The 10 Reasons ‘The Expendables’ is the Most Important (Action) Film of the 2000s

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.

Shaky camera.

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.

5 – 1


5) Welcome Back to the ’80s: Over the Top, Excessive, and Pitch Perfect

We got a lot of things wrong during the ’80s — weird suits, eight-track tapes, George Michael — but one thing we got exactly right were our action movies. If you discount The Expendables, your favorite action flick has to be from the ’80s. Maybe the early ’90s, but they were just living off dwindling spirit initiated in Reagan-era America when we had to blow up everything and kill everyone to make up for our country’s post-Vietnam damaged ego.

That spirit was officially killed sometime between the release of Mission: Impossible II in 2000 and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen in 2009. Cause of death: too much slow motion, too many special effects, and too many wimpy heroes who were only strong “in heart”. F that noise. We need muscles and heart in our heroes. The Expendables brought the genre back to life with gusto. May it never drift away from us again.


4) Hale Caesar and his “big boy” AA-12

One of the rarest traits in movies is when a film manages to continue to improve upon itself as it plays out. We’ve all been there, especially in action flicks — you see a big explosion, or a good punch, or a giant set piece and think, “Damn! That was awesome! How are they ever going to top that?”

Sometimes they do, but usually they cannot. It’s too difficult to make your audience repeatedly say “Damn!” so most movies hope to keep them from saying “Damn. How much longer is this?”

This is not the case with The Expendables. Just when you think it’s peaked, BAM! Sylvester Stallone runs down a freaking plane! Then, POW! Arnold Schwarzenegger opens the doors to the church! Then there’s actually a scene that manages to top them all — Hale Caeser’s “big boy” blasting scene.

You know what I’m talking about, I’m sure. On the plane ride back to the island, Terry Crews’ Caeser tells a dumbfounded teammate, “You know, the enemy’s always been terrified of noise, especially shotguns. With this big boy spitting out 250 rounds a minute, you tell me who’s tolerating that. Absolutely zero.” Minutes later, there’s been so much action you’ve probably forgotten about Caeser’s promise to bring the noise. Once he does, though, you’ll never forget again.


3) Sly’s Deft Direction – Yeah. Deft.

Sly the director somehow manages to catch even more grief than Sly the actor. Yes, he helmed the catastrophic sequel to Saturday Night Fever, but he also did a bang up job on Rocky II, III, IV, and Rocky Balboa. Oh! Rocky Balboa! Holy heck! That was a master class in direction! His decision to switch from film to HD video for the climactic fight should go down in history as thee moment a veteran filmmaker recognized video wasn’t going anywhere, adapted, and then incorporated the new media flawlessly into an established genre.

But I digress. In The Expendables, Sly’s decisions in front of the camera were more influential than those with the camera, namely the choice to incorporate as many stunts as possible. Many of the action flicks from the 1980s hold up today at least partially because of their adherence to reality — that is, they didn’t use cheesy, fake looking F/X when a professionally-trained stunt man could do it for real. Stallone understands this and incorporates it into his films one way or another (see Rocky Balboa for example A) in order to preserve them for future generations.

Beyond that, though, Stallone guided the movie with a sure hand all the way through. His unblinking vision produced not just an ode to the action genre’s past glories, but a declarative statement for its future. Though he wasn’t behind the camera for The Expendables 2, here’s hoping his spirit continues to carry the franchise.


2) Mickey Rourke

He put forth an Academy Award-caliber performance in what was barely more than a cameo role. His speech about a suicidal villager he failed to save still haunts my dreams. If Academy president Hawk Koch called me up right now and told me I could give Mick the Oscar for only one movie, The Expendables or The Wrestler, I honestly don’t know which I would choose. He’d have to get two. Maybe I could just steal Sean Penn’s and return it to the rightful owner.


1) It’s an underdog story, and Americans love underdog stories.

Call Sly what you will, but he’s not dumb. After the incalculable success of Rocky, Sly repeatedly created characters who were down on their luck and overmatched. He was that character, so naturally he played him well. Whether it was John Rambo, the peace-seeking veteran who always seemed to be going up against a larger, angrier force, or Barney Ross, the mercenary for hire with a soft spot for the innocent, Stallone always stacked the odds against his protagonists.

More importantly, though, he learned how to portray himself as the underdog. He’s said time and time again it was harder to get Rocky Balboa made than the original Rocky. The same goes for The Expendables. It’s his third franchise in five decades, and he knew his age would be a detriment to getting his latest project produced. So what did he do? He turned it into a positive and surrounded himself with aging action stars, all ready for one last mission.

Then he stacked the deck against him by providing his character with the stubborn, do-gooder mentality of a man who would rather face an army than let one pure soul pass before her time. Thankfully, his buddies came along for the ride and helped him out. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be getting an Expendables 2 this week.