This is the kind of project that I dreamt of as a young man, when I realized how legendary the action movie heroes of the 80's and 90's truly were and the magic they brought to the screen. It didn't matter if the plot was paper-thin, the characters hopelessly one-dimensional; the men who starred in those films were gods of the silver screen, and machine guns and karate chops were their thunderbolts. I wrote an article about an event like The Expendables in early 2003 for The Devil's Advocate, my high school newspaper (if anybody has that issue, scan it and send it my way). I recall writing that there needs to be an action movie of epic proportions, one to stand atop all other action films - joining the likes of Schwarzeneggar, Stallone, Seagal, Van Damme, and others into the biggest, baddest, most explosion-filled movie in the history of the world. I was youthful and full of hyperbole - but who knew that article would turn out to be quasi-prophetic?
For those of you who don't have your finger on the pulse of the modern action film, The Expendables is Sylvester Stallone's next film: a story of an elite unit of soldiers as they make their way to South America to overthrow a ruthless dictator. Sure, that plot sounds like 40 other films - but the significant thing about the movie is the cast that he has managed to acquire. As it stands today, the superstar cast consists of Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Arnold Schwarzeneggar, Danny Trejo, Mickey Rourke, Forest Whitaker, and Randy Couture.
I'm going to give you a second to let that sink in. I think even those of us who knew about that cast need to go back and re-read it. I think we take for granted the awesomeness of reading those names in the same sentence. They are going to star in the same movie.
An action movie.
Written by, directed by, and starring Sylvester Stallone.
This is the end-all-be-all of action juggernauts, where the most badass cast ever assembled for this type of movie will gather to wreak cinematic havoc on anything in their path.
The guys over at RopeOfSilicon posted an interesting article this morning about the dawn of "Obamatainment" after the depressing movies of the Bush Administration. They cite Slumdog Millionaire's Best Picture win at the Oscars as the sign that the national subconscious has been flipped. Last year's winner, No Country For Old Men, was a hopelessly bleak metaphor for 2007's emotions - this year, a movie I reviewed as "a triumphant celebration of life and destiny" took home the top prize. You can see the differences already.
I'm thinking The Expendables will be a remnant of the kinds of movies released over the past eight years - but really the past 30 years, when you think about it. The release date of 2010 will give us enough time to absorb the frilly musicals, remakes, and fodder that are being pushed into production and then blow our faces off when it rips theater doors off their hinges to remind us what action films are supposed to look like. Will we ever see anything else like it after it has left it's undeniable mark on the cinematic landscape? Yes, we'll have stepping stones to keep us above water until we get there (Crank 2: High Voltage, I'm looking at you), but I honestly don't know if we will ever get to see anything like The Expendables after its release.
To me, it seems like Stallone's last stand: something he's been wanting to do for years, but only after the resurgence of his Rocky and Rambo characters (popular 30 years ago, I might add) does he feel the timing is right to make this kind of movie again. You can't help but look at Stallone's age - he's 62 right now, 63 in July - as a factor here. I watched the most recent installment of the Rambo franchise shocked at the unexpected amount of violence from a dude this old. I know it's freakin' Rambo, but I still didn't foresee the amount of carnage inflicted on those Burmese soldiers. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with making a film like this as you get older - in fact, just the opposite. I think this will be great for Stallone and his career. I'm sure the box office receipts are going to be through the roof, and maybe this will allow him the freedom to finally make some of his other passion projects (like that Edgar Allen Poe biopic he's been working on for years). I look at this as Sly's equivalent to Eastwood's Unforgiven, and hope that it can reach the same quality, if in completely different filmic realm altogether. It's not a coincidence that Eastwood was a spry 62 years old when his 1992 film won Best Picture. Actually, I think that's a perfect example of a coincidence. Regardless...
The casting process for this film is even more interesting than who is currently signed on. Jean Claude Van Damme turned down a role, apparently citing Stallone's lack of care for the script and refusal to give information about Van Damme's potential character as the reason. I find this to be complete and utter horse crap - there is no way that Sly would tell him not to worry about the characters and concentrate on the money he would be making. That's just not something Stallone would say. He has yet to publically respond to Van Damme's comments, who had no problem blabbing to everyone who would listen about how great he is because he took the moral high road and turned this movie down. Nice move, JCVD - you're going to regret that for the rest of your life. A recent source informed me that Welsey Snipes was offered UFC fighter Randy Couture's part, but couldn't accept because he's not allowed to leave the country (if you'll recall, he had a little problem with tax evasion a while back). Man, that would have been awesome to see those two back together years after Demolition Man. That's what you get when you break the law, Snipes. Stallone would know. He IS the law.
Some may view this as Stallone's "handing off the reins" to the next generation. F that noise - he's jumping in headfirst. He's not done yet, and he wants everyone to know it. Why else do you think he's doing the writing and directing? He doesn't want to passively back down and pass the torch - that's not in his vocabulary. If he's going down (again, I don't think this means the end of his career, but instead a launch pad), he wants to go down in a blaze of gunfire surrounded by his old movie buddies and some younger cats who now kick just as much ass as he did back in the day.
I feel like this film has the potential to be Stallone's magnum opus - the one he will be remembered for even above Rambo and Rocky. If The Expendables lands anywhere close to the plateaus I hope it will reach, this movie could easily become an instant classic and a defining moment in the history of action films. It already has done enough to guarantee my place in a theater on opening day, even if every trailer for it that comes out sucks beyond belief. I can't believe that these people would all agree to do this project if there wasn't some merit behind it, and if it's half as entertaining as Rambo, then we all should be in for a good time to say the least. 2010 can't come soon enough. Until next time...