Sylvester Stallone proved that his action star still burns brightly with the box-office-winning performance of “The Expendables,” which he wrote, directed and starred in. The veteran of action classics like “First Blood” and “Demolition Man” ceded some screen time in this latest outing to action stars of yesterday and today, particularly the core “Expendables” team of Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews and Randy Couture.
As impressive as that lineup is, the collected firepower of the group is what makes them really scary. Just try to identify some of those guns and blades in the heat of combat — it’s impossible. So MTV News got on the phone with Kent Johnson, property master and weapons supervisor for “The Expendables,” to get the inside scoop on who used what and why. For those who haven’t seen the movie, spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.
Handguns and Revolvers
Stallone actually makes use of three handguns in the movie: a pair of semi-automatic pistols and a more traditional six-shooter, the sort that you’d see in a Western — only far more dangerous-looking. Johnson identified the pistols as custom-made Kimber Gold Combat IIs. “It’s a .45 [caliber],” Johnson said. “Kimber put them together for us. Sly wanted something a little bit different, a little more unique, a little more of an individual style, so we were able to make the body of the gun a little darker with black grips and little chrome pieces on it. Just very subtle, to make it more personal.”
As anyone who’s seen the movie knows, Stallone fires those twin pistols at a remarkable rate. According to Johnson, that’s perfectly realistic and all based on the skill of the shooter, who in this case is one of the most accomplished action stars of the past 30 years. “A gun will fire as quick as you let the gun work, because it’s a gas-activated gun — meaning the gas in the chamber causes the recoil — which causes everything to work in the gun and the next shell coming up. So as fast as you could possibly pull the trigger is how fast that gun will.”
Compare that to Sly’s revolver, which is an “1873 six-shooter with a 3-inch barrel” seen in the first and last scenes of the movie. “It’s a single-action gun, which means it won’t cock, it won’t fire like [the Kimbers], where you just pull the trigger and it’ll go bang, click, bang, click. With a single-action, you have to pull the hammer back,” Johnson explained.
“[Stallone] was using it like the old Western style, like a fanner-type gun. What it is, is you have your finger on the trigger pulled at all times, and you fire and rotate, fire and rotate, by pulling the hammer back on the gun [and then letting it go], which is what a lot of quick-draw and fast-draw artists [do].”
Shotguns and Rifles
As cool as Sly’s paired pistols are, the undisputed star weapon of the movie is Hale Caesar’s (Terry Crews) automatic shotgun, an “MPS AA-12 Sledgehammer.” The weapon itself is a beastly thing, capable of laying down rapid-fire shotgun blasts. What makes it a force to be reckoned with in “The Expendables” however is the ammo that Caesar fills it with, which he describes in great detail during one particular scene.
Said Johnson: “It has fins and it explodes before it hits the target. … It’s like a little missile, a little ground-to-air missile. You could load a shotgun shell with a solid pellet, you could load it with birdshot, you could load it with buckshot, you could load it with all different things. The way we did it [in ’The Expendables’] was, basically, [we built it] to take down buildings, and it does. In real life, this shotgun would do pretty close to what you see on the screen.”
Even more frightening is the idea that such a destructive bit of firepower exists. It does, Johnson said — sort of. “There’s something like that that does exist, yeah. We basically made up our own shell, but we copied one that was a prototype that is in development for the military.”
A range of assault rifles are also on display in the movie, though the climactic battle is highlighted by two in particular. First, you have the bad guys, led by David Zayas’ General Garza. “All of Garza’s military guys we had [equipped] with AK-47s,” Johnson revealed. “Which is the right gun, [because], basically, they work all the time. So the AK-47, which is the old traditional standard workhorse, versus our boys with their modern weaponry.”
In the case of the Expendables, “modern weaponry” is one tactical assault rifle in particular: the Noveske N4. “In the real world, it’s high-tactical, more in Europe than the States. It’s a high-caliber, it’s a very uniquely balanced weapon, a close-quarters weapon. It’s short and has a lot of firepower,” Johnson said.
As with most of the other weapons on display in the movie, the N4 was Stallone’s pick. “He liked the look; it works off of rail systems, so we were able to put smaller but better sights on it. We were able to put better scopes on it. Visually, it was just a better, more futuristic-but-contemporary look without getting into silver [plating] or other crazy things. It’s just a real kick-ass weapon.”
The Sharpened Blade
Not all of the weapons in “The Expendables” go boom. Some slice through the air with nary a sound. Dolph Lundgren’s Gunner Jensen and Jason Statham’s Lee Christmas both make notable use of bladed weapons. “[Lundgren’s] Bowie knife … that was a Gil Hibben. That’s the knife that Gunner gives Christmas [at the beginning of the movie].
“Gil Hibben made a custom knife for us, for Sly. He and Sly have worked throughout the years together,” Johnson continued. “It was a white-bone handle and had the Expendables logo, the same logo that was on the motorcycles. It’s a traditional Bowie knife, but he custom-made it for us for the movie. The design was Gil’s, but he [used] some subtleties in the handle, very small little subtle things to make it a unique piece.”
Then there’s Statham’s Christmas, who excels at killing silently from a distance with his throwing knives. “That was director’s choice on the [throwing] knives to have a little ring at the top so [Statham] could flip them and do different things,” Johnson explained. “We worked in different ways on making [Statham’s draw look right]. We went from a shoulder draw to a hip draw to kind of like a gun draw almost. That’s pretty much what we ended up with, where we had the three knives on each side of his hips.
“That was the director’s idea in working with Jason, what made him feel comfortable and made him feel like he could be as quick as anybody with a gun with that knife. You’ve got to be able to get that knife and then be able to get the second one and the third one. He always carried at least six knives with him at all times when he was in his combat gear.”
Finding the Right Weapons for the Job
With all the killing force detailed above, the obvious question is: Where does it all come from? Johnson, being the man who makes it all happen, has the answer.
“There’s different prop rental houses and different weapon rental people. I’ll work with the director and what his vision is for the movie, and basically I’ll go out and bring him an assortment of guns. Sly’s even gone to the gun room, multiple times, where he wanted to look at things,” Johnson said. He’s worked on Stallone projects since 1989’s “Tango & Cash,” and on “Big Trouble in Little China,” “Death Wish II,” “The Final Countdown” and others before that. “There’s one shop that I work with extensively called Independent Studio Service. They’re in Sun Valley, California, and they have the biggest weaponry [selection] probably in the world for the movie business,” he said.
The guns themselves are the other key to the puzzle. These are all actual weapons that have been converted for prop use, though in most cases converting them back to live weapons is possible. Some of them still are live weapons; they’re simply loaded with blanks.
“A gun with blank ammo, all you’re doing is making the gun think it’s firing a bullet,” Johnson explained. “They’re all real guns, they all have been modified to shoot blanks. Sly’s 3-inch 1873 six-shooter that he had in the small of his back, you could put live rounds in that gun and fire that gun because it’s a non-plugged gun. Non-plugged meaning, when you fire a semi-automatic or a full automatic, you actually plug the barrel of the gun and control the amount of gas that stays there to make the gun think that it’s shooting a live round out.
“So you’re fooling the gun. All of these guns that are converted for studio use can be converted back to live fire.”
Check out everything we’ve got on “The Expendables.”
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