Cinemalphabet: E is for The Expendables (2010)
Midway through The Expendables there is a scene where Sly, Mickey and Mickey’s ridiculous manweave have a conversation about regrets, relationships and duty. In most dude-bro action films these conversations serve as reminders that despite the absence of humping, bumping and skirt chasing, these are men who love women. However, in The Expendables ruminations of love and regret serve no such purpose. For these are men who love action and each other. No illusions of some great love awaiting the heroes. Not even Christmas’ (Jason Statham) whining about the girl from Buffy who had another dude all up in the crib seem to be about relationships with women.
It would be easy to dismiss The Expendables as sexist, but its deficits (and there are many) are not with its depictions of women, but rather its decision to include them at all. Look, no matter what you hear from the parade of straight dudes exiting theaters all over the world, I’m here to tell you The Expendables is nothing more than a love triangle between Sly, Statham and Lundgren. Gunner, played with surprising nuance and familiar pathos by Lundgren, behaves more like a jilted ex than anything else. Christmas is the new hotness and Gunner is feeling the way we all feel when we see our crush turn their attentions towards someone else. I mean don’t we all feel like blasting folks to bits and stringing up pirates in a desperate attempt to cling to our dying relationships? Okay, maybe we don’t. But we definitely are irrational, vengeful and feeling a bit of the old, “What do they have that I don’t have?”
While Gunner’s character is the most expressive in his attempts to catch Sly – wait, I don’t even remember what his character’s name was… Barney, Marion – nearly everyone on board, from Randy Couture (who I am loving like whoa. Where did he come from?) to Jet Li seem to accept what Gunner has not: Sly has made his choice. And while it’s fun to entertain what this means from a homoerotic perspective, perhaps the most logical means of framing the film is of a nearly two hour theatrical version of, “Who Wants to be the next Sly?”
Which does naturally bring us back to Lundgren who has been chasing the throne since he co-starred with Stallone twenty five years ago in Rocky IV. As an aside, it was really fun watching the two of them interact, given they did not actually talk to each other much or at all really in Rocky IV.
Many of the reviews I’ve read seem to have some real problem with all the chow chow going on between these men, who process like they were characters on The L Word, and I suppose that speaks to the level of discomfort many folks have of seeing men connecting with each other. These same reviewers didn’t seem to have an issue with the orgytastic levels of gore and violence so horrific I buried my face in my partner’s chest for much of the movie that didn’t involve chow chow. While action films often possess a high level of carnage, the kind depicted in The Expendables makes Saw seem charming and De Palma seem austere. It’s really freaking gross. But apparently not as gross as Sly and Mickey have a real moment of dudebro emotionality or certainly not worth noting.
The Expendables sexism lies in its inability to say, “fuck it, this is about DUDES. and leave it be. There are only three female speaking roles and two are women who are shown brutalized (not by our guys) and their fragility is then positioned as the basis of why these men have to love each other exclusively. I felt terrible for every moment of screen time suffered by those female actors. They looked positively bored and visibly embarrassed. There is a laughable scene, (actually from the moment “A Film by Sylvester Stallone flash across the screen it was non stop lulz) where one of the chicks says to a character, “Will I see you again?” The look on the character’s face is unintentionally hilarious. He might be saying yes with his mouth, but the look on his face says, “Yeah, that’ll happen.”