The Expendables (2010) – Directed by Sylvester Stallone – Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Mickey Rourke, Gisele Itie, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Charisma Carpenter, David Zayas, Gary Daniels, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Sylvester Stallone’s THE EXPENDABLES might be the most insightful movie on stunted masculinity since Shawshank.
EXPENDABLES is a movie about guys who want a responsible-free life where they spend their time playing soldier, kicking ass, blowing shit up, making money, driving bad-ass choppers, and hanging out in their super-cool clubhouse where women aren’t allowed.
The film does not traffic in any real kind of old school misogyny, though. Sure, Tool (Mickey Rourke) brings a clearly disposable woman home (he lives at the clubhouse) who looks like her goal for 2011 is be to star in the latest Rock of Love, but the only other two women in the film force our testosterone heavy Peter Pans to confront some deeper emotions.
Not that the film goes anywhere with it because their reaction is just to hit someone, but through Statham and Stallone’s characters we see that it’s not that women are objects to them – it’s that they simply don’t understand them. These are men trapped by that “real men don’t have emotions” mindset. Stallone’s reaction to Statham’s pain is to tell him, “She wasn’t right for you, anyway,” and not much else. These guys are all pals but they don’t want to have “a moment” with one another.
Here’s how it works:
Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) is in love with Lacy (the still amazingly hot Charisma Carpenter) but he comes and goes because he’s a mercenary. He doesn’t tell her this because, well, the film really never says why, but Christmas is the kind of guy who lives in the moment and doesn’t seem to realize why Lacy needs a bit more than him dropping by once a month. “I don’t even know what you do,” she says, but he doesn’t see why this should matter.
It’s clearly not just a sexual relationship for Lee – he really does love her and when he pops by unannounced and she’s got a new dick boyfriend, he storms off, ending the relationship then and there by telling her she should’ve waited. Later, after the new boyfriend smacks her around and he goes and beats the crap out of him and all his basketball-playing friends, he tells her: “Now you know what I do,” and repeats how, “You should have waited. I’m worth it.”
I give the film credit for not giving Lacy the nerdy boyfriend like films and shows usually do (looking at you, Justified). Lacy’s boyfriend is a taller, slightly more muscular, bigger jerk with better hair – but he’s around. It’s not hard to see that she was either looking for, or susceptible to, a more idealized version of the guy she’s been involved with for 18 months.
Christmas, of course, thinks the relationship is going splendidly and he never wavers on his insistence that it’s her fault. He doesn’t rant and rave about it, but he just tells her in his moody, British way that she should have waited and the subtle point (though he doesn’t appear to be any more aware of it than he is at the idea that he could be at fault for any of this) is that if she had waited (for what, exactly … more of the same?) she wouldn’t have been on the bruising end of a face punch.
The same lady/relationship problems affect most everyone else in the gang, too. Yin Yang (Jet Li, and yes, that’s really his character’s name) keeps saying he needs more money for his family, but later on he admits to Barney (Stallone) that he doesn’t have a family, he just wants more money because he’s smaller than everyone else.
Hale Ceasar (Terry Crews) calls his favorite gun his girlfriend. Gunner (Dolph Lundgren, who’s terrific in the most complex role in the film) doesn’t have any issues with women, but he’s a traitor, and Toll Road (Randy Couture, and yes, I swear I’m not making these names up – if there’s a sequel they need to have a bit where we find out they got their names from the GI Joe program) doesn’t have any lady issues, but he’s in therapy.
(BTW, I can’t remember ever seeing Couture act in anything, but the guy’s got a pretty good sense of comic timing.)
Barney’s issue with women comes in the form of Sandra, their contact in Vilena. Vilena is ruled by General Garza (who happens to be Sandra’s daddy) but increasingly run by ex-CIA man Munroe (Eric Roberts). Barney and Lee go to the island to scout and they get attacked and Barney tries to get her to leave but she won’t.
Barney literally cannot figure out why. Literally. He ends up having a heart-to-heart with Tool about it and Mickey Rourke mumbles through some harrowing experience about their mission in Bosnia where some woman killed himself. He thinks that if he could have saved her, it would have saved what was left of his soul.
Barney decides he has to go back and save her, which results in lots and lots of killing and punching and shooting and stabbing and knife throwing. None of it is in any way spectacular but it is all incredibly satisfying.
Even when Stallone and Steve Austin have their big throwdown and you’re watching it thinking Stallone’s botox and bad dye-job make him look ridiculously old and reminding yourself if Austin could actually still do any of this he’d still be wrestling every week, it’s highly watchable.
So good guys win and Stallone gets the girl, right?
Not really. At the end of the film, where Bond or Ethan Hunt or Convention would tell you that Barney gets a little sugar from Sandra, they just hug and he tells her to take care and that he’ll be around right before he hops in a plane and goes back to the United States.
Stallone’s direction is to keep everything simple and it works. EXPENDABLES is easily comparable to The Losers, which was both a send-up of movies like this and a slicked-up, self-aware action movie. For all the flash and (attempted) fun of The Losers, however, you can’t escape how much that movie sucked. EXPENDABLES isn’t nearly as self-aware or clever as Losers, but it is a much, much better movie.
I give Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger credit for showing up and having some fun, although it’s not a wholly satisfying experience because Ah-nuld and Bruce don’t go nostalgia on us. Willis isn’t playing some blue collar wise guy and Arnold isn’t playing anyone who needs to “get to da choppah!” He plays Barney’s “oldest, bestest worst friend” who wants nothing to do with this job that Willis is there to pitch to them. Willis’ character, Mr. Church, is a CIA operative looking to hire someone to go on this hitjob in Vilena.
When Barney tells Church that Arnold is cranky because “he wants to be President,” it actually made me feel a bit bad for Stallone. Willis and Arnold are really playing themselves more than reliving an old persona – Willis is the professional who’s outgrown this stuff and Arnold has left the game for higher aspirations. And there, standing next to them, is Stallone, an old, old man attempting to parlay the success of his greatest hits tour (Rocky and Rambo) into airplay for his new album.
Well, it works. The new album might not be a classic, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable movie from start to finish.