Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Expendables Week: Mel Gibson

Aw yeah baby, let's keep this Expendables train rolling.  While it's been the main selling point and punch line of the franchise, the gathering of action heroes and cinematic leading men of the 80's and 90's has garnered a cool $575 million bucks at the world wide box office alone.  Throw in rentals, sales, TV and other ancillary rights and The Expendables is most likely a billion dollar brand already.  I'm pretty sure Sylvester Stallone is the only actor to ever sustain 3 franchises and has now successfully headlined films for five consecutive decades.  If you'll recall, part I gave us fellow throwback leading men like Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts and Mickey Rourke along with cameos by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis.  The sequel recruited Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris so the only 90's action star missing was Steven Seagal.  For the threequel, Seagal was still out so Stallone and the producers branched out to recruit 80's and 90's staples who dabbled effortlessly between dramatic and physical roles, landing Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas and Wesley Snipes.

Playing former Expendable turned adversary Conrad Stonebanks, Mel Gibson continues his Hollywood return following a rough few years.  I love the guy and his work so it will be interesting to see how the next several years play out in this town of hypocrites and judgers.  Now let's look back at some of the flicks that led Gibson to joining The Expendables franchise:

Mad Max, 1979 - The role that launched a career, Gibson played Australian policeman Max Rockatansky, out for revenge against a sadistic motorcycle gang in a dystopian future.  I didn't grow up with Mad Max and honestly haven't seen it more than once.  Same goes for the beloved sequel The Road Warrior and third installment, Beyond Thunderdome.  But it was Gibson's first hit, a franchise and arguably most identifiable role until...

Lethal Weapon, 1987 - Now we're talking.  As wild eyed, suicidal, action junkie policeman Martin Riggs, Gibson deftly combines equal parts crazy, heart and physical in a signature role that would lead to a decade of imitators and clichés.  Partnered up with the family man, ready to retire but still a badass Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), the duo took on mercenaries, South African diplomats, crooked cops and the Chinese mafia over 4 action packed and hilarious entries that grossed nearly $1 billion dollars at the global box office alone.  Director Richard Donner and Gibson would ultimately collaborate on 6 films: 4 Lethal Weapons, Conspiracy Theory and...

Maverick, 1994 - An update of the James Garner western television series, the film finds Gibson as a smooth talking yet confrontation averting gambler on his way to a big game worth $250,000 bucks in old timey money.  A nice mix of humor and six shooting, horse riding action, Gibson shines as the charming yet somewhat shady Bret Maverick and looks to be having a ball along with co-stars Jodie Foster, James Garner, Graham Greene and James Coburn.

Braveheart, 1995 - Would you believe I've never actually seen Gibson's 2nd directorial effort that netted 10 Academy Award nominations and won the man statues for Best Picture and Director?  Sure, I know all about the "Freeeeedom!" and whatnot but for whatever reason this flick just passed me by in 1995 and I've never revisited it even though I own it on DVD.  I feel a film of this historic, epic scale needs to be witnessed on the big screen so I'll have to wait for it to come back around.

Ransom, 1996 - Playing a businessman instead a cop or warrior, Gibson acquits himself nicely as a dedicated dad just trying to get his son back in this 90's thriller.  A handsomely produced picture with a stellar supporting cast including Lethal Weapon co-star Rene Russo, Delroy Lindo, Gary Sinise, Liv Schreiber, Lili Taylor and Donnie Wahlberg.  Ron Howard delivers a solid for adults flick with real life implications on the horror of what it must be like to have your child abducted and then delivers the movie goods when dad won't play victim and goes after the kidnappers.

Payback, 1998 - A modern version of Donald E. Westlake's novel, The Hunter, Payback is a moody, stylish noir action flick that finds Gibson as Porter, a thief double crossed by his partner and left for dead.  Once recovered, he threatens, punches, blackmails, shoots, crashes and kidnaps his way up the local crime chain in search of his stolen $70,000.  A troubled production that saw writer/director Brian Helgeland fired days after winning an Oscar, seamless reshoots still add up to an edgy, dark, funny and violent time with another great supporting cast that includes Gregg Henry, Maria Bello, David Paymer, Bill Duke, Deborah Kara Unger, John Glover, Lucy Liu, William Devane, Kris Kristofferson and James Coburn.

The Patriot, 2000 - A change of pace from masters of disaster Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, The Patriot has Gibson as a former soldier living peaceably as a farmer and father in the days of The Revolutionary War.  When an evil Brit kills one of his sons and arrests another, it's time for Benjamin Martin to open up a chest of whup ass...and muzzle loading rifles...and tomahawks!  Seriously, the scene of Martin rescuing son Gabriel (Heath Ledger) is one of the best examples of movie fathering I've ever seen.  He places two of his younger sons on high ground and has them take out the troops from afar while dad goes in double fisting blades.  Of course there's more to the role and film than that as Gibson gives a serious and nurturing performance as a dad just trying to keep his family together.  But when you BLEEP with him, he'll BLEEP with you, hard!

Edge of Darkness, 2010 - Gibson's first starring role in 7 years following directing the mammoth hit The Passion of the Christ and experiencing the first of several public incidents, Edge has him in full on Liam Neesons mode for a dark, stark and shocking tale of revenge and corporate conspiracy.  When his daughter is murdered, Detective Craven uncovers her secret activist life and a local weapons manufacturers dirty dealings.  Action is sparse but well used to jolt the audience and Gibson again does a solid job of playing a stern yet sympathetic character just looking for the truth.

Of course shout outs go to Gibson's other fantastic work in flicks like Hamlet, Forever Young, Chicken Run, What Women Want, Signs and The Beaver among many more but you don't want to read my musings on all of those and they don't have much to do with an explosive, tough guy reunion a la The Expendables.  A mix of handsome, charming, funny, crazed, physical and slightly off balance, it was quite an arc for the New York born but discovered in Australia actor to go from Mad Max to Lethal Weapon to Hamlet before seguing into an award winning director and producer.  Adjusted for inflation, Gibson has fifteen $100 million grossing titles and two franchises to his name along with being one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood, banking $25 million per picture at his peak.

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