The title of this article is both a factual and erroneous statement. Movie scholars will immediately come to the conclusion that Sylvester Stallone’s ode to the explosive 80s is indeed a few levels below Citizen Kane. Nonetheless, given the current cultural landscape we find our Hollywood in, The Expendables is indeed, the “greatest movie ever made.” Give me a few paragraphs and I am fairly convinced that I can at least get you to meet me halfway.
The cast is superb, to say the very least- an almost complete list of hugely muscled action heroes of past and present headlined by Sly, Jason Statham and Jet Li blow things up alongside Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Steve Austin and Dolph Lundgren while Mickey Rourke and Bruce Willis provide contextual backdrops to why these men exist. There is of course, a superbly cheesy cameo from Arnold Schwarzenegger to boot. The cast alone is enough reason why every man should indulge in this piece of celluloid history. With more testosterone on show than all the Wrestlemanias combined, Stallone’s ham fisted directing and sometimes terrible writing places these mercenary men in the middle of every 80s action flick plotline weaving together South American generals, exotic islands, Princesses, Eric Roberts, drugs, and lots and lots of explosions. Think of it as the very best amalgamation of the following movies: Rambo, Delta Force (all of them), Commando, Bloodsport, Die Hard, Deathwish, Raw Deal and of course, the predecessor of them all, The Dirty Dozen.
It has been some time since Stallone last delved into the psyche of a brutish man (Rocky), and in The Expendables, amongst the ruin and rubble left behind by the countless objects and human body parts exploding, it is Mickey Rourke who provides a brief moment of analysis- and thankfully, it is only momentary (he even briefly, sheds a tear). The rest of the film is about punching the audience in the face as hard as humanly possible. It is a beautiful sight.
So here comes my argument then, on why The Expendables is the “Greatest Movie Ever Made”, a bullish one, but one with (hopeful) sincerity nonetheless.
We find ourselves in the era of the politically correct safe bet. Capitulated by countless franchise sequels, recognized adaptations of popular novellas, graphic novels and humanizing animations of household pets and toys. We are in the era where boy wizards and effete vampires are the best way a movie studio makes money and in a sense, The Expendables is a safe bet on its own. Stallone collected the biggest names he could find for the project (Jean Claude Van Damme apparently, turned down a role in the movie and we are not sure whether Steven Seagal is still alive and whether or not Chuck Norris is now too much of an internet demigod to do movies) in order for it to have maximum impact with press and media.
Yet the movie’s biggest difference in comparison to Box Office go-getters is its breaking of cinematic social norms, and with it, the political correctness a movie abides by in order to elicit an overwhelming acceptable response. We have in recent years seen organizations speak critically of popular films. Sasha Baron Cohen’s Bruno received a great deal of negativity from GLAAD for its negative stereotypical portrayals of the Gay and Lesbian community and countless lawsuits from people duped during the filming (although in reality, it should have just been criticized for being a crappy movie). We’ve seen films like Passion of the Christ, United 93, Fahrenheit 9/11 cause uproar- and in today’s touchy political climate, it is with good reason. So comes The Expendables, devoid of any political correctness, the movie rampages through 100+ minutes with the subtlety of a hurricane, highlighted by a scene where Steve Austin (perhaps, almost hilariously parallel to that of his real life) punches a woman in the face (met with audible gasps in the cinema), exotic South American locales (vaguely named Vilema) complete with tyrannical General despot and goofy Caucasian mastermind, and of course, having Jet Li’s persona in the film named, I kid you not, Yin Yang. But it is this bravado that makes it great- uncaring of backlash and accepted norms, instead, grabbing the bullhorn and proclaiming loudly, what I’m sure a lot of us feel.
This brings us to the second argument, and that of the long gone aura of male machismo. The 1980s were a golden time for a being a man in Hollywood- an era where the biggest movies were as polite as a brick to the head- and so it is only fitting that one of the biggest bricks of that generation is bringing it back today. It is just not socially acceptable in today’s world to punch a girl in the face, and let’s be honest and say that Michael Cera (and all the characters he will ever play), will never do such thing. I am convinced however, that this desire to bring back the manly man is not an isolated occurrence.
We have seen a resurgence of such- albeit in the form of successful advertising- in both the Old Spice Man and the Dos Equis Man. Embracing all that is man, they are all a far cry from the hyper-sensitive, androgynous flavouring that has become the norm in music, television and film; an understandable by-product of a changing society moving away from so-called archaic ideas. The Expendables however, is like one long Dos Equis/Old Spice ad spliced together with Mad Men scenes where Don Draper is boozing and womanizing with great aplomb soundtracked by Thin Lizzy’s fitting anthem “The Boys Are Back in Town”. With guns of course.
The female counterparts in the film? Well, they rest somewhere between unapologetic eye-candy, the strong but still needs the help of a man woman (portrayed by Brazilian actress Giselle Itié), and the damsel in distress (Buffy’s Charisma Carpenter whose defining scene comes after she’s been beaten by a man and watches as Statham’s character single-handedly disposes of these brutes with violent disposition). But that is the point isn’t it?
It is the summation of all these things that make The Expendables so great. It is a cinematic homage to an era seemingly forgotten, crafted with as much brute force as a cinema will hold, all against the grain of what is now deemed right and wrong. For that bravery, there surely must be some medal awarded to someone. It is time for men to be men again. And in all its glorious machismo, Stallone reminds us that it is not okay for a man to weep openly, to wear make up or constricting pants, to not be able to chop down a tree or break the face of an evil despot’s henchmen, to be a wimpy girly man or Adam Lambert. But most of all, The Expendables believes that perhaps the manliest thing you could ever do (besides watching this movie instead of Eat, Pray, Love), is to someday fly a plane while drinking a beer and smoking a cigar.
BE A MAN!
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Bruce Willis, Charisma Carpenter, Mickey Rourke
Released by: Millennium Films