The 8 Ball: Top 8 Expendables
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 08.19.2014
From Sylvester Stallone's Barney Ross and Jason Statham as Lee Christmas to Antonio Banderas' Galgo, Ronda Rousey as Luna and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 members of the Expendables!
Top 8 Expendables
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
The Expendables franchise is one that started off sounding like a joke, but even then it was a joke that any action fan desperately wanted to happen. The ensemble action film, which took many of the old great action stars of the 1980s and piled them together into one testosterone-fest, is simultaneously hailed as the pinnacle of actions films and derided as a bunch of old guys who can't let their muscle-bound egos go. Whether you like them or not, the Expendables films have had a definite impact on the pop culture landscape and during their time a host of action stars have joined the team. Some of them have drifted away after one film and others have stayed the course through to the most recent, The Expendables 3. This week we're going to take a look at the best members of the Expendables team.
Caveat: For the purposes of this list, I'm only including people who were active members of the team during the events of the films, or former members who were allied with the group during the films. This leaves out characters like Chuck Norris' Booker, who was never actually a part of the team and preferred being a lone wolf, and Mel Gibson's co-founder-turned-enemy Conrad Stonebanks. Full members were given preference in the rankings, which were based on longevity, impact and memorability, how well the character was written and performance by the actor (including acting and physicality).
First up on our list is one of the few Expendables to make my list that was new to the team as of the third film. I think that for a lot of people, Antonio Banderas saved large portions of The Expendables 3, at least in terms of making the time enjoyable while we got through the sloggier portions of the plot. Galgo--which is Spanish for greyhound--provides a fair amount of comic relief in the film thanks to his status as the one man who desperately wants to be an Expendable but keeps getting shot down. When he finally gets the job because Barney literally has no one else to turn to, he proceeds to annoy the crap out of the boss for a while. Banderas and Stallone (as the writer of the script) had a very fine line to walk with Galgo. The character was needed to keep some humor going in the film but the overactive puppy-dog on crack character trope is one that can very quickly get annoying. It's rare that a film like this knows where the line is, but Stallone and Banderas cut it off right when it seems as if they might be going too far. Restraint is a rare thing in this franchise but they practiced it well here. Add into that the fact that Galgo, despite his irritation, is a legitimate badass who has quite the jumping skill and a very quick draw. In an action franchise like this, even the comedy goofball needs to be able to turn it on and Galgo accomplishes that nicely.
#7: Yin Yang (Jet Li)
Yin Yang would likely be higher on the list if he wasn't a victim of diminishing returns in the franchise. Jet Li played the character with the second-most gloriously ridiculous name (and in this film series, that's saying something) in a role that began as nearly a lead in the first film, then a supporting role in the second and barely over a cameo in the third. If it wasn't for that fact he would probably be higher on the list because in the first film he was the highlight of some of the action scenes. His brutal fight with Gunner in the warehouse is one of the best fights in that film and his somewhat antagonistic banter with the rest of the team was very funny. While he doesn't get much time in Expendables 2 and even less in the third, he's still used effectively and pairing him with Arnold Schwarzenegger's Trench Mauser was a smart move because they have a lot of chemistry together. Of course, Li's martial arts skills are very well-known and put to great use throughout but he's also thoroughly comfortable handling the hardware also. While I would argue that a fourth film is unlikely at this point, if one happens I would like to see Li get a more sizable role.
#6: Luna (Ronda Rousey)
There might be some who think I'm biased here, considering 411's heavy coverage of MMA, in my selection of UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey's character for the top eight. But the truth is, I'm not even an MMA fan and everything I know of the sport comes from what I report on or playing EA Sports UFC. So while I obviously knew very well who Rousey was before this, I had no particular predisposition toward or against her. I was interested to see how she would do though, and I watched with a critical eye as the token female in the film took a few moments in the spotlight. I have to say that while I have some criticisms of the film, Rousey really wasn't one of them. By no means is she a great actress yet but she is at least as good as Gina Carano was in Haywire. During the few quieter dramatic portions of the film Rousey loses her way on line delivery but when it comes time to spout action lines, be defiant in captivity and of course lay on the action, she's definitely up to the task. Luna has a memorable entrance of course as she beats the tar out of people in the club she bounces for in a spectacular red dress, but she is more than just that. It's fair to say that she's miles ahead of her fellow new recruits, standing out not only because she's a woman but also because she gets some of the better fight scenes in the final act. She's definitely someone I wouldn't mind seeing in the planned Expendabelles film.
#5: Toll Road (Randy Couture)
We go from one MMA fighter to another with our #5 selection. Randy Couture seemed to be the character who was just "there" in the first Expendables. Toll Road--who, for the record, beats out Yin Yang for the single-most gloriously ridiculous character name in the franchise--provides a bit of humor in his discussion of his cauliflower ears but by and large is a journeyman in the first film and doesn't carry much of the movie's weight on his shoulders. I honestly expected him to have a diminished role in the series as time went on but the opposite happened and he's done very well for himself in the meantime. It's no stretch to say that Couture isn't a natural actor but he has a role here that plays nicely to his strengths and he's established a lot more chemistry has time has gone by with his castmates. His fight scene with Steve Austin in the first film is very impressive and his friendship with Caesar throughout the franchise provides some really great moments. Couture is never going to be an Oscar-caliber performer by any stretch but he has a role that fits him like a glove here and he makes Toll Road far more memorable than we might have initially expected at the start of the franchise.
#4: Hale Caesar (Terry Crews)
Another of the great goofy names, Hale Caesar may just be my personal favorite member of the team. And that's because Terry Crews has the perfect attitude, charisma and sense of humor to make the heavy weapons specialist stand out in a team of arguably bigger-name action stars than he does. Caesar really is the heart of the team more than any other person; it's why the third film feels right when they seriously injure him in order to up the stakes of the film. Unfortunately that means that he was sidelined for most of The Expendables 3 and that left a bit of a dearth in the team's personality department. Caesar's rapt, almost intimate admiration for his big guns provide a lot of great moments in the film and his use of the automatic shotgun in the first is one of my favorite moments in that movie. And it's not like Caesar even has to rely on his firepower, because he's also an incredibly strong physical fighter. Caesar--and by extension, Crews--is the MVP of the overall franchise as while he doesn't have a full lead role, he stands out from the pack thanks to a potent mix of personality, bravado and deadly skill.
#3: Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren)
Gunner is as important to the first Expendables as Galgo is to the third one. That's not to say that they serve anything close to the same capacity in those films, but rather that he makes getting through the more bloated segments of the film much easier to do. Dolph Lundgren was someone who absolutely had to be a part of the Expendables franchise; there was just no question of that. But I didn't think that he would be the guy in the first film to carry the majority of the dramatic weight. As it turns out that's exactly what he does thanks to a substance abuse problem that leaves him wildly unhinged and a flirtation with turning heel on the group. Lundgren plays these plot elements incredibly well and provides a formidable enemy to the team, since he knows all their weak points. By the end of the film he's come back to them and in the second and third films he holds his own very nicely. There is no one I'm happier at seeing get a revitalized career out of this franchise than Lundgren, and he makes the absolute most of it. You can tell that more than anyone, he loves being able to play his Expendables character and that helps propel him toward the top of the list.
#2: Lee Christmas (Jason Statham)
There were debatable choices all the way from the honorable mentions to #3, but the top two were never in doubt for me. Lee Christmas, the second-in-command for the Expendables, is one of the most dependable and dangerous members of the team. Many of the main Expendables characters are former action stars who were coming back around for another shot of glory; that wasn't the case for Jason Statham. Statham may not carry major franchises on his own shoulders but along with the Rock and Vin Diesel he's the closest link we have to the action stars of the 1980s and 1990s. He adds a level of credibility to the franchise from current film landscape and as one of the more prominent members of the team in terms of screen time he gets some of the best dialogue and story development. Lee's friendship with Barney is the glue that holds the main plots together for the most part and his status as the team's knife expert has given him some fun rivalries with Barney, Mickey Rourke's Tool and Wesley Snipes' Doc. Statham gets some seriously badass fight scenes as well, helping Barney kill Munroe in the first and killing Hector in the second film. Christmas is one of the truly essential elements of the Expendables franchise, and not just because we'd have a serious dearth of holiday puns without him.
#1: Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone)
If there was any doubt in your mind who was going to be #1, then you may not be that familiar with the franchise. Hale Caesar may be the heart of the Expendables, Lee Christmas the connection to the present and Gunner Jensen the 1980s epitomized, but Sylvester Stallone is The Man within the team and the franchise in every capacity you can think of. Whether in front of or behind the camera, Stallone has been the driving force of The Expendables and whether the third film bombed or not, that's definitely been a good thing. Barney Ross is the leader and co-founder of the team; there are no Expendables without him. What's more, this is one of Stallone's greatest roles. Yes, he's better in Rocky and Rambo is more iconic, but beyond those I can't think of any role that has fit the action heavyweight better. He fits into the skin of Barney Ross like a glove and takes each film forward. His skills as a tactician are unparalleled within the franchise and his quick draw is something to be truly feared. Whether you think of the franchise as an all-time great or a failed nostalgia trip, it's difficult not to imagine Barney Ross as one of the true great characters of action films.
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.