‘The Expendables 3’: Cheap, Chopped, And Cheesy (Movie Review)
The Expendables 3: 2 ½ out of 5
Doc Death: I’m the knife before Christmas
At this point in the Expendables franchise, it seems apparent that there is little understanding as to how to really deliver on what could make these films true action delights. The story means little to me in these films, the presence of all the big name action heroes is more important than their acting, but somehow these films have yet to deliver well-directed action. There are moments that payoff, but these films still have not found a way to be consistently entertaining due to the very thing that should be most important – solid action. It may be hard to capture the sort of magic that one enjoys from the various decades of action movies, starring these heroes that have been repeatedly watched by many, but at least being able to show the action clearly would be nice. As it stands, while the effort is there and the comradery is apparent, I can still only depend on The Expendables to be mediocre.
The basic premise of this movie is the same as always. Sylvester Stallone leads a group of mercenaries on a mission to kill a bunch of bad guys and maybe retrieve a package or intel or a fallen comrade in the process. This time around, following the revelation that a former turncoat Expendable is still alive (Stonebanks played by Mel Gibson), Stallone’s character, Barney Ross, decides to cut loose his current team (which includes Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, and new addition Wesley Snipes) in favor of a younger crew with more of a death wish. This crew includes Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell, and Victor Ortiz. Apparently Barney’s thought is that he cares about his old pals too much to see them get hurt, so he would rather recruit young blood whom he won’t care about if they get killed on a mission all about hunting down one man and taking him out. Regardless, Barney goes through the motions of this plan, only to find that he may need his old crew after all, if he truly wants to destroy as much of abandoned parts of Bulgaria as possible.
Of course I care very little about the story that this film presents, though that is somewhat unfair to Sylvester Stallone, who continues to be the driving force in this franchise, as he develops the stories, has a hand in the screenplays, and presumably does a lot of directorial assistance, after stepping down from the helm after the first film. The previous film may not have had much to say, beyond, “look at all the actors we have in this film and look how silly they can act, while shooting everything,” but the first film tried to take things more serious. I may not have been a fan of Mickey Rourke’s role in that first film, as it seemed like he belonged in a completely different movie, but his monologues at least established a level of purpose for the franchise. With this third film, it seems like Stallone wanted to capture the spirit of both the first and second film, as things are less campy this time around and include some attempts to comment, once again, on what The Expendables are truly about. The problem is that this is not very interesting and the action on top of all this doesn’t look very good or provide too much excitement compared to either the classic (or “classic”) action films from the past or the well-directed action films of today.
Patrick Hughes steps into the director’s chair for this installment and while I was a fan of his Australian feature film debut, Red Hill, he seems pretty out of his depth here. The ingredients are certainly here to see a great action film, given the big locations, talented martial artists, and all the big guns, but whether it is due to this being a compromised PG-13 version of the film (possible) or a result of unsure direction that utilized the current fad of rapid edits and use of tight close-ups (more than likely, as it is a franchise issue), The Expendables 3 only has moments that work, rather than a whole film full of entertaining action. With Hughes currently attached to the American remake of The Raid: Redemption, a film that is entirely dependent on its direction and not who stars in it, I cannot say my hopes are high at all.
Fortunately the actors are at least all game to have fun with each other onscreen, without acting as obviously bad as in Expendables 2. Sure, saying Dolph Lundgren has been toned down only goes so far, but after seeing Bruce Willis (a no show and un-missed participant this time around) manage to deliver one of his worst, most phoned-in performances this side of A Good Day to Die Hard in the previous film, it is nice to see the guys actually trying, to an extent, for this film. Stallone, for example, continues to have the right balance that is required for these films and it is a credit to him that he has good chemistry with a cast that features over a dozen other meatheads. It is unfortunate that his teaming up with Jason Statham (one of the best things about this series) is sidelined for a good majority of the film this time around, but at least ‘action heavyweight’ Kelsey Grammer shows up for a small portion of the film to fill that void.
As far as the new recruits and additions for this film goes, apparently Kellan Lutz is supposed to be the answer we were all looking for, as far as new, young action talent goes, but hey, he does fill out the gruff swagger akin to all the other Sam Worthingtons out there. Ronda Rousey stands out, I guess, as she is the only woman in this film, but it really makes no difference. On the veteran’s side, Mel Gibson is villainous enough, but not nearly as wonderful as Jean-Claude Van Damme was in the previous installment (the best thing about Expendables 2). Harrison Ford fills in for Willis’ role and actually seems to be having a lot of fun, which was nice to see. Wesley Snipes fits this series like a glove, which is all I really need to say about that. I have saved the best for last though.
Antonio Banderas steps in this time around and is easily the highlight of this film. His character, Galgo, is written to be annoyingly talkative and I loved all of it. He has also clearly been written as one of the few elements commenting on Hollywood, as Stallone has basically developed a story remarking on the pushing out of older action stars in an effort to bring in the new generation, with Banderas serving as the contingent of actors who have only ever been good in certain roles and can’t seem to get any sort of break. It is not exactly a sneaky layer of subtext, but Banderas puts in a ton of effort that was fun to see on screen. The only issue (which extends to most of the cast) is how hard it was to understand him and Stallone sharing emotional stories with one another.
This actually leads me to another main issue with the film: it feels cheap and issues like sound editing seem like examples of why. Additionally, while the last 25 minutes are all action, well-edited or not, a good majority of this film feels like it had its budget reduced in an effort to hold onto the R-rating, except for the fact that this is a PG-13 film. So on top of the bloodless (not that it’s necessary) and poorly edited action, you have bland locations, obvious green screens, and plenty of CG explosions. It feels like a rushed job overall, which is a shame, as The Expendables could be so much more, but instead can’t seem to hit the target as well as The Expendables do in the film.
A fourth Expendables film is all but inevitable and while I will likely see that one too, but the enthusiasm continues to be pretty low when thinking about it. I really want to like these movies more. The first one is passable, the second goes gloriously over the top, but diminishes in quality every time I look back on it, and now we have this third entry, which feels like business as usual, save for the fact that business is not very good. The charm is there, when it comes to the actors, but the film assembled around them lacks the punch to make for a knock out entry. Instead, The Expendables continue to feel disposable.
Galgo: This is the greatest day of my life!