Gabriel Chong | 18 August 2010
Sylvester Stallone been born 30 years later and made
“First Blood” today, it would almost certainly
have one of two fates- a big-screen box-office flop
or a direct to video (DTV) release. Yes, Hollywood and
its audience has changed a lot over the past decades
and nowhere is this more evident than in “The
Expendables”, Stallone’s ‘80s-style
testosterone fest action movie that unites some of the
biggest action stars in the ‘80s and the ‘90s.
in those days, stars like Sly, Arnold Schwarzenegger
and Bruce Willis were sure-fire box office draws. Through
films like Rambo, Commando, Conan, Predator and Die
Hard, they etched their names in history as the big-screen
personification of the macho action hero. And alongside
Sly, Schwarzenegger and Willis were other brawny stars
like Dolph Lundgren, Jean Claude Van-Damme and Steven
Seagal muscling in on the action- only one of which
is in “The Expendables”.
popularity was a product of the times: post-Vietnam
War, President Ronald Reagan was trying to restore U.S.
dominance in a world increasingly doubtful of it. Characters
like Sly’s John Rambo and Schwarzenegger’s
Dutch in Predator became symbols of superiority of the
American soldier and immediately spoke to a generation
yearning for the battlefield glory in their movies.
Others like Willis’ John McClane proved that even
the Average Joe could transform into a hero and audiences
then promptly embraced him with open arms.
the mid-90s however, there was an unmistakable whiff
of change in the air. George H.Bush’s Operation
Desert Storm finally put to rest doubts about the American
might and Sly, Schwarzenegger, Willis and other similar
action stars began to find their stock characters losing
their appeal. Worse still, because audiences began to
find these characters and their movies foolish and embarrassing,
they decided to try their hand at comedy, parodying
the type of characters they so embodied in the past.
didn’t work- Sly’s “Oscar” and
“Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!” and Schwarzenegger’s
“The Last Action Hero”, “Junior”
and “Jingle All The Way” only further confirmed
that their stars were fast fading and even their apparent
brainy attempts at salvaging their careers and their
famous on-screen personas through self-mocking parody
were not working. Others who didn’t even try-
like Lundgren, Van Damme and Seagal- soon found their
way to DTV territory, churning out undifferentiated
made-on-the-fly action flicks that were only seen by
their most loyal fans.
in 2006, Stallone made a risky decision- he decided
to revisit his Rocky Balboa character for one final
hurrah. But even before the sixth Rocky movie in the
franchise- “Rocky Balboa”- was born, critics
and perhaps even audiences alike were largely skeptical.
After all, it was widely regarded that the Rocky movies
got progressively worse with each subsequent entry.
Was Stallone’s return just a desperate attempt
at getting audiences back into their seats after a string
of box-office disappointments like “Get Carter”,
“Driven” and “Shade”?
Italian stallion however managed to surprise critics
and audiences alike with an entertaining and poignant
closing chapter to one of the greatest underdog stories
of our time. “Rocky Balboa” received a better
than expected welcome in the U.S. and an even better
reception overseas. The triumph was even sweeter considering
that Sly was also the writer and the director of the
movie, his first time back in the directorial seat after
Rocky IV in 1985.
success of “Rocky Balboa” no doubt emboldened
him to revisit another of his iconic characters- John
Rambo- for another last hurrah in “Rambo IV”.
It was a big loud return to the kind of macho action
flicks that Stallone was known for, but audience reception
wasn’t as warm as “Rocky Balboa”.
Still, those who saw it loved it, and Stallone’s
career renaissance continued on track.
Sly wasn’t the only one returning to past glories
in recent years- Willis reprised his iconic John McClane
character in “Live Free or Die Hard” in
2007, the fourth instalment in the Die Hard franchise
which ended up grossing a muscular US$383mil worldwide.
It was Bruce Willis’ biggest hit in years- though
his subsequent movies “Surrogates” and “Cop
Out” again underperformed.
the success of “Rocky Balboa”, “Rambo
IV” and “Live Free and Die Hard” is
telling- audiences knew what they loved about stars
like Sly and Willis and were ready to see them reprise
their signature characters onscreen. Of course, critics
were also kind enough to lavish modest praise on these
action stars who needed desperately to prove that they
were more than has-beens. The question was- once that
nostalgic goodwill wore off, would these action stars
still enjoy the love they used to from audiences and
answer lies, as Sly well knows, in the reception that
“The Expendables” receives. This is his
first new project that doesn’t have the brand
name recognition of Rocky and Rambo done in the style
of his old-school action flicks. So far, it has opened
to boffo business in the U.S., becoming the highest-grossing
debut of his career. Critics however were less enthusiastic,
but it seems audiences are coming back to see Sly and
his band of supposed has-beens return to the big screen.
significance is even more so considering how it is co-star
Dolph Lundgren’s first movie to be released on
the big screen in over a decade (last year’s Universal
Soldier Regeneration doesn’t count since it was
released DTV in the U.S. and many other major territories)
and could have been Van Damme’s big screen return
as well. Stallone has already announced plans for a
sequel, and could mean a second chance for Van Damme
who declined Stallone’s offer to appear in “The
ramifications are considerable- if audiences are keen,
it could mean a career restart for other similar stars
like Willis, Lundgren, Van Damme and Seagal. Otherwise,
the title of Sly’s movie could prove a permanent
reality for these stars. What’s clear is this-
male macho actors like Sly, Schwarzenegger and Stallone
are a dying breed in Hollywood these days, and whether
this type of actor is indeed expendable is a question
you and I will decide with our ticket and our seat in
the cinema. .
to Part Two Of Expendable?