone wrote and directed both 2006’s Rocky Balboa and 2008’s Rambowhich built and solidified the filmmaker’s reputation for constructing heartfelt action movies, and The Expendables further reinforces this talent. Following the nail-biting opening action sequence, well-paced exposition and character development takes centre stage. Mickey Rourke (in his role as Tool) shows up on a few occasions throughout this section, and his appearances constitute the movie’s heart and soul. With this inclusion, there’s a human element to the action that’s lacking in traditional blockbusters (even the much-acclaimed Inception was marred by boring characters and a lack of humanity). The film underscores that these tough guy mercenaries are people, not automatons without a conscience, and this accentuates the dramatic intensity when the team march off to battle.With this in mind, it’s slightly disappointing to report that character development is lacking. While Ross and Christmas are developed adequately, and Yin Yang is allotted an acceptable amount of development, Toll Road and Hale Caesar are neglected in this department. Additionally, there’s a subplot regarding Christmas’ love life, yet this is only present in small fragments. Of course, these faults are nothing an extended version couldn’t fix. And, thankfully, the characterisations are solid – each member of the titular team possesses their own personality and traits, while the dialogue is a constant source of amusement. Contrasted against the other men-on-a-mission movies of 2010 (The Losers and The A-Team), The Expendables features a likable, fun bunch of tough guys portrayed by an ideal cast.Speaking of the cast, it’s the biggest selling point of the enterprise. It reads like a laundry list of everyone’s favourite action heroes. Thankfully, each actor is terrific, right down to the supporting cast. Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham are an ideal pairing of lead performers – their banter is amusing, and their camaraderie feels genuine. Neither star deserves an Oscar, but both afforded a much-needed intensity to key scenes. Alongside this duo, Jet Li also impresses as Yin Yang, while Randy Couture and Terry Crews are infinitely likeable. Dolph Lundgren is the film’s biggest surprise: he’s an absolute standout as Gunnar Jensen. In the past, the Dolphster has delivered dud performances, yet he’s in fine form here – this is his most nuanced and believable work in years. Added to these badasses is Mickey Rourke, who’s an outright scene stealer as the Expendables’ handler. In terms of villains, Eric Roberts oozes evil as Monroe and WWE wrestler Steve Austin is menacing as a henchman, but David Zayas barely registers as General Garza.Another of the biggest selling points of The Expendables is the much-hyped single scene featuring Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. It’s over too quickly, to be sure, but it’s a terrific, hilarious, and well-written scene. The punchline is a humdinger.Yes, The Expendables is dumb at times, as it features enemies who are slow to respond and can’t shoot straight. Yes, The Expendables is clichéd and largely predictable, too, but the movie should not have been any other way. Granted, any summer blockbuster is clichéd and brainless, but one’s willingness to overlook these aspects depends on how fun the ride is. Whereas something like Clash of the Titans is bland and empty, the fun provided by The Expendables is very pervasive and persuasive – you simply will not care about its pedestrian script. Sometimes you have to put aside your instincts as a film critic to enjoy such a ride. As far as I’m concerned, Sly can continue creating these awesome, manly blockbusters for as long as he likes, as I’ll certainly continue to pay to see them.