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Why ‘Warrior’ Isn’t That Kind of Girl

Middlesbrough, Teeside, one of the last steel-making towns in the UK or in fact one of the last places in the UK where they still make any­thing, is prob­ably the right place to go and see, as I did last week, Warrior, the recently-released, much-hyped MMA Rocky remake set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Warrior Tom Hardy

Warrior is essen­tially a bromantic MMA Rocky. This time there are two Rockies: Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy, play­ing actual broth­ers (rather than ‘bros’) forced to fight one another. Both Rockies are con­sid­er­ably easier on the eye and ear than Sylvester Stallone ever was.

The cinema in ‘Boro was (half) full of groups of young, mostly work­ing class men, sev­eral of them even more worked-out than the stars of the movie – but in con­trast to the res­ol­utely ‘time­less’ grainy Hollywood faux butchery of Warrior that often looked as if it were set in an MMA ver­sion of the 1970s, they were fake-baked, shaven-chested, sex­ily dressed and very much Twenty First Century tarty. (The North East of England is after all home to Geordie Shore the UK ver­sion of Jersey Shore)

Of course, not everything about the film is try­ing to be time­less. I assume the young men had been drawn, like me, by the poster and trailer for the movie fea­tur­ing naked, hulk­ing Hardy and a ripped Edgerton eye­balling each other, and the prom­ise of a very sweaty, if inces­tu­ous porno cli­max. (Or, as the pro­mo­tional copy has it: ‘…the two broth­ers must finally con­front each other and the forces that pulled them apart, facing off in the most soar­ing, soul stir­ring, and unfor­get­table cli­max that must be seen to be believed.’)

Like all trail­ers, of course, it lied. Unlike Captain America the deceit wasn’t that the trailer provided you with the only tits in the movie – for free. There were oodles of shots of Hardy and Edgerton’s tits and abs. In fact, top­less­ness was the default set­ting of Warrior, and for much of the movie Hardy’s intric­ate tat­toos were the nearest thing he had to a shirt. No, it lied about the spor­no­graphic cli­max. But more of that whinge later.

There were though plenty of homo­erot­ics. It’s a movie about brawny male love – because they’re beat­ing the crap out of one another it can afford to be sen­ti­mental and tender, not to men­tion phys­ical in a way that most ‘bromances’ (essen­tially a middle-class ver­sion of the buddy movie) can’t. It’s about two blue-collar broth­ers’ twis­ted, jilted love for one another. About an alco­holic, abus­ive father’s love for his angry, bit­ter sons (who of course, love him really). About the love between a coach and his eager charge. And the love between comrades/warriors.

And also about the hero-erotic love that so many straight men have for MMA fighters.

The MMA winner-takes-all tour­na­ment both broth­ers enter (and end up fight­ing one another) is called ‘Sparta’ – the Ancient Greek City State so fam­ously war­like that accord­ing to legend, women had to dress as boys on their wed­ding night to lure their hus­bands to bed. Hardy is an ex-Marine who is the sub­ject of a YouTube trib­ute from another young (cute) jar­head whose life was saved by Hardy. The Theban/Spartan band that is the US Marine Corps turns up en masse and in uni­form at Sparta to pro­fess their love and sing the Marine Corps Hymn to Hardy. If this sounds a bit camp, that’s prob­ably because it is.

There are really no women in the movie (and there were very few in the cinema). Edgerton’s equally pretty wife (Jennifer Morrison) is some­times glimpsed in the back­ground wor­ry­ing about his fate. But it’s almost as if she’s there as proof of his domest­ic­ated good­ness – and to make the wise­crack about his flam­boy­ant, hand­some ‘unortho­dox’ trainer (played by Frank Grillo) who uses clas­sical music to ‘con­di­tion’ his fight­ers being his ‘boyfriend’.

(The coach chooses Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ as Edgerton’s swishy entrance music, remind­ing me of the Allegretto from B’s Seventh Symphony in The King’s Speech which then made me think: a) The King’s Speech is some­thing of a bromance, and b) It’s also some­thing of a box­ing movie — voice coach.)

The on-screen rela­tion­ship with his trainer is clearly coded as a romance. The moment Edgerton per­suades him to take him on again is a clas­sic seduc­tion scene. In fact, Edgerton is all come-hither smiles and giggles around his coach and when Edgerton pro­fesses later ‘I LOVE MY COACH!!’ it’s quite clear what he means.

Hardy has noth­ing to do with and doesn’t talk about women, except his dead mother. At one point he calls a woman with kids and reas­sures her he will live up to his prom­ise – and then you real­ise he means his prom­ise to his deceased USMC buddy, who we learn described Hardy as his ‘brother in arms’. So it’s about male love again. Male love with big kiss­able titty lips.

Hardy takes on his father as his coach to train for the tour­na­ment, but abuses him in revenge for the treat­ment meted out as a kid. But after a drunken con­front­a­tion finally for­gives him and lit­er­ally takes him to bed, hold­ing his old wreck of a dad between his legs and arms and pet­ting him to sleep. He loves his coach too.

After a long, exhaust­ing, slightly tedi­ous and very clichéd final reel, Edgerton gets Hardy where he wants him in the ring, hold­ing him tight in a ‘rear naked choke’ echo of Hardy’s tender moment with his dad – and whis­pers “I love you” in Hardy’s ear. They stag­ger out of the ring and out of the arena, cling­ing to one another. Brothers in arms, finally.

Essentially Warrior is one of those movies about ‘broth­ers’ that isn’t really about broth­ers at all. It’s a movie about how ‘real’ broth­ers are usu­ally no match for those that men call broth­ers. The way that “I love you like a brother, man” is some­thing of a lie, because most boys and men don’t love their broth­ers that way. As in this movie, sib­ling rivalry, age dif­fer­ences and fam­ily stuff tends to get in the way. It’s the ‘broth­ers’ you choose to love that you really love. At least for a while. The phrase men use, and the strap­line for this movie, should really be: ‘I love you like I don’t love my brother – that asshole! – man’.

But in one way Warrior is true to the sen­ti­ment of ‘I love you like a brother, man’ – the sen­ti­ment of ‘not in a gay way’. For all the pas­sion­ate homo­erot­ics it’s chan­nel­ling – and des­pite the very norty, very arous­ing trailer – it man­ages to clean-up MMA. A feature-length movie, Warrior is con­sid­er­ably less por­no­graphic than almost any UFC match, which usu­ally last just a few minutes. The fight scenes were mostly a headache-inducing blur of shaky, grainy, poorly lit cam­era move­ment. None of the vul­gar, com­prom­ising and down­right lewd pos­i­tions that char­ac­ter­ise the sport and none of the shad­ow­less, multi-angle, expli­cit, zoomed, over­head voyeur­ism of pay-per-view UFC (that I wrote about breath­lessly here) were permitted.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the audi­ence dis­ap­poin­ted not to see Hardy and Edgerton going at it in HD. Any red-blooded UFC fan – and there are loads of them in the UK, as it fast over­hauls box­ing in pop­ular­ity – would be.

Perhaps the chaste­ness of Warrior’s MMA down to the fact that the two act­ors are just that – act­ors, not actual MMA fight­ers, let alone top-level fight­ers. So the dir­ector couldn’t afford to show too much. Or maybe it was because the gritty, obscene mech­an­ics of MMA were too much – for the bromantic storyline. In the end, des­pite the trailer, Warrior didn’t want you to think it was that kind of girl of course, and offered an emo­tional cli­max rather than a phys­ical or even visual one.

Though admit­tedly, any film star­ring Hardy’s lips can hardly be called clean fun.

7 thoughts on “Why ‘Warrior’ Isn’t That Kind of Girl”

  1. Great write up. I had to laugh at your last­line– Hardy’s lips alone provide erot­i­cism that little else could. I saw him in another film: much leaner; and was taken by his lips alone, not real­iz­ing who he was.
    I lack the exper­i­ence of actual fights to be able to draw any com­par­ison, but felt that the film was as homo­erotic as any­thing in a sim­ilar set­ting could be. That had of course to do with the vari­ous com­plex emo­tional entan­gle­ments you describe so aptly. I don’t know how I missed this. I should have real­ized that you would catch this. I think I ‘ll have to get it again! For me it’s an improve­ment over real erot­ics. But that may just be me. Your descrip­tion has me all tangled.

  2. Hi Ann — thanks for the link to the pic. Yes, I’d say that’s an example of sporno, and it’s a fine snap. Deliberately or not though it does seem to be play­ing on the pop­u­lar notion of ‘BBC’ — with the pos­i­tion­ing and col­our­ing of the base­ball bat.

  3. Yeah, I see what you mean there, Mark. I feel like a bit of an endangered spe­cies, even here in Oz!

  4. This pic­ture was in yesterday’s New York Daily News (tabloid). I think it was on the cover.


    It’s a pic­ture of Jose Reyes, a base­ball player, pos­ing for the “Body Issue” of some magazine (you can tell I don’t fol­low this stuff closely).

    I’d be curi­ous to know what you think. Do you like this photo? Is it sporno? (Love that word!)

    I think we Yanks do the met­ro­sexual thing bet­ter because we’re such a con­sumer society.

  5. I should prob­ably add that although Middlesbrough is one of the last places in the UK that still makes any­thing (steel and pet­ro­chem­ic­als), the factor­ies and plants left are highly auto­mated and don’t employ nearly as many people as they used to. For all I know, the tarty young lads I saw in the cinema aud­it­or­ium work in call centres and tan­ning salons — if they have jobs at all.

  6. Probably. After all, it was made by them. Both the authen­tic, all-American blue-collar lead roles are played by Edgerton and Hardy, who are from nice middle-class back­grounds — and of course, neither of them are American.

  7. I won­der if this film will ulti­mately be more pop­u­lar with the puffy, office bound young-ish men of the Western world, rather than with the sur­viv­ing blue col­lar boys?

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