Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Expendables Will Kick Your Ass

Taken at face value, The Expendables, as a concept, seems a little contrived.

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts, the plot of The Expendables is largely mortgaged to its concept: it's an all-star action movie.

Also starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis in cameo roles, The Expendables left out just enough classic action stars to (possibly) warrant a sequel.

Barney Ross (Stallone) is the leader of The Expendables, a globe-trotting mercenary outfit that tackles anything from Somali pirates to political assassinations. Partnered with Lee Christmas (Statham), Ying Yang (Li), Toll Road (Couture), Hale Caesar (Crews) and the unstable Gunnar Jensen (Lundgren), the film opens with The Expendables recovering the crew of a hijacked freighter from pirates.

In the film, The Expendables are portrayed simply as good guys working in a dangerous field. They receive their work from Tool (Rourke) a well-connected ex-mercenary suffering from a troubled conscience.

The Expendables pits Ross and company against James Munroe (Roberts), a rogue CIA operative running a Central American island as his own personal fiefdom with the help of funds likely pilfered from the Agency.

After reconoitering the island with Christmas, Ross at first decides to turn the job down, until a soft spot for Sandra Garza (Giselle Itie) draws him back to try to save her from a certain death.

The Expendables provides a narrative of mercenaries as good guys.

Yet those familiar with the activities undertaken by mercenaries -- knowledge that has become increasingly public as firms like Blackwater ply their trade in the public eye -- know that mercenaries are unequivocally not good guys.

A recent film that was much closer to having it right was (ironically), The A-Team.

In The A-Team, Colonel Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson) leads a small unit consisting of Lieutenant "Faceman" Peck (Bradley Cooper), Captain HM Murdock (Sharlto Copley) and BA Baracus (Couture's UFC cohort Quentin "Rampage" Jackson).

When approached by CIA Agent Lynch (Patrick Wilson) to recover a printing press and plates that can be used to counterfeit American currency, Smith is eager to take on the job.

However, mercenary outfit leader Pike (Brian Bloom) seems to think that the task of recovering the press and plates rightfully belongs to him. After Smith and his A-Team successfully recover the press and plates, Pike steals the plates and escapes.

Smith is approached in prison by Lynch and encouraged to break out of prison, track down Pike, and recover the plates. The relentlessly-resourceful Smith has already been planning to do precisely this.

In Pike, The A-Team presents mercenaries not as the proclivities of an action film would prefer them, but as they typically are: as ruthless, unethical and borderline criminal.

There is one simple reason why real-life mercenaries operate in the manner they do: they are not subject to military discipline. Nor can they realistically be subjected to military discipline.

As such, the very use of mercenaries -- having become an increasingly-known public issue following numerous scandals in Iraq -- is an extremely irresponsible foreign policy decision.

Yet, even as The A-Team is closer than The Expendables to the reality of mercenaries, at the end of the film -- without giving too much away in the form of spoilers -- Smith and his unit become mercenaries: "good-guy" mercenaries helping people, often against "bad-guy" mercenaries.

Even when Hollywood action films come close to a truthful portrayal of mercenaries, the traditional folk hero portrayal of mercenaries still seems to bubble to the surface.


  1. Hollywood is in the business of making movies that can make a substantial profit. I have not watched either movie, just their trailers and critical reviews. Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (Shichinin no samurai), Magnificent Seven and Rambo First Blood have similar themes and found them entertaining.

  2. Anonymous5:21 PM

    "Yet those familiar with the activities undertaken by mercenaries -- knowledge that has become increasingly public as firms like Blackwater ply their trade in the public eye -- know that mercenaries are unequivocally not good guys."
    This is an asinine statement. State militaries (including the US') are far worse than any mercenary force in history; and the mercenaries you're complaining about work for the US Government. I'll take private enterprise over a violent monopoly and global empire any day :)


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