Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables is the kind of movie where Jason Statham grabbing some faceless bad guy by the neck so as to better shoot him several times in the chest is the least violent thing happening in that particular scene. Whereas CG stand-ins were used to conceal hardcore sex in Eyes Wide Shut, The Expendables just uses insane blood-letting in the foreground to distract from the even more insane blood-letting happening behind it. Cast member Terry Crews (who entered the panel and immediately tore off his shirt to display his dancing pecs) opened things up by claiming that this is "The manliest movie ever made," and while I'd personally reserve that honor for something by Werner Herzog or Seijun Suzuki, it's really hard to argue with a man whose chest packs way more than I do. Especially when that man is sitting next to Dolph Lundgren (this is the part of the post where I tell you to go buy and endlessly re-watch Showdown in Little Tokyo).
With Stallone's testosterone opus slated to open in just three weeks, the star-studded panel was understandably more geared towards image and chatter than teasing footage. The Hall H stage was a murderer's row of muscle-bound icons, with Crews and Lundgren just a portion of a line-up that included Steve Austin, Randy Couture, Bruce Willis (who wandered onto the stage half-way through before making an inexplicably quick escape) and of course Stallone himself. Neither Arnold nor Jet Li and his Fists of Legend could make it, but convention attendees weren't exactly booing the line-up.
These are the 10 things that jumped out at me from the footage and banter...with mild spoiler warnings in effect.
1. Bruce Willis is a backseat director. Stallone shared an anecdote about how Willis freely disregarded Stallone's direction, choosing instead to bring his own spin to his scenes. At Carnegie Hall last year Kevin Smith told the crowd about how Willis was the final judge as to how a scene should play during Cop Out, and it seems like the bald-headed legend is similarly unafraid of exerting his will on Sly.
2. This might be one ugly film. Rambo's most recent iteration was a bloody success in part because Stallone was happy to step back and let the audience revel in the carnage - the action was clear and viewers never questioned whose entrails were flying where. The tunnel sequence Stallone showed during the panel was dark, dingy, and chaotic - a muddy and disconnected mess of jacked biceps and thick thighs...
3. Until Terry Crews and his rail gun ride to the rescue. Crews might have been the only member of the cast capable of lifting that thing, and he sure knows how to use it. It's a moment cribbed from the Rambo handbook, but when the bullets are sailing over Jet Li sweeping some guy's leg, it all just feels a bit better. Also, with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin as the villain rather than the oppressive Burmese junta of Stallone's last film, I predict that the film won't be quite so reserved with its wanton destruction.
4. No blood > Fake blood. It's a shame that a movie as baldly proud of relying on practical effects as The Expendables didn't elect to keep things old-fashioned when it comes to the red stuff. Unmistakably CG blood worked when Takeshi Kitano used it judiciously in 2003's Zatoichi re-boot, but here - where 3D and other newfangled techniques were eschewed in favor of letting the heft and tangibility of the action take hold - the weightless buckets of digital blood feel woefully out of place.
5. Jason Statham knows no fear. You know that trailer where Statham is strapped to the nose of an old propeller plane, manning a massive mounted machine gun as the aircraft passes speeds towards the jungle below? Well that really happened. Stallone claims that he found the plane "stuck on crates" in the jungle, and asked Statham if he wouldn't mind going on a ride at 200 M.P.H. Jason Statham did not become Jason Statham by declining such offers.
6. And that airplane sequence works. Statham risking life and limb would all have been for naught if Stallone hadn't captured the veracity and danger of the stunt, but he did. There's a balletic moment seen from above when Statham's plane begins its initial descent, and in that moment the big boys and their toys feel clicks in every which way and it feels as if you're watching Commando's infinitely more competent spiritual successor... it feels like a brief window into the golden age of brawny mayhem.
7. The Expendables has already proven a few action legends to be expendable. Stallone apparently approached the likes of Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal, both of whom rejected the project. But Stallone aimed for the heavens, and landed a dream team even without a few icons.
8. Dolph Lundgren needs to star in a Werner Herzog film. Perhaps one about a woodcutter who falls in love with a whale. There's got to be a booth here that would listen to a pitch like that.
9. The blu-ray is going to be incredible regardless of how the film turns out. Stallone made a crude and comprehensive documentary during the course of production, and I can only imagine the kind of stuff he caught with a cast like his. Fortunately, it seems like we won't have to imagine for long.
10. According to Sly, "The production designer forgot to make the padding for the bricks." The Expendables is gonna hurt.
The Expendables is out nationwide on August 13.