Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
The Expendables franchise is defined by the self-aware nature of the title action actors, knowing that they are far too old for the work they are doing on screen. That allows for Sylvester Stallone to bring together all of his favorite stars to celebrate the old way of doing things and how grand it can be. His ultimate goal with these films seems to be the celebration of 80s actioners that showed characters kicking ass and fighting bad guys that wanted to destroy the world. Yet like his stars, these films have grown tired and worn out. The peak was the second film, an entertaining romp that capitalized on the absurdity of the franchise by amping up the action and supporting characters to a ridiculous level. Yet the latest entry undermines the excitement inherent with the series: the PG-13 rating makes the bloodless action feel inconsequential and the story involves young characters to make the older gentlemen feel outdated. Sure, the dialogue will always be awful and the acting atrocious, but at least there was some spontaneity in the others.
The story this time around follows the usual suspects as they attempt to rescue an old pal and stop another one. Barney (Sylvester Stallone), Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), and others break their friend Doc (Wesley Snipes) out of an armored train prison. Could you honestly say that your friends would do the same? As they head to Somalia to track down a nuclear weapons dealer, they run into an old member of their group: Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), a ruthless madman that wanted to become the leader of his own pack. He broke off from the group and basically wanted to become evil. At least that’s what the film says. He’s also masterfully defined by his desire to buy works of art worth millions of dollars that he doesn’t really like. The Expendables hunt down Stonebanks with the guidance of Drummer (Harrison Ford), a character that effectively replaces Church because Bruce Willis wanted to be paid too much. Oh yeah, and Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is back, mostly appearing in Hawaiian shirts and looking like he’s confused about why he’s a recurring character.
The Expendables 3 is defined by many of the same traits that dominate the previous entries in the franchise. Characters talk about things as if they are always cracking painfully obvious jokes or delivering one-liners. I’m not sure there’s ever a moment in the film when there isn’t a reminder that these are all actors from famous franchises, and hey, listen to Ah-nuld reference getting to the choppa! The addition of a female character named Luna, played by MMA fighter Ronda Rousey, is ambitious and a bridge being established for the planned Expendabelles film (a spin-off of females doing the same thing the men in these films do). Luna acts as a strong female force that wants to stand her own ground amidst all of the testosterone. She can kick some serious ass. She’s also one of many new additions that bog down the latest entry and add on an extra half hour to the running time; even Antonio Banderas, a wonderfully talented and charismatic actor, feels woefully out of place, being demoted to an annoying sidekick rather than becoming an actual character.
Yet the action is the shining star of these films, the beacon of hope that guides the viewer toward a satisfying viewing. It’s a disappointment, then, that the film undermines all of the action by taking away every element that made it distinguishable in the previous efforts. Here, the teen-friendly rating demonstrates a desire to appease younger viewers, but in doing so the action becomes woefully bland and lifeless. Outside of an exciting car chase in one of the film’s opening moments, every fighting sequence feels choreographed and mechanical. Characters never get wounded and nothing important happens to any of them when they are facing danger. As they are attacked by hundreds of men and have multiple tanks and helicopters shooting at them nonstop, you would think one character would get hit by a single bullet. Even Gibson’s character remarks that it shouldn’t be that difficult. But alas. These films meet the standard they have set: there’s high octane action, cheesy jokes, and too many characters to care about any particular one. In that regard, The Expendables 3 delivers.
Grade: ★★ (out of 5)