“What a bunch of beefcakes!”
It’s rare that you’ll hear 80 men in a cinema exclaim this at the exact same time. But then, Pain & Gain, the new film from action director Michael Bay, is a rare movie. It’s around 130 minutes of testosterone-flooded mania. You could axe fight a lumberjack over an uncooked steak and it still wouldn’t be as manly as Pain & Gain. You could arm wrestle Chuck Norris while farting and it wouldn’t come close to being as tough as Pain & Gain. You could beat Wolf on every stage of Gladiators while clad entirely in lycra and you’d still be a distance off of the masculinity of Pain & Gain.
We won’t know for sure that Pain & Gain is the manliest film of the year until Machete Kills has been released, but at the moment it sits at the top of the pile, quietly flexing and occasionally rising to do squat thrusts.
If you believe in the stereotypes of manliness and masculinity, Pain & Gain is the ideal film for men. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of reasons why. Here are ten of them.
1. Mark Wahlberg
Man’s man Mark Wahlberg plays Daniel Lugo, bodybuilder and violent, scheming shitbag. Lugo gets a job at the Sun Gym as a personal trainer, after charming his way in and making some elaborate promises. Lugo is successful in his job, making friends with the steroid shooting hardcore customers while pushing ‘weekend warriors’ as hard as they can handle. Unsatisfied with his recompense, Lugo feels he deserves more. He puts together a small crew of painfully stupid muscle bound hunks and… wait, no, he puts together a small crew of painfully stupid muscle bound gentlemen and sets about kidnapping a rich customer.
The plan is simple, as are the men executing it. All they have to do is snatch the millionaire up and torture him until he signs over all of his assets. Then, probably some pushups.
Pain & Gain forces us to confront the statement ‘Mark Wahlberg? More like Mark Wall-berg’ because he’s as solid as a brick wall in this film. Watching Wahlberg in Pain & Gain will put hairs on your top lip. I don’t mean that in a cheesy ‘this’ll make a man out of you, son’ way, I mean I legitimately exited the cinema looking like Tom Selleck. I have no idea how it happened but I’m sure Wahlberg is responsible.
When he wants to be, Mark Wahlberg is a funny guy. He plays Lugo as charming, enough that we buy his influence over people (he’s a conman, after all), yet always a little out of his depth and on the brink of violence. He’s an exaggeration of the masculinity stereotype; in good shape, can take care of himself in a fight, emotionally distanced from women, all taken up to Stathamic levels. He’s quite likable, too, which makes it difficult to notice that he’s an appalling person most of the time. Given our cheeky shenanigans that we get up to, it’s worth us manly men taking notes on how Wahlberg is able to get away with so much while still keeping everyone onside.
Obviously I don’t mean that our shenanigans should be Pain & Gain level Wahlbergian felonies. I mean that our own low level man-mischiefs would benefit from Wahlberg’s ‘Come on, can you stay mad at this face?’ attitude. Seriously, do not torture anyone and then tell people that either me, Mark Wahlberg or Michael Bay told you to do it, because we didn’t. Don’t be liar. Oh, and say hi to your mother for me.
2. The Rock
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson plays Paul Doyle. Paul Doyle is an excellent character – a mad concoction of contradictions, compressed into the middle of three hundred pounds of terrifying bastard. Doyle goes to Sun Gym looking for a job and ends up meeting Daniel Lugo. A former convict struggling to suppress a cocaine habit, Doyle is attempting to live a Christian life. Unfortunately, Doyle is easily influenced, and soon finds himself a key component in Lugo’s plan, with his size, temper and penchant for brutality coming in useful.
If nothing else, it’s hard to argue that Pain & Gain doesn’t give use terrific Rock-value for money, because for a standard ticket price we’re getting an extra-large Johnson. The Rock is just huge in this film. If we’re mistaking Mark Wahlberg for a wall, then The Rock could easily pass for the tower block behind the wall. He’s just… giant.
Paul Doyle might be my favourite The Rock character. Johnson plays him as confused and vulnerable at times, yet uncontrollable and mercilessly violent at others. He’s stupid (his robbery plan is just… wait until you see it) to the point where he’s a liability to the team, yet he’s also able to muscle them out of some difficult situations. My nightmares will be forever haunted by images of The Ultra-Rock on a cocaine rampage.
As Paul Doyle, Dwayne Johnson embodies everything I love about being a man – having giant arms and no idea what is going on around you.
3. Ed Harris
Ed Harris is the manliest man in Pain & Gain. He’s not the biggest, he’s not the toughest and he’s not the meanest. What makes his character (private investigator Dubois) so incredibly manly is that he decides to take on the biggest, the toughest and the meanest regardless. He doesn’t do it for the money, but rather because he thinks it’s right and because he’s a PI, and this is what he does. Just proof reading this paragraph I’ve gotten through an entire bottle of scotch. And yes, clever dicks, that does explain whatever spelling mistake you’ve found. Well done.
Harris is always a great performer. Say what you will about director Michael Bay, but he’s never had a problem finding great actors who, as men, we’d love to have a barbecue and watch the fights with. Steve Buscemi, Michael Clarke Duncan, Bruce Willis, Ewan McGregor, Will Smith, Sean Connery, William Fichtner, Nicolas Cage, William Forsythe, Michael Biehn, John Turturro and John Malkovich, to name just a few. Ed Harris is typically excellent in Pain & Gain, bringing a bit of grit to a film full of bulging nancy boys.
Okay, not really ninjas, but the effort from Bay and co to cater to our manly interest in ninjas is worthy of our appreciation. It’s incredibly difficult for us men to enjoy any film that doesn’t feature a band of ninjas. Having three gigantic dimwits dress up as ninjas? Close enough!
5. Body Mass
You don’t have to be from Philadelphia to appreciate the body mass on display in Pain & Gain. Not since Predator have we seen such an impressive turn out from a cast’s biceps. While I can’t speak on behalf of all of us, I will say that as a very manly man, it felt nice to see people who looked like me on the big screen for a change. Certainly all of those bulging muscles and gurning faces made me feel very special and happy indeed.
Guys, you can go ahead and take that newspaper off your lap that you have covering that embarrassing erection that popped up during the body mass section; there are ladies in Pain & Gain to blame it on.
The main female character in Pain & Gain is Sorina, a confused stripper who Lugo tricks into believing he’s working for the CIA. She soon finds love with The Rock (don’t we all?). The other female character of note is Robin, a nurse who meets gang member Doorbal in a professional setting. They proceed to conduct themselves in a really quite unprofessional manner.
Pain & Gain features different kinds of women, all sexualised, all larger than life, most with giant, fake bosoms. When three women get out of a swimming pool, they flip they bottoms around at exactly the same time, and they’re all perfectly sculpted. If you thought the hyper men were unbelievably manly, wait until you see the kind of women they’ve manufactured for us because real women scare us. What? No one said anything. Look at her boobs!
In fairness to the film, Pain & Gain is about excesses. It’s about this world of ‘roided out bodybuilders and plastic, Barbie-doll strippers (without wishing to stray too far into spoiler territory, breast implants play a significant role in the story). It’s about over-the-top violence, ridiculous criminal plans and greed. So, while I may joke about the women in this film being typical Hollywood bodies with no personality, this is that rare film where that’s the point.
‘Bbbbrrrrmmmmm’ is the sexiest sound known to man. That’s why so many of us are hospitalised each year due to attempts to instigate an intimate encounter with a passing vehicle. Once the roar of an engine sex clouds our minds we simply have to start thrusting at it.
Pain & Gain is less high speed chase-ish than you might think, but used sparingly the car scenes are a lot of fun. The use of vehicles escalates through the film. You’d be forgiven early on for assuming we’d get little more than fast cars. As things start to get interesting, though, we get boats zipping along the ocean top, with the caddish sailor on board not wearing a life jacket (the Pain & Gain gang live life on the edge and are simply too tough to make concessions to nautical dangers). And we could hardly call this a Michael Bay film if no one rode in a helicopter.
There simply isn’t another activity manly enough to take the place of operating the controls of a vehicle while wearing a vest. And my goodness, that’s a tiny vest The Rock is wearing.
We’re men and we love violence. Here the violence is funny, so that’s cool, right? I mean, it’s also shocking at times, and there are odd moments here and there where I was a little taken aback by how light and detached we can be from extreme violence. It’s particularly pertinent in Pain & Gain because this is a true story (the truth, as they say, is manlier than fiction). People really did do these things to each other. And yet, it is funny in the film. Pain & Gain plays almost like a comedy version of Hostel at some points, from the lighting to the extreme content.
As I previously mentioned, us men love violence. That doesn’t necessarily mean we love everything about violence, though. That’s why Pain & Gain is such a manly film – it challenges us to think about how we view violence, especially violence that’s presented to us as glossy entertainment, and therefore detached from reality. It confronts us about how we respond to seeing shocking images. I’ll drink to that!
9. It looks great
Real men love good cinematography. This is typical Michael Bay, as slick as you like, with the film showing none of budgetary limitations you’d expect from a guy working with around 15 percent of the budget of his previous film. The trick seems to be in having found the perfect story to match Bay’s style. Simply worded, neon is manlier than drab.
10. As a warning
Look, real men pump iron, absolutely, but you’re super manly if you can bulk up to Hulkamaniacal levels without making yourself impotent from steroid abuse. It’s heartbreaking that there are men who will only be able to learn this lesson through the medium of cinema, but if that what it takes then we need to ensure that they see it. Obviously I’m entirely natural, and if anyone suggests otherwise I will smash everything to pieces and destroy their entire world. I must break you. I will Bane your spine in. I will Hulk the Loki out of you.
Oh God. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that at all. I’ll get help. I will.
Another fine lesson to take from Pain & Gain is don’t be stupid. The characters in this film are stupid and don’t consider any of the consequences of their actions, legal or moral. Real men are cool to each other. They go to see Pain & Gain, they take their partner, who they treat respectfully, and they eat popcorn and enjoy one of the most interesting action movies of the year. That’s what real men do. Then we hug and it’s totally fine and not weird or anything. Look at the size of my arms! Look at them!
Pain & Gain previews in UK cinemas this weekend, and is released on Friday 30th August.
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