The Expendables 3, 2014.
Directed by Patrick Hughes.
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes, Mel Gibson, Antonio Banderas, Kellan Lutz, Kelsey Grammer, Glen Powell, Ronda Rousey and Victor Ortiz.
Barney augments his team with new blood for a personal battle: to take down Conrad Stonebanks, the Expendables co-founder and notorious arms trader who is hell bent on wiping out Barney and every single one of his associates.
Watching The Expendables 3, one can’t help but see the irony. In 2010, Sylvester Stallone rounded up a group of fellow action stars to give audiences what they always wanted to see, even if it was two decades too late to have any real significance; 1980s action gods Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and Stallone himself sharing the same screen (with a few other C-List names added to make up the numbers). The film was fun, self-referential, über violent and filled with ‘old school’ action.
Fast forward four years and nearly $600 million at the global box office later, this third entry seems to have forgotten or ignored all the parts which made the first two films a genuinely fun, if totally disposable, experience. What was once a product of nostalgia has become an ‘event’ marketed like a Fast & Furious film, and where once we saw heads exploding in unabashed R-rated fun we are now left with below-par PG-13 action set pieces which depend on the CGI of a production twice this budget. In truth, this film is DOA.
Quite what Stallone, the mastermind behind this series, was thinking with the story and plot for this movie is anyone’s guess. The film attempts to turn Barney Ross (Stallone) into a fully realised character with a background, hidden past, and unresolved issues; normally this would be a good thing for a third film in a series but The Expendables 3 is not the type of film in which to do it, and ‘more of the same’ would have been welcome here because cartoon action is all anyone wanted. Barney Ross’s background is of absolutely no interest to anyone and a lacklustre revenge plot when one of the crew is nearly killed is both laughable and excruciatingly boring when the actor in question is incapable of showing anything resembling an acting range.
Furthermore, the film ditches the older guys in favour for a selection of ‘actors’ who wouldn’t even find themselves on the D-list, let alone be worthy of starring alongside Stallone in an action movie. The decision to include this younger crew over the older guys says to the audience ‘all you want to see is action, no matter who is on screen’ and that is a fundamental flaw. The film spends far too long recruiting the new members when no one cares about them; the reason we choose to see these films is for the charisma of the action icons, so why deny us this simple pleasure? The familiar team is restored for the final third, but the film’s want to have it both ways simply doesn’t work.
“But what about the action?” I hear you cry, for action is, after all, the one thing which we want, regardless of story. The opening sequence wants to be like a James Bond opening but has no originality, stakes, or impact on us. Similarly the next set piece shows plenty of things blowing up because they can but nothing here has any lasting effect because they seem to only be there because the next hour will be so dull. The final 30 minutes is the film’s only saving grace because it is non-stop explosions and carnage with each of The Expendables getting their moments to shine, but even this goes on far too long and suffers from the Michael Bay school of thinking where more means better. Perhaps they wanted to make up for the awful hour which proceeded it, but it’s of little comfort when all hope has been lost. You could watch the final 30 minutes in isolation and enjoy it, but as part of a two hour film, it’s nowhere near enough reason to see this film.
As for the stars who have joined this production, there is bad news and great news. The bad news is that Harrison Ford, Kelsey Grammar, and Wesley Snipes are wasted and serve only to have their names on the movie poster; if you’re looking to watch the film to see them then forget about it. The great news is that Mel Gibson is back on the screen and is by faaaaaaar the best thing about the movie; Gibson chews scenery as the bad guy and is savouring every moment even though you can tell he isn’t anywhere near the top of his game. It’s sad, however, to see Gibson reduced to the ‘boo-hiss’ evil man when he should be the star we’re all rooting for because he has that leading man presence which is sorely missing from many of today’s leading stars. He’s the one star in this entire movie franchise who is better than this nonsense.
Even with lowered expectations The Expendables 3 is a massive let down. No one expected an action masterpiece here but a film as dull, predictable, and fun-free as this is unforgivable. It’s become everything it shouldn’t be and fails at nearly every turn and if it were not for Mel Gibson there wouldn’t be a reason to watch it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Rohan Morbey – follow me on Twitter.