Chose your weapon
Entire story in fewer words than are in this sentence:
Predator, without a predator.
I’m not saying it isn’t there. There’s something at least non-heterosexual about declaring your shotgun to be your girlfriend. The problem is that the bar was set so high in the 80s with “take me in, pig” and “we don’t need the girl,” that simple stuff like gun fetishism and drenched musclemen locked in MMA holds barely even registers. We do have two straight love stories without any physical contact between men and women. Each woman serves primarily as an excuse to slaughter other men. Seagal turned down a role in this film and it seems fairly obvious that it went to Statham, who does fine with it. When his lost love’s new man leaves her with a shiner, he finds the louse and his boys playing basketball. They are about half way through rallying and pumping themselves up for an initial shoving match and ritualistic build up before Statham wordlessly launches forward with a flurry of serious business that smells of krav maga and pain, quickly reducing the jock/business school crew to a pool of tears and fear. Good scene. With Seagal, it would have been great though. Statham certainly scared the shit out of these guys and some of them will be feeling the beating for weeks. But Seagal would have left Trent to try to push Chase’s femur back in with poor depth perception because of the fact that Seagal was beginning to digest one of his eyeballs.
I came up with 128 confirmed kills. I’m a stickler on this, remember. Plenty more were killed by implication and still more were merely fucked up or KO’d, like Statham’s basketball buddies. For the official 128, we’re only talking about straight-up shootings, eviscerations, decapitations, spine-snaps and immolation. They come at the rate of just about one a minute and a lot of them are glorious, if a bit CGI-heavy. Decapitation is too kind a fate sometimes. “Hey, what the-” peaceful oblivion. It’s so much better to chop off a hand first, let it sink in for a moment, then rip out that fucker’s adam’s apple and watch him flop around on the ground like a fish out of water.
Was the scene with Bruce Willis and Arnold too forced?
Well, you try figuring out a way to get Bruce and Arnold to both suddenly appear in a one-minute scene with Sly and then have their characters disappear from the movie entirely– it is unavoidably going to be as forced as Lexington Steele having sex with a baby. But it was worth it and how lucky we are that, at the end of his career, Sly has set about indulging our every wish, instead of trying to remake The Seventh Seal or entering the political realm. It’s extraordinarily rare, if not unprecedented, for a major movie star at the end of his career to really know the score like this.
Where were the other 80s Action big shots?
Sly explained it this way: “I talked to Van Damme. I talked to [Steven] Seagal. I even talked to Chuck Norris.” He then added, “But there are certain considerations, like insanity.” Fortunately Dolph is the most awesome character in the movie, a junkie Expendable who, after rescuing a ship from Somali pirates, decides to hang one of them and he argues his case like so:
Sly: That’s not how we work!
Dolph: But it’s good to hang pirates.
I also dug his one-liner after he demolishes the spine of his overseer on an assassination mission. The guy is barking orders at Dolph and calls him a junkie, which prompts Dolph to squash his head and neck and say, “insect.”
What does Mickey Rourke do?
Are you going to make me ask about each, individual guy?
No. Jet Li is pretty great. I thought his agility and skill could have been exploited a bit more, like he should have put in a better showing when he fought Dolph, but this is a crowded film. Though I understand the reasons for casting Couture, Cro Cop should have been in his place, since Cro Cop really is a commando and is way cooler than Couture in general and all I really remember from Randy in this film is a fifteen minute speech in which he explains what cauliflower ears are and why he has them. Eric Roberts is a top drawer cartoon villain and Stone Cold is perfect in his part as a paramilitary goon. The black guy had one of those guns that is so awesome you’re like, “why don’t they all just use that? They’d be invincible.” Was Carl Weathers too busy making a stew? Statham delivers, as has already been established. Plus…
There are a lot to chose from, though none quite have the bite of the best Punisher: Warzone novelty deaths. Eric Roberts is gunned down from the front by Sly and, as he looks down to see his chest wounds and realizes that he is about to die, a giant knife explodes through his sternum after being thrown by Statham, who was lurking behind him. But I’m just a sucker for immolation. Couture’s one shining moment comes when he torches the phenomenally hateable Austin in a grand fashion. What makes it for me is that, after the flames reach the point where Austin’s agonizing fate becomes inescapable, Statham can’t resist jumping in with a final kick, for absolutely no other reason than the feeling that just burning the prick alive isn’t good enough.
Post-mortem one liner:
Again, there are several excellent candidates, but I’ll go with this one– Roberts and his goons are questioning some dissidents who say they are innocent. The general says that he can’t see inside of them so he doesn’t know if they are lying. Roberts has them wasted and says, “ Now I can see inside you… and I see lies.”
Stupid Political Content
To the extent that there is any political content, maybe the famously Republican Sly is drifting left. Firstly, there is the film’s fondness for knives, which are like a renewable energy source in contrast to guns. On top of that, there are like thirty scenes in which knives are reused, renewed and recycled, scenes wherein one knife is used to stab three people seven times. If plunging a knife into one enemy, then ducking a punch from another, then pulling the knife back out before the first guy collapses and using it to slit the second guy’s throat isn’t going green, what is? The villain is also a rogue CIA agent who uses water boarding on the female lead, which I guess is an anti-torture statement.
The basic premise is that The Expendables are some old school mercenaries hired to take out the ex-CIA guy who has turned some tiny Mexican country into a drug principality. Really, it just seems to gloss over political stuff–CIA/drugs, mercenaries, oppression in Latin America–without really having any conviction. As wonderfully asinine as Invasion USA or First Blood Part II might have been, they had conviction. And action conviction is possible in our more complicated political landscape, as we’ve seen as recently as Rambo. Though I enjoyed the “rogue” CIA drug pusher, that’s kind of a throwback and Seagal has long since taken out the likes of Roberts and Austin. To break new ground with feeling, I’d have greatly enjoyed seeing The Expendables take on the Blackwater goon platoons of real life cartoon villain Eric Prince. “That’s not a mercenary, mate. This is a mercenary!”
Great Movie or Greatest Movie?
After a year of fevered internet hype, the film doesn’t disappoint. And that is not a minor achievement. After the marketing campaign, I feared that Sly might pull some punches on the violence, but not so. One of the better scenes is when Sly and Statham unleash their conversion of a cargo prop plane into a gas bombing death machine. But the film also made me think of Baudrillard and Las Vegas. I’m truly sorry, but it did. I’m glad Sly didn’t try to do intentional unintentional gay erotica. It would have been weird if he tried to wedge in phony hysteria about race or communism. But without those things, the film doesn’t feel earnest. It’s too self-aware. And that means that the horrific violence doesn’t have a suitable context. Something doesn’t quite match up when you’re winkingly taking us down memory lane with a soundtrack of feel-good oldies as we watch dozens of people being dismembered and burned to death. Don’t get me wrong. I will probably watch this movie four more times in the next year. It’s just that you can never really go home again. 80s Action will never be fully recaptured. As my father once told me, “life is a process of loss.”