Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Giselle Itié, David Zayas, Charisma Carpenter, Terry Crews, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger
US theatrical: 13 Aug 2010 (General release)
UK theatrical: 19 Aug 2010 (General release)
Let me first say I’m not joking. I don’t care that most people will scoff at the headline, roll their eyes at the first line, and have stopped reading before they reached this very sentence. The Expendables reestablished the action genre we ALL can love – the fun one. The one with movie stars, and not giant monsters or robots. The one with a devil-may-care attitude and enough ammunition to go to hell and back.
Some of you know the truth. Some of you understand the incredible appeal of Sylvester Stallone’s 2010 butt-kicking—check that—ASS-kicking, explosive-setting, knife-throwing masterpiece of manhood. Some of you I saw at the midnight show two years ago and some I’ll see at the same time in a few days.
If you don’t count yourself in this group, shame on you. Maybe these 10 reasons—double the standard five—can put you in the right mind.
10) “Warning Shot!”
Shaky camera. Pirate ship. Night. Shaky camera. Prisoners. Guns. Shaky camera. SYLVESTER STALLONE! THE EXPENDABLES! Shaky camera. Pirates holding prisoners hostage. Negotiations fail. Dolph “Gunner” Lundgren yells, “WARNING SHOT!” Leaning over the rail, he fires his sawed-off shotgun and cuts—a dude—in half.
Thus is the first five minutes of The Expendables. It sets up the film you’re about to see beautifully by
a) discarding any thought that this would be a nuanced, soft-R, slow-moving action flick that feels more like a drama than Die Hard.
b) shocking you right off the bat with the lightning fast combination of brutal violence and throwaway humor.
c) getting right into the thick of the action and not letting up til all the baddies are dead.
Then, somehow, it gets better.
9) Tool, Yin Yang, Toll Road, Mr. Church, and the Rest of Those Names
This is the IQ test I give all my prospective boos (yes, all zero).
Q: Sylvester Stallone gave Jet Li’s Asian, kung-fu master the name “Yin Yang” in The Expendables because:
a) He’s racist.
b) He thinks it’s funny and is therefore racist.
c) He thinks it’s funny because it is kind of funny (you’re a racist).
d) He thinks it’s funny because his fans think it’s funny because it is funny he would name someone something so obviously a stereotype it can only be viewed as a meta reference to the culture the movie is built on – the ‘80s.
If you answered d) then you could date me! Seriously. Hit me up.
8) The Big Three on The Big Screen
It couldn’t have been built up more, and it lived up to every word of hype. Bruce Willis reportedly flew to Thailand for the day just to shoot the scene. Arnold took time off from, well, whatever he was doing two-three years ago, but hey! He didn’t have to! They came together with and probably for their buddy Sly (and some cash money), but I also like to think they read the script and liked what it stood for—a last ditch effort to do what they do best.
Get ripped… Talk shit… Be funny.
Oh, and remind everyone that they can hold the screen like exactly none of today’s so-called action “stars”.
7) Stallone’s Smart Script – Yeah. Smart.
I defy you to name five other 64-year-old actors who could get an $80 million budget greenlit with their name at the top of the cast list using a script they wrote themselves. Sure, Rocky Balboa was a modest hit in 2006, but his other franchise sequel, Rambo, was pretty close to a dud.
So what was it that convinced investors to pony up the funds? I’m sure most of it was because of the cast—Jason Statham and Jet Li are no strangers to big budget flicks, and with the added support of Sly, Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lundgren, and a few key cameos, it would be hard to imagine this picture bombing as big as the bombs it set off.
Lest we forget, Stallone wrote them their parts. He planned everything out as perfectly as any producer could have, but with an artistic angle they’d never understand. The Expendables made its money after week one by delivering exactly what fans wanted—a fun, funny, and, yes, violent action romp. We don’t just want to see movie stars stand around doing nothing on the big screen—if we did, The Watch would be rolling in dough.
Stars have to earn our love and admiration much more than they did in the past, and Sly astutely realized this while crafting his blockbuster. Each character gets enough screen time to show their stuff, but no one man is bigger than the picture. That’s a tough tightrope to walk, and Sly does it with impeccable deftness. As usual, he deserves more credit than he gets.
6) The Dock Scene
Everyone remembers two adrenaline-juicing moments:
a) Statham’s Lee Christmas crawling into the nose of the plane, popping out into the open, mowing down a few dumb soldiers, and then finishing off the rest by firing a flare onto a dock full of bad, bad dudes.
b) The explosion that ensued.
What many people seem to forget, though, is why Christmas and Barney Ross swung back around to attack the local army they’d already escaped.
Q: Were they saving the girl who stubbornly refused to leave her homeland?
A: No. She had already driven away.
Q: Were they trying to liberate the country by killing off every bad guy in one fell swoop?
A: No. Earlier intel had shown the troops numbered much more than what was on that dock.
They turned the plane around simply because they wanted to kill as many of those scumbags as they could. Whether it be spite, revenge for the sheer inconvenience of having to hurry off the island, or just pure ol’ fashioned malicious desire, Barney and Lee wanted to make sure they took out as many of those mofo’s as they could before leaving the island behind forever (of course, they do end up returning).
This mentality simply doesn’t exist in today’s action flicks. People either die by accident or because there’s no other choice. Even Jason Bourne, the epitome of the modern action hero, reacts to his attackers out of instinct rather than intent. He doesn’t remember how or why he learned how to dispose of people with a folded up magazine. Barney and Lee do. They’ve accepted “the life” as they call it. This passion for their work is infectious, and an angle sorely missed before they blew up that dock just for the fun of it.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.