The Expendables (2010)

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*. There is genre, which turns into formula, which turns into cliché, which turns into irony, which turns into broad parody. The Expendables is a movie that goes down this path, only not far enough, getting hung up somewhere between formula and cliché.
*. Instead of making a 2010 movie looking back at ’80s action films — in the way, for example, that the Scream franchise looked back on ’80s slasher flicks — what we have here is simply an ’80s action film made in 2010. Stallone refers to it on the commentary track as “a variation on a theme” but I don’t see any variation. A team of muscle guys with enormous guns and proficient in all kinds of martial arts invade a despotic island state (of indeterminate ethnicity) and blow things up real good. Women are there to be threatened, abused, and rescued. The bad guys are so much cannon fodder: they can’t hit anything no matter how out in the open their targets are or how many rounds they fire off. The chief villain is a tyrannical military type or a slimy corporate suit (here: both). The heroes live by a code that involves lots of hard living and intense loyalty. I could go on and on but you know the script if you’re of a certain age. And if you’re too young to remember, you could probably figure it out for yourself soon enough anyway.

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*. Do women watch these movies? Why would they? Stallone refers to the team as boys who have refused to grow up and the plot as full of “ultimate male fantasies.”
*. What is the ultimate male fantasy? I’m not sure, but it reeks of homoerotic undertones, from Willis’s question about whether Arnie and Sly are going to suck each other’s dicks, to Li saying he’s never said anything about his (fake) family because he’s never been asked, to Sly and Statham questioning the “boundaries” of their relationship, to Lundgren telling Roberts that he left the Stallone’s team because of a “lover’s quarrel.”

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*. Why get Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger to volunteer in cameos and then give them absolutely nothing to say or do? Cut that scene out and replace it with a phone call and what is lost but the chance to see a couple of familiar faces mugging for the camera?
*. Sylvester Stallone should be billed as the Incredible Franchise Man after heading Rocky, Rambo, and this series (and this series was indeed always planned to be a series of films; the sequel was in the works before the first film was released). Film franchises are based on brand name recognition, usually of a particular star. And so Stallone threw a lengthening laundry list of vets into the credits of this one. Even the title-as-logo is a ready-made brand. You start to feel like you’re watching an advertisement or trailer for the movie you’re watching.
*. About the only thing that’s changed from the ’80s is a faster editing style and the use of CGI. The earlier action films were comic books, but now they’re even more animated.
*. On the commentary over the waterboarding scene Stallone says “do not try this at home.” But you know some people will.

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*. Stallone also commends Bryan Tyler for his score, saying he had only a week to do it. Why? I can’t imagine a big production like this giving a composer only a week to whip up a score. That can’t be right.
*. Is it funny or sad watching Stallone try to run? Apparently it was into a stout wind created by the airplane’s engines, but still. The man has veins on his arms that look like hunks of yarn, but he doesn’t appear to be in very good shape.
*. It’s a disappointing movie. I like a lot of these stars, but you keep hoping for some sign of fresh life, something unexpected to happen, but it all plays out strictly by the book. I’d like to say that it was at least an interesting idea, but I’m not sure I’d even go that far. It’s just a routine commercial production, industrial down to the metallic credits, and without the saving grace of particularly good fight scenes or stunts. It did, however, do great box office. But why? Nostalgia? Could there be something in all of this that we miss?

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