But the Stallone picture—with its hard-charging, take-no-prisoners patriotism unbothered by the vagaries of the real world (it takes place in a fictional country, for starters) and its caricature of freedom-hating enemies (”We will kill this American disease,” as the TV spot enticed us)—planted itself squarely in the old-school genre.
According to Nolte, this amounts to Zeitchik “toxifying ‘The Expendables’ by ridiculing its simple worldview,” but here, as always, Nolte fails to explain why a film should be praised for the simplicity of its worldview. The most he can muster is that “the nihilism found in the moral equivalency preached by the likes of George Clooney and Paul Haggis is [not] complicated,” which amounts to “if they can do it, we can do it.” The problem with that logic should be obvious: it’s not a defense of simplistic worldviews, it’s the claim that if I set your house on fire, you would be right to retaliate by doing the same to mine. That both positions may be weak is evidently a point beyond his ability to comprehend.
Nolte then provides another non-answer, claiming that a
simple straight-forward story that’s actually about something is much more difficult to successfully craft than a confusing and muddled story that’s believes in absolutely nothing. Paint-by-numbers might not be Rembrandt but it takes more skill than throwing monkey shit at a canvas.
Note that he again argues that The Expendables is “about” something without ever defining what that thing is. This is the obverse of Groucho Marx’s “Whatever It Is, I’m Against It” argument, in that whatever The Expendables is about, Nolte’s in favor of it, whatever it might be. But whatever it is, it’s morally unambiguous, which means the following claim of Zeitchik is utter bunk:
[u]ntil this weekend, old-school action movies—defined, for argument’s sake, as films with a slew of explosions, a shortage of moral ambiguity and a triumph of physical effects over digital ones—had seen better days.
[T]his is what happens when you’re in possession of a laughably biased theory in search of proof—especially when the surprise successes of “300″ and “Taken,” not to mention “Salt,” the first “Transformers,” and “Gran Torino”—make a total fool of that moral ambiguity theory.
Admittedly, Nolte is an expert in all things tendentious, so he should know it when he sees it. But a brief comparison of the material between both parties’ em-dashes demonstrates who’s arguing honestly and who isn’t. Zeitchik defines “old-school action movies … as films with a slew of explosions, a shortage of moral ambiguity and a triumph of physical effects over digital ones.” Nolte responds by listing four films, but only one of them, Taken, fits Zeitchik’s definition. 300 was filmed entirely in front of a green screen; Gran Torino contains no “explosions,” much less “a slew of” them; and unless he knows something I don’t, the Transformers in Transformers aren’t “physical effects.”
In short, Nolte isn’t refuting Zeitchik so much as talking right past him. Why? Because, to quote the man himself, “this is what happens when you’re in possession of a laughably biased theory in search of proof.”