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As the panel for the highly anticipated The Expendables 2 was about to begin Thursday at Comic-Con International in San Diego, moderator Geoff Boucher had a simple request: “Can we get a ‘Yo, Adrian!”
In honor of Sylvester Stallone’s breakout performance, those packed into Hall H happily complied and Boucher brought out the star to a standing ovation and boisterous chants of “Rocky! Rocky!” Touched by the crowd’s enthusiastic reaction, Stallone joked, “I think they can hear that in Philly.”
Boucher then introduced a video retrospective of Stallone’s career, and when the lights went out and the familiar trill of horns from the iconic Rocky theme trumpeted, Hall H again erupted. When Boucher later asked the star what it felt like to look back at his 40-year filmography, Stallone joked, “I go ‘Ouch, Ouch, Ouch, Ouch.”
“You’ve heard the old cliché, it goes fast,” he continued. “It seems like yesterday you were hanging off a mountain or jumping off a waterfall, but I’m really proud to have been part of that particular kind of filmmaking where you’ve got a chance to actually feel the rocks, feel the cold water. It was quite an adventure.”
The Expendables 2, the sequel to 2010’s hit ensemble action film, follows a group mercenaries led by Stallone that includes fellow action icons Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis, Jet Li and Dolph Lundgren, and new stars like Randy Couture, Terry Crews and Jason Statham. When Boucher spoke about the first film harkening back to that golden era of ‘80s action movies, Stallone said, “I’m a product of it, and many men like me, we’ve been very fortunate to have been part of a kind of genre that cropped up really in the early eighties and I don’t know how much longer it’s going to last and I thought, you know, let’s try to keep it going as long as we can and bring back some true bad-asses.”
When a fan asked about his original concept for the film, Stallone likened his idea to what happens to popular music groups from yesteryear that go on tour and bring in the crowds. “On their own, they might not draw as much attention because time moves on, but as a group, it’s fascinating – you say, ‘I’ll go see that,’” he explained. “I thought, why doesn’t that hold true for action guys?”
Citing a desire to return to the genre that made him a star, Stallone explained he knew he couldn’t do it alone. “I don’t have the clout to do it alone, but together, we bring in some new blood, we bring in some old blood and there’s strength in numbers,” he said. “That’s really what it was about.”
Boucher questioned Stallone about his use of the phrase “Velcro muscles” to describe many of the types of action heroes prevalent in today’s movies. “Well, I’m not saying it to be deprecating,” he said. “It’s just a different kind of action star where it’s become a little bit more futuristic, a little more scientific, a little more technical, where you don’t actually have to spend your life pumping iron – which is not exactly a lot of fun – and you can be creative through CGI and be able to do things that are extraordinary. Actually, I’m a little jealous.”
Stallone also explained that he discovered from the first Expendables what the tone and story would be for the sequel. “When you’re doing an action ensemble and you’ve got 10 tough guys in it, you say, ‘How do we showcase all their personalities?’” Balancing those concerns, the director told the audience the most important ingredient in an action film is momentum. “You have to keep it going,” he said. “That’s why, quite often, people say ‘Where’s the back story?’ [You] don’t have time for the backstory! That would be a sequel – the back story.”
Stallone then brought out The Expendables co-stars Crews, Couture and Lundgren, followed by his “fellow brother in the hard-‘R’ business,” Schwarzenegger, who received the second standing ovation of the panel. When the cheers finally died down enough for the former governor to speak, he talked about the years of friendly competition between himself and Stallone.
“Well, you know, Sly has killed 288 people, I’ve killed 289 people. We always are competing!” he joked. “Always the last three decades, it was always like, who killed more people? Who did the most brutal killings? Who was shooting more people? Who had more muscles? Who had more oil on their muscles?”
Schwarzenegger then regaled the crowd with stories about how his fellow cast members were not above teasing him about his comeback. “When I came in, they all treated me kind of like, ‘Well, we know you’ve been out of the business for eight years, let me show you how to load a gun again,” he joked. Rattling off a laundry list of the violent action-hero skills he had to re-learn, Schwarzenegger said his political career didn’t entirely dull all of his abilities. “All of the fun things you know, I didn’t forget,” he said. “You wish you could do some of those things when you’re in politics.”
Crews, who played for seven years in the National Football League, recalled that he and his teammates used to get together before games to watch the films of Stallone, Schwarzenegger and the other ‘80s action stars. “One thing you’ve got to understand about the action genre is it’s like a religion,” he said. “You get your beliefs from these movies. You get what’s right and wrong from these movies. You get your inspiration from these movies.”
Hearing that, Schwarzenegger recalled working with Crews 12 years ago on his first movie The Sixth Day. “You have gained such unbelievable muscle size,” he said playfully, to which Crews replied, “I can die now! Arnold likes my muscles!”
Couture, a mixed martial-arts champion who has successfully dipped his toe into show business, was asked about the transition from athlete to actor. “Trying to be considered a bona-fide actor and certainly being onscreen with these guys is certainly a big step in the right direction,” he said.
Boucher then asked Lundgren about a story he’d heard about the actor once punching Stallone so hard that he had to be air-lifted to a hospital. Lundgren smiled. “That’s what I heard. I don’t know,” the Masters of the Universe star demurred.
“It was a cheap shot,” Stallone interjected.
“He was my boss,” Lundgren explained. “He said, ‘Hit me,’ and I did.”
“It’s true!” Stallone continued. “I thought, let’s go for some realism — for the first 30 seconds just try to knock me out, and he did! He hit me so hard when I went to the hospital they thought I was in a car accident!”
When pressed for details about the plot of The Expendables 2, Stallone was hesitant to give too much away, but he finished by explaining that all of the characters in the previous film would come together at the end for what he promised will be an amazing climax.
“I think we’ve pulled off something that’s pretty remarkable,” he said, “and the most amazing thing is that we didn’t shoot each other’s heads off because we were doing choreography of actually ducking under blazing guns in live time, which I had never done before.”
This is the movie Stallone always wanted to make, Crews told the appreciative crowd. “To have Chuck [Norris], and to have Jean-Claude Van Damme, and to have a female Expendable in Yu Nan, who’s a Chinese superstar, and to add the youth injection with Liam Hemsworth – listen, it doesn’t get any bigger and it doesn’t get any better,” he said.
Stallone also echoed his appreciation for Van Damme’s villainous performance, and said he showed up on set able to do six-foot leaps as though he’d never stopped working. “The heroes are the heroes, but if you don’t have an incredibly superior, cunning enemy – a challenge – then everyone is a victim,” he said.
When a fan asked which cast member is the toughest, the group agrees it’ss former UFC World Champion Randy Couture. To Stallone’s great embarrassment, Schwarzenegger also let slip that both he and Stallone are talented artists and painters. “Here we are, we’ve killed thousands of guys, but we’re really painters,” Stallone joked. “We’re very sensitive. Very emotional,” Schwarzenegger laughed.
Another fan asked Stallone if The Expendables got its name from a memorable line from Rambo. “Yeah, I did. I ripped myself off,” he laughed. “It’s a great name. It was either that or ‘The Dependables,” Stallone said, joking about the aging cast. “Soon enough – we’ll get there.”
The Expendables 2 opens nationwide Aug. 17.