Is it time for Hollywood to re-register him as a lethal weapon?
It’s no secret; The Expendables films aren’t very good. Sylvester Stallone’s series of rag-tag action pictures featuring has-been action stars were never meant to gain critical acclaim (I hope not anyway), but were instead developed to take us on a journey of nostalgia, back through the 80s/90s action flicks we love so much. A throwback, you might say, to the muscle-bound, fast-talking, sarcasm-filled feasts of yore, with the novelty factor and selling point being the presence of pretty much every guest ever to dine at such feasts. Designed to get fanboys in the seats, or, particularly after the state of the first film, anyone in the seats, but with the fanboys still talking about the films without handing over a tenner to Odeon or VUE, the novelty factor has certainly proved a success. However, the films themselves are anything but a triumphant modern take on the classic action films we had to either subtly tape off late night terrestrial tele, or borrow of your mate’s older brother in order to watch cross-legged a few feet from you standard definition Panasonic. Instead, they’re complete shite, consisting primarily of Stallone and a very out of place Jason Statham smirking at each other for two hours whilst destroying third world villages.
As I said, this is no secret, although it is a shame considering Stallone’s previous on-screen action hero depictions and directorial efforts, as well as those of his comrades, including Schwarzenegger, Van Damme, and countless others. John Rambo, John Matrix, Frank Dux etc., were men you fucked with at your peril. The all but nameless characters the same actors portray here, for all the three seconds of nostalgic value they provide, are old men with little to offer aside from the occasional one off performance, if we’re lucky. Van Damme, for instance, although never exactly a great actor, was marvellous in his own recent-ish comeback, JCVD, but he’s far more cringe worthy than even your childhood recalls in E2 (knife-to-the-heart kick aside), primarily because the film just tries too hard.
And so we come to the latest instalment, E3. Or, to be more precise in terms of my discussion here, its main villain, played by everyone’s favourite on and off-screen Hollywood psycho, Mel Gibson. Not exactly the media darling he once was, old Mel has a pretty bad rep these days, mainly because of accusations of domestic abuse, racism, inciting religious hatred and so forth. Thrown in were his twenty first century directorial pieces; Passion of the Christ (controversial, pointless) and Apocalypto (controversial, interesting), which, I’m sure we can all agree were a tad darker in tone than Braveheart, which now resides jointly in the ‘classic epic’, but also ‘hasn’t aged well’ categories. His lack of screen time rounds off the generally negative view towards him. Failing to express himself in the most powerful media outlet available to him, usually rather advantageous in getting the majority of people onside (see: every controversial actor/actress ever), has allowed the outside world to overshadow and consume his already apparently flagging film career.
The point I’m trying to make is that E3 is the moment when Mel Gibson managed to do what Stallone and everyone else involved in all three Expendables films failed to accomplish. I was wary at first, as his glazed over, half bug-eyed Conrad Stonebanks wonders around buying paintings with a look of half smugness, half blind arousal. It really is difficult, as it is with the other OAPs on-screen, to get Mel Gibson the man out of your head and allow what you already assume is a fairly dreadful character to take up any of your interest. Suddenly however, out of nowhere, I was pulled from my depressing Air Canada seat (didn’t pay for the film, didn’t steal it ;) ) and into the forgotten realm of artful Hollywood action acting. Albeit momentarily, I was confronted with a genuinely wonderful throwback/nostalgic/just simply brutal performance by Gibson, reminding us, once Stallone and the crap action interrupted him and brought us back to reality, that Mel Gibson was, and apparently still is, a brilliant actor.
Don’t get too excited, as it is only a five minute scene opposite Stallone, but it’s Martin Riggs/Porter levels of raw intensity, real action movie acting skill (a trait underrated by most in the first place). I felt a connection with characters and a backstory that I had no right to give a shit about. I felt empathy, a sense of the past these former friends-turned-enemies shared. That glorious guilty feeling when one roots for a fucking good film villain, I felt it. I was going to say it’s a blink and you’ll miss it type moment, but in reality it’s simply captivating. Patrick Hughes, as director, I suppose deserves a tiny bit of the credit, mainly for keeping the camera off Stallone as much as possible, but anyone who’s watched Gibson throughout the years recognises that fiery ability when they see it, and it’s fairly obvious this particular moment was produced primarily by him and what he had to work with, rather than the other way around.
Such sentimental gushing of course has to be put into perspective, and it’s only because of the aforementioned negatives (Gibson’s reputation, the general crappiness of the film, the rest of The Expendables series, and the acting of everyone else involved) that such a performance truly stands out. But it would be silly to dismiss it as a one off. Unlike my previous prediction regarding the Third Coming of Eddie Murphy, which must 100 percent be taken with a pinch of salt (although I still hope, with all my heart, that it happens), I believe it’s safe to say that Gibson, if he wants to, has plenty more to offer in front of the camera. In turn, this reminds us that the man can still potentially work wonders behind it also (despite depicting him twisting his nipples and smearing himself with his own shit, even the South Park lads admit that ‘the son of a bitch knows story structure!’).
The fact that guilt counters, but never quite seems to overcome the willingness to support the comeback of an artist who comes across, quite frankly, as a fairly despicable human being, is one of oldest faults of human nature. In the case of Mad Mel however, as I said earlier, see: everyone controversial actor and actress ever. As of the last few years, his film-related activity is once again all of a sudden on the increase. If Gibson throws himself back into attempting quality filmmaking, will he pull it off? Probably. Will Hollywood lap it up? Of course it will.