The Expendables is a reactionary series designed for a largely macho male audience fatigued by a perceived overly feminised Hollywood. They are not politically correct, do not adhere to any sentimentality and are known for starring relics from the excessive and violent films of the 1980s. The first film was a dark and amusing action film, decidedly average but was enough to whet the appetite for an action fan.
The second film was much improved with a totally over the top approach and an expanded cast of aging action stars, including Jean Claude Van Damme portraying a villain called “Villan” and a truly hilarious cameo appearance by Chuck Norris that played on the man’s many myths.
The third Expendables film is the sell-out.
The previous films were rated R and contained graphic violence, strong language and were obviously modelled from the 1980s template. This sequel is rated PG-13 and resembles the same generic and boring action pictures that the first two were partially a reaction to.
The film opens with an exciting rescue aboard a speeding train, where the team of action stars (including Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Terry Crews) rescue Wesley Snipes, who proceeds to commandeer the train and slam it into a prison, blowing it up. The team then take a detour to fight an Expendable gone rogue (played by Mel Gibson, who is a real hoot throughout) and after one of their numbers is seriously wounded, Stallone decides to break up the group.
This is when the film takes a turn for the worst.
Our hopes are momentarily piqued when Kelsey Grammar is introduced to the cast. And while there was hope for some “Frasier Crane asskicking,” this is unfortunately dashed aside when he is just there to help Stallone find a new and younger crew. Not one of the five he enlists have any charisma or personality whatsoever, which makes this reviewer wonder what the hell is wrong with my generation. Are we really this horribly uncool?
It’s a reminder that not a single notable action star has been bred this generation, at least not one under the age of 40. It’s sad really.
The kids are about as engaging as Stallone’s young partner in Bullet To The Head (2013) and John McClane’s son in Die Hard 5 (2013), which in other words, means that they are totally without any interest or discernible talent. They largely seem to only serve the purpose of denouncing the older generation and behaving as ignorant asses to the point of general annoyance. They have names like “Thorn” and “Smilee,” and are about as interesting as their names.
(The irony of casting an actor from the Twilight series as one of the Expendables is especially jarring, considering that series was one of the very films the original film was reacting to!)
The film tries to offer some equal opportunity in its casting by having a woman as one of the group in the form of Ronda Rousey. She is introduced as a bouncer at a club whooping on some dudes while decked out in this tight red dress. It’s mildly amusing to witness, but her character lacks any identity outside of being “lone woman,” and she stands out for that trait alone. Her perpetual scowl does her no favors but earn snickers from the audience, for the actress looks like she may be suffering from irritable bowel syndrome.
Lundgren can get away with it because he’s like eight foot tall and kind of reminds one of Frankenstein’s Monster. Ronda Rousey just reminds me that they should have tried better at central casting.
Inevitably, the team turns out to be pretty terrible and Gibson captures the kids and this forces Stallone to get his old group, though not before we get bored shots of Jason Statham sitting bored in his apartment and throwing knives at expensive television sets.
Luckily, Antonio Banderas comes along, and brings some real life into the film. While nearly a generation apart from Stallone and Schwarzenegger (who also has an expanded role here), he was a pivotal name in the 90s action film. His character is more in spirit with what the film should really be about, which is simply tongue in cheek lunacy. Harrison Ford is also hustled in as the replacement for the too-expensive Bruce Willis (who is greatly missed, as he was pretty fun last time around) and Ford has little to do but show up in the final action sequence and fly a helicopter around in some of the worst CGI seen since Spawn (1996). But he does have Arnold and Jet Lee(!) as door gunners so that counts for something, certainly.
The final action sequence is lengthy and well executed but lacks the fun of the last film, which includes Willis and Schwarzenegger trading off on each others’ signature lines. Arnold does inform the Expendables to “get to the choppa,” and that certainly worked well enough, but the humour is still far too subdued.
The director, Patrick Hughes, had previously directed the tense and violent Australian thriller Red Hill (2010). Unfortunately, Hughes seems unsure of how to handle both ensemble casting and epic action and appears ill-suited, despite his initial promise with the previous picture. (The original choice for director was actually supposed to be Gibson and that would have likely been far more interesting.)
The action sequences are decent at best but hardly thrilling, especially when the computer takes control and the stunt men are on a coffee break. There’s little suspense to be had and the balance between gun violence and martial arts is not nearly as evenly distributed. Plus, certain parties (paging Dr. Frasier Crane…) really needed to be part of that final melee. In a film like this, there’s no need to worry about subtlety. It’s all a case of “go big or go home,” and the film aims far too small.
The biggest issue with this film is the handling of the actors. No one going to see such a film really cares about any up and coming talent, they just want to see some old time action stars blow stuff up real good. Wesley Snipes is introduced in the beginning and seems like a lot of fun but is virtually dropped from the film after the first twenty minutes. Likewise, the other actors have very little to do, including Statham, who had previously been depicted as Stallone’s right hand man. Here he is reduced to minor support and acts as a destroyer of television sets. Schwarzenegger’s role is larger but he is barely involved in the action and frankly, that’s all any of us really care about. He does get a chance to have some bonding time with Jet Lee, as the two proceed to walk side by side, blasting away with automatic weapons, but its too little too late. It’s a shame for Jet Lee fans, too. He’s billed very high but hardly is on for even five minutes. He doesn’t even get to kick somebody in the face and for that we can all be sad.
The Expendables series was always Stallone’s baby and he was nominally the star. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but here the film becomes too much of a vanity project and the ensemble is left far too much on the outside. We want to see these guys work together and generally act like the tough mothers we expect them to be. We’re not expecting any deep insight into the human condition or anything philosophical or political, just a good, dumb time.
The Expendables 3 is serviceable enough as an action film and it’s fun to see some of these actors, especially Banderas, Gibson and Ford, who seem to be all having a ball playing this sort of over the top macho escapism. It’s unfortunate that the audience will likely leave wanting.