When I first expressed interest in seeing The Expendables, those who don’t know me well wondered why. But those who do know me well, know that I’m not as traditionally feminine as I appear to be.
My dirty little secret is… I love wrestling. I haven’t watched it in about six months, because my body corporate doesn’t allow cable in my apartment building. But I’ve been devoted to World Wrestling Entertainment for almost ten years now, and anyone who is remotely familiar with the product will know the name “Stone Cold Steve Austin”. And anyone remotely familiar with the action-hero line-up for The Expendables, will know that “Austin” is one of the names that appears alongside “Stallone”, “Lundgren” and “Schwarzenegger” on its poster.
While there is a storyline per se (The Expendables, a group of elite mercenaries, are commissioned to overthrow a Latin American dictator, General Garza, on the island Vilena in the Gulf of Mexico. Whilst there, writer and director Sylvester Stallone’s character, Barney Ross, meets their contact Sandra, who turns out to be Garza’s daughter, and makes it his own personal mission to rescue her from the tyranny of her father and her country, and in turn, open his mind and heart. Gag me.), it’s so badly written that I didn’t even know that Jason Statham’s (my new action hero crush, BTW) character’s name was Christmas until a friend mentioned it to me days later!
But the reason movie-goers flock to a film like this (as opposed to Eat, Pray, Love, which opened the same weekend as The Expendables) isn’t for its storyline. My fellow patrons at the cinema were a primarily male audience, obviously into action films, weaponry, fight scenes and professional wrestling. Jet Li, UFC fighter Randy Couture, former NFL player Terry Crews (who is one of my favourite comedy/action actors, and was relegated to cheap one liners and blowing stuff up in favour of more screen time for surgery-damaged, pillow-faced and drawn-on-facial-haired Stallone) and Austin got the best pops from the audience, especially when those actors were utilised for their talents, with Li taking on Dolph Lundgren’s character Gunnar Jensen in an entertaining fight scene, Crews throwing an explosive as if it were a football, and Couture and Austin pulling out their street fighting skills/wrestling mat moves (Figure Four leglock, anyone?) in the final scenes.
I definitely know my wrestling trivia, but as far as action films go, The Longest Yard (another Austin/Crews collaboration—go figure), The Fast & the Furious and The Scorpion King are about as far as my knowledge extends. So I asked my friend and fellow Expendables-watcher, Eddie, to point out his top five throwbacks to the great action films of the ’80s and ’90s, which this film is meant to emulate.
1) At the start of The Expendables, they are taking down The Pirates. Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the past decade’s most successful action film franchises, in which the leads are played by pretty boys Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom; a far cry from the rough and tumble action heroes of Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s era.
2) “The Stormtrooper Effect”: Garza’s henchmen have their faces painted as they go into battle with The Expendables. This is known as the Stormtrooper effect, where the enemy’s face is obscured so as to help the audience deal with them being killed off by our incomparable heroes.
3) The Expendables all wear different hats (Li’s character Yin Yang in a baseball cap, Couture’s Toll Road in a bucket hat, Ross and Christmas in black military-style berets) so that the members of the audience with a lower IQ can tell them apart during the fight scenes. And let’s face it; with a movie like this, the majority of its audience tend to lean that way.
4) As the team is descending on Vilena for the final showdown, Ross switches their plane’s controls to autopilot, and from there on in, the rest of the film travels on autopilot also. That’s funny; I thought the whole film was travelling on autopilot.
5) In the closest scene to character development, Mickey Rourke’s character Tool divulges to Ross his inner torment about not saving a woman when he had the chance to, and encourages Ross to go back for Sandra. Similarly, when Christmas discovers his ex-girlfriend has been beaten by her new boyfriend, Christmas ambushes said new boyfriend and his friends on the basketball court, bringing the beaten ex along for the ride. The whole movie, disguised by boys club banter and blowing stuff up, is about a man’s desire to save a woman. It’s most guys’ dream to be the knight in shining armour, as Stallone and Statham are here, and come to the rescue. Sure, this is a dated and highly sexist ideal posits that it’s a biological truth ingrained in most men.
Certainly in the man who wrote and directed The Expendables, wouldn’t you think?