They are the Expendables: leader and mastermind Barney Ross (Stallone), former SAS blade expert Lee Christmas (Statham), hand-to-hand combat specialist Yin Yang (Li), long barrel weapons specialist Hale Caesar (Crews), demolitions expert Toll Road (Couture), and precision sniper Gunner Jensen (Lundgren). Living life in the fringes of the law, these hardened mercenaries take on what appears to be a routine assignment: a covert, CIA-funded operation to infiltrate the South American country of Vilena and overthrow its ruthless dictator General Garza (David Zayas). But when their job is revealed to be a suicide mission, the men are faced with a deadly choice, one that might redeem their soulsâ€¦or destroy their brotherhood forever.
While some stars might rest comfortably on their laurels after having created not one, but two, global cultural icons â€“ Rocky and Rambo â€“ writer, director and star Sylvester Stallone continues to push the envelope. With the ensemble action epic, The Expendables, Stallone has amassed a cast that would make even the most jaded action fan blush, pairing global martial arts superstar Jet Li with internationally known action stalwart Jason Statham, mining the worlds of Mixed Martial Arts and professional wrestling with Randy Couture and Steve Austin, and then doubling the muscle quotient with the addition of Terry Crews and iconic tough guys Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts.
Under Stalloneâ€™s detailed direction, The Expendables explodes into a gritty, adrenaline-fueled odyssey, harkening back to a time when every punch was real and brute strength and sweat were supplied by the actors themselves, not prosthetics or stuntmen. When it comes to action, these guys will show you how itâ€™s done. â€œThis movie was shot with brains and brawn, not modern technology,â€ says Stallone. â€œThis is all about real fighting mano a mano. Keeping things as real as possible, instead of falling back on CGI. Itâ€™s the kind of filmmaking I grew up on, and thatâ€™s the way I direct.â€
Every day on set, cast and crew had to be prepared to keep up with Stalloneâ€™s fast pace and flexible shooting style â€“ in the other words, they had to be ready for anything. â€œSly is a visionary,â€ states producer John Thompson. â€œHe doesnâ€™t use shot lists. He decides what he wants to do on the day, which makes it a very fluid, organic process. I have never seen somebody work with that level of detail.â€ Working closely with director of photography Jeffrey Kimball, Stallone often used as many as five cameras and a steady-cam to capture the scope of the action sequences. â€œWe were constantly juggling to ensure everyone was ready,â€ adds Thompson. â€œIt was a huge challenge, but it paid off.â€
While many of the stunts in the film could have been faked using CGI, Stallone called upon his actors to perform the lionâ€™s share themselves. In the scene in which Barney and Christmas flee for their lives in an Albatross seaplane, Stallone was inspired to push the envelope once more. â€œI suggested instead of just a fuel drop that we put Jason in the nose of the plane,â€ says Stallone, â€œand the room fell silent.â€
Statham, however, loved the idea. â€œSly does all of his stunts and he really bashes himself senseless and bashes everybody around in a realistic, believable way,â€ avows Statham. â€œUnless it comes across that way, he doesnâ€™t want to put it in the film. And thatâ€™s music to my ears.â€
An admitted adrenaline junkie, Stallone managed to save a bit of the action for himself. As Christmas gets the plane airborne, Barney, pursued by Garzaâ€™s army, has no choice but to dive off a floating dock onto the ascending aircraft. With the plane throwing gusts of 30-40 mph, Stallone was literally blown into a horizontal position. â€œI didnâ€™t plan on it being quite as intense,â€ he admits. â€œIt turned into a very dangerous stunt.â€
The Expendables is homage to the classic action films of the 80â€™s and 90â€™s a lot of us grew up watching. â€œThereâ€™s no other way to say itâ€, adds producer Avi Lerner, â€œThis is a big movie. Itâ€™s got a testosterone-fueled lineup, big, big sequences, tough action, all starring a lot of actors doing what they do best. When you see explosions, they are real explosions. When you see a Stallone set that gets decimated, itâ€™s really decimated. The actors are really there in it.â€
The Expendables open in theaters Friday August 13.