Grim_Noir’s POP/Ed: Getting schooled by The Expendables

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It is almost cliche for a critic to use the word “brainless” in his or her review of an action movie. Most action films are an easy target for this. I mean, one look at any Michael Bay movie, and it is difficult to refute that claim. But, a deeper look at the meta-information below the surface of The Expendables movies reveals a whole college-level course of information.

Sylvester Stallone may be the poster boy for “hiding his light under a bushel basket.” He and his fellow screenwriters have made sure that the screenplays for The Expendables trilogy (thus far) are laced with military history and trivia. From the obvious to the obscure, if you scratch the surface on the names of the team, you might accidentally learn something.

Any school child will get the references to Napoleon Bonaparte and “Hale” Caeser that are the names of Kelsey Grammer and Terry Crews’ characters, respectively. And Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character’s name, Trench, is a reference to the trench-based warfare of both World Wars. (Is there anyone who didn’t need to read All Quiet On The Western Front in high school?)

Actor Eric Roberts plays James Munroe in the first Expendables movie. A very minor misspelling of James Monroe, fifth president of the United States (1817-1825) and a hero of the American Revolution: He was wounded in the Battle of Trenton with a musket ball to his shoulder.

Likewise, Steve Austin’s character is named Tom Paine, a reference to the author of two highly influential pamphlets at the start of the American Revolution. The original Thomas Paine referred to himself as “a corset-maker by trade, a journalist by profession, and a propagandist by inclination.”

Liam Hemsworth’s role in The Expendables 2, “Billy The Kid,” is actually a two-fer: In addition to being named after the infamous Wild West outlaw William H. Bonney, all of Liam’s backstory is based on a real modern solider in Afghanistan. (Don’t believe me? Check out Dakota Meyer’s book Into the Fire.)

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From here, we move into more and more obscure personalities of history: Bruce Willis’ Mr. Church is an in-joke on Senator Frank Church who held the Church Committee hearings into illicit CIA operations during the 1970s. Antonio Banderas’ hyperactive portrayal of “Galgo” is directly inspired by the name, which is Spanish for greyhound.

At first blush, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Vilain is a simple pun on “villain.” However, In an interview with BBC Radio, Sylvester Stallone admitted that he named the character ‘Vilain’ to make it similar to the name of 19th Century French poet Paul Verlaine. This was to set up an extremely obscure joke where the final showdown between Van Damme and Stallone, could be seen as a fight between Vilain/Verlaine and Rambo/Rimbaud. Arthur Rimbaud (pronounced Rambo) being another French poet with whom Verlaine had been romantically involved.

Jason Statham puts up with a lot of “Christmas-is-coming” jokes in the franchise, but there really was a Lee Christmas (February 2, 1863 – January 24, 1924). He was a former railroad employee turned American mercenary in Central America from 1894-1923

Stallone even gave himself a plum historical character name: Barney Ross was a world welterweight boxing champion (1934, 1935-1938) who joined the United States Marines and was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart for his actions at Guadalcanal. He had a professional boxing record of 74-4-3 with 24 knockouts. Ross, himself was never knocked out. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

Even the cover names of Christmas and Ross in the first Expendables, “Mr. Buda” and “Mr. Pest,” are a geographical truism: Together these names compose “Budapest”, the capital of Hungary, which is divided into 2 parts by the Danube River (Buda on the west, Pest on the east).

Mind blown, yet? Knowledge is where you find it and The Expendables are nowehere near as brainless as they pretend to be.

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* GRIM_NOIR is convinced that the internet a figment of his imagination. Please comment below and/or follow @Grim_Noir on Twitter or “Friend” on Facebook or Good Reads to end his self-delusions.

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3 Comments to “Grim_Noir’s POP/Ed: Getting schooled by The Expendables

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  1. Grim_Noir says:

    Thanks for the compliment, @LordJames!

    I think Sly would probably have 50 more that I missed, but I had a blast digging up these few :)

  2. rolanddeschain says:

    Damn man, I never paid enough attention to the subtext in teh Expendables franchise, good stuff mon ami.

  3. Grim_Noir says:

    Merci, @rolanddeschain!

    I had been doing a series of Tweets that I hashtagged “The Gospel According To Lee Christmas,” when I found out about the real Lee Christmas. It was a tumble down the rabbit hole from there…

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