When my boys turn about four years old, I teach them one of the most important lessons on what it means to be a man. The conversation goes something like this:
“Do you know why God gave you big muscles?” I ask.
“To fight monsters?” my little tyke might respond.
“Close, but not quite,” I answer. “Girls don’t have big muscles, do they?”
“But boys do,” I say. “God gave you big muscles so you can protect girls. You must never, ever hurt a girl. You use your muscles to protect the girls from getting hurt.”
Call me chivalrous or call me chauvinist, I don’t care. It’s a scientific fact that the males of the human species are filled with the natural steroid called testosterone – it’s ultimately what makes us male – which means men are naturally stronger than women, and that’s just how it is.
Now, I happen to think that’s by design. And if that’s by design, than it was done by our designer, so why else did God give men “big muscles”?
Judging by the cast of the new Sylvester Stallone action flick, “The Expendables,” perhaps men were given big muscles to make big movies with lots of explosions … or not.
Explosions, guts, gore, violence and old men on steroids aside, however, “The Expendables” nonetheless has a lot to say about boys with big muscles. And surprisingly, what the movie has to say is exactly what I tell my four-year-old boys.
Now, let’s get a couple of comments about “The Expendables” out of the way quickly.
First, the movie is unintentionally, eye-rollingly, laughably bad. The script sounds like it was written by Stallone after one too many blows to the head from Apollo Creed; the directing is so cliché, I had to suppress fits of giggles in the theater; and Dolph Lundgren should not ever – ever – try to speak in an American accent. This is a film “Mystery Science Theater 3000″ would have had a hoot of a time lampooning.
Second, this is one of the most gruesome, gratuitously gory movies I have ever seen, as audiences are sloshed in decapitations, amputations, bones breaking and bodies splattering in stunning fashion into what the film called “red Jell-O,” a phrase that really doesn’t do the carnage justice.
From a worldview perspective, this movie could easily inspire an impassioned essay on the desensitization of the culture toward violence and how making people “expendable” commodities in film is inherently dehumanizing and profane. And the essay would be completely justified.
And that’s the review I would have written … had the film not tried so hard, and so successfully, to make another point as well.
Truthfully, there are only two scenes in the film that show any artistry at all (unless painting the film canvas with blood is a form of artistry), and both of them deserve mention.
In the first, the character Lee Christmas (played by Jason Statham) discovers his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend has beaten her, bruising her face.
There’s something about a man who beats a woman that stirs a powerful protective instinct in me, and Statham – who actually turns in one of the few decent performances in the movie – captures this sudden but controlled rage in avenging the woman’s honor upon the offending boyfriend and his hooligan buddies. Violent or not, I couldn’t help but cheer inside at Statham’s brand of justice upon the abuser.
The message is made clear, not only in this scene, but also in others in “The Expendables”: A man’s honor is defined by how he treats a woman, and the white knights in Stallone’s muscle-clad cast won’t be putting up with anyone who discards that honor.
The second scene is a monologue by actor Mickey Rourke – who turns in the other good performance in the film. Rourke describes the blackness of heart, the slow but sure death of his spirit, that came from living a life of violence and killing.
Then he tells the story of seeing a woman about to commit suicide … and walking away to let her die:
“After taking all those lives, here’s one I could have saved … and I didn’t,” he laments. “If I’d have saved that woman, I might have saved what was left of my soul.”
The monologue comes at a critical moment in the film when the main characters have to decide who they’re going to be: boys … or men.
“The Expendables” is clearly written, directed and designed to be a man’s movie. It’s laced with more testosterone than talent and more blood than brains. Guys are going to go see it, regardless of whether it’s a decent flick or simply mindless action.
In this case, however, I can only hope that a few of the guys who go into the theater hear the lesson Sylvester Stallone and I are working to teach my boys: That the measure of a man is the way he treats a woman, or, in other words, the reason God gave boys “big muscles.”
As described above, “The Expendables” in incessantly violent and gratuitously gory. Unlike a bloody film such as “Saving Private Ryan,” however, there is no point, no story-justified reason for the excessive carnage. The film seems to simply celebrate the many ways of busting up bodies and should only be seen by the strong of stomach.
The movie contains several strong profanities – not as many as Hollywood typically tosses into films of this genre, but even the comparatively few were poorly placed in the weak script.
Outside of a couple of lewd comments and gestures, a bit of cleavage and short shorts and the like, the film was surprisingly devoid of sexual content. No sex scenes or nudity (outside of a possible nude covered in tattoos in a photograph) are present.
Several of the scenes take place in a tattoo parlor, with images all over the walls and bodies of those present, some of which may have had occult themes, but this was not obvious. Skulls are present throughout the film, but with no defined meaning. Outside of a dialogue taking place in a church building and a “good luck” ring worn by one of the characters, there was no religious content.