The Expendables 3
Directed by Patrick Hughes. Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Dolph Lundgren, Mel Gibson, Kellan Lutz, Harrison Ford, Randy Couture, Ronda Rousey, Terry Crews, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jet Li, Kelsey Grammer, Robert Davi, Natalie Burn, Sarai Givaty, Lisbeth Olofsson, Victor Ortiz. Written by Sylvester Stallone and Katrin Benedikt & Creighton Rothenberger, from characters created by Dave Callaham.
It’s slickly-made and better-produced than the first two films in the series, and that’s precisely the problem: while The Expendables 3 is a better film in most technical regards, it’s lost the goofy charm and rough edges that made the first two movies fun. The franchise is no longer a send-up of cornball gung-ho action movies: it has finally become one.
Of course, that impressive action-movie cast is still around to keep things interesting. Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, and Terry Crews return as the titular team of mercenaries, joined this time around by Wesley Snipes’ Doc. He’s sprung from a foreign prison in the film’s waste-no-time opening setpiece, an over-the-top affair involving a train and a helicopter that recalls a similar sequence in Mission: Impossible.
Snipes isn’t the only new addition this time around. Harrison Ford has replaced Bruce Willis as the government contact handing out assignments (Willis, apparently, wanted an extra $1 million for what would have amounted to a few days work), and after things go south during their second job here, Stallone’s Barney Ross decides to call it quits.
Now, you probably didn’t come into The Expendables 3 to watch Twilight’s Kellan Lutz, professional boxer Victor Ortiz, women’s MMA superstar Ronda Rousey, and Glen Powell (who?) team up with Stallone to go get the bad guys, but that’s exactly what you’ll get here after Ross decides his old team was just too old. Kelsey Grammer plays the contact who helps Ross round up these new recruits.
To be fair, the actors don’t make much of a difference: the old guys get their share of screen time, and it doesn’t really matter who’s behind the machine gun or diving away from the explosion during the action scenes. But Lutz, Ortiz, and Powell never make much of an impression, and while Rousey gets a chance to strut some impressive MMA moves, the hyper-editing on display here turns her hand-to-hand scenes into mere glimpses of fury.
And that’s the one real failing of The Expendables 3. Director Patrick Hughes previously made the surprisingly good Aussie thriller Red Hill, which featured clean, clear action & suspense sequences, but his skills seem to have deserted him here. The action scenes in Expendables 3 (which make up, what, roughly a third of the movie) are a chaotic mess, poorly staged and realized, and give us little idea of where characters are in relation to each other or who is shooting who; the editing is so choppy that our eyes our always trying to catch up, and every other cut seems to be to a shot that doesn’t match the previous one.
Story? It’s Stallone and co. versus the bad guys, and that’s enough. Mel Gibson just about steals the picture as ‘Stonebanks’, an ex-Expendable who went rogue to become a war criminal. Gibson’s hammy villain here isn’t quite as over-the-top as the one he played in Machete Kills, but the film still picks up a little energy whenever he’s around.
Ditto Antonio Banderas as the motor-mouthed Galgo, who tries to join up with Ross and his young new team despite his age. Jet Li, shows up during climactic scenes but has nothing to do, while Arnold Schwarzenegger is a riot in each of his too-brief scenes, and even quotes his famous “Get to da choppa!” line from Predator. Twice.
While the film looks much better than previous installments – that horrid CGI has been much-improved – and still retains (of course) a giddy sense of self-awareness, much of the charm is now gone. This is passable late-night fare, but you’re really watching it for the cast – none of whom get enough screen time to do what they do best.
A digital copy of The Expendables 3 was leaked online weeks before its worldwide release, leading to 2 million downloads over a one-week period and a lawsuit from the studio. Online piracy didn’t seem to hurt the box office tally of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the last big blockbuster to suffer this fate, but it will be interesting to see if fans can muster up the energy to go to the cinema for the latest installment in this increasingly-tiresome franchise.