Friday, February 23, 2018

Expendables Series- A Well Executed Cliché

Netflix has confirmed this for me.  Suggestions thrown by the streaming site scream that I like certain type of films and, gradually, eclectic nature of that list is fading and a homogenous list of 90s action title or later films with 90s action stars has emerged.  This may be put to self referring nature of the artificial intelligence fuelled algorithm but it has caught one thing bang on – I love a well executed cliché. 

Cliché is Cliché because it is good.  Something, when introduced for the first time is so good that it is repeated so often that it becomes predictable.  This repetition infuses another quality into the equation i.e. accessibility.  As we are witness to so many usage of the cliché that we catch it immediately.  It becomes almost like a muscular memory.  

Considered an anathema for creativity, clichés are considered lazy shortcut as thrill of novelty is often missing in a clichéd atmosphere.  This characteristic makes creation of an entertaining cliché extremely difficult.  It is here that the Expendable series scores. Expendable series is testosterone driven male (though there are females in feisty roles, they are equal fighters but finally all of them end up propping male characters) action sagas.  The series rides on the nostalgia value of action stars of 90s or even earlier (Stallone has been around since 1970 and Harrison Ford since 1960s, the same goes for Arnold Schwarzenegger also).

All these stars, the number kept on increasing – have a solid action filmography and a devoted following among the people, who came of age in those torrid years.  So there is a solid wallop of star power packed in the series.  Many of us will go and spend money to see a new flick, howsoever B grade, for any single one of them separately.  Seeing a multi-starrer is a huge bonus and, for some, unadulterated pleasure.  They are super stars, even in these withered visages.  A concrete link to the best years of many lives.

Star power aside, the series plays very dexterously on clichés of machismo.  The fluid camaraderie of male bonding has been tapped in a very entertaining manner.  Chemistry between these aging superstars rescues the bravado filled casual banter from being ham handed.  The repartee leads to genuine amusement.  This smooth chemistry and intelligent friendly ribbing was exploited with great success in the ‘Ocean’ series also.  In Ocean, George Clooney and Brad Pitt were the anchors with interesting characters around them.  Here we have Stallone and  Jason Statham as the lynchpin of a motley crowd of finely etched characters.  Actors have enough history and restraint to keep their decidedly adolescent talk from falling into childish or corny.  It is quite an achievement to keep things adult in such a hyperbolic locker room environs.

Most of the crowded cast have achieved fairly detailed contours of their intended characters.  There are silent types, there are deranged ones, some are butt of jokes of their friends and there are wise and amused leaders.  They are clearly constructed and their uniqueness contribute to the masculine bonhomie of the films.  These characters are interesting enough to overpower the violence perpetrated by them.  Violence is entertaining background choreography in the wider context of chemistry between these characters.  All of them are solid action heroes and given their background, their self-deprecating references to their age are particularly heart warming.  At one point Stallone, after getting a solid beating, informs his crew in a matter of fact manner ‘I got my ass kicked’, to hearty chuckles.

 Another pleasure of such movies is their locales and authenticity of their props. Africa, Europe, Latin American Islands, customized motorcycles, bars and that airplane are all stuff of dream for young at heart nostalgia junkie.

In final analysis,  The Expendable series is a good binge worthy indulgence which is a guilty pleasure. Not so guilty for someone whose cinematic sensibilities are trained to the highs of earlier day authenticity of action and who is a little jarred of the hyper stylized pretensions to the reality. Crude violence of Expendables framed by the intelligent characterization of every single star is any day preferable.

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