The Expendables 3
2014, 127mins, 12
Director: Patrick Hughes
Writer (s): Sylvester Stallone, Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt
Cast includes: Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Jason Statham, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wesley Snipes, Terry Crews, Kellan Lutz, Kelsey Grammer, Antonio Banderas, Jet Li
UK Release Date: 14th Augst 2014
Looking back at my archives, it appears I neglected to pen anything on the subject of 2012's “The Expendables 2”, despite a vivid memory of absorbing the picture in my local, endearingly scruffy flea-pit. The sequel was an improvement over the dour 2010 original, a feature that promised jazzy nostalgia and career revivals for the world's most famed beefcakes, but actually delivered little other than an occasional witty line. “The Expendables 2” dispensed with any pretence of earnestness, instead becoming an intentionally ludicrous post-modern jaunt through the annals of late 20th century action cinema. It was a crass effort for sure, but one that generated enough smiles to eke out mild satisfaction. Essentially these films amount to an elaborate practical joke, which leads me to assume “The Expendables 3” is the punchline. The third outing has an expanded cast and even a hot new director (Patrick Hughes, who helmed the exceptional Australian thriller “Red Hill”), but somehow manages to become the most impressively redundant of the series so far. The film attempts to cultivate the sombre essence of part one whilst indulging the cheesy chuckles of its immediate follow-up; yet provides none of the limited pleasures permitted by either. It's an unapologetically dumb feature, but that's forgiveable. The real mortal sin perpetrated is the lack of finesse or energy evident in anything other than a shrill Antonio Banderas.
Barney (Sylvester Stallone) and his Expendables are shocked when they encounter former peer Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) on a mission to eliminate an arm's dealer. It transpires that Stonebanks himself is the target, and has in his retirement taken to villainy, much to Barney's disgust. After a brief fire-fight that leaves Caesar (Terry Crews, in a sadly reduced role) wounded, Barney disbands the group, adamant that no more of his friends should be harmed in the name of work. However a new CIA contact Digger (Harrison Ford, slyly replacing Bruce Willis) still wants Stonebanks captured alive, so with a team of younger professionals and old rival Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Barney heads back into the field. As you might expect, the rest of The Expendables don't take the development lying down.
A $90 million budget admittedly isn't what it used to be, but it should still allow for a more visually polished picture than “The Expendables 3”. Every technical facet of the sequel is a disappointment, including but not limited to bland production design, ropey CGI and choppily edited fisticuffs that strip away the primal fun of seeing these lugs duke it out. Part of the issue with the latter might be due to the newly implemented PG-13 rating, which invades otherwise crunchy action sequences with jarring regularity. Early in the picture we get a sampling of new recruit Doctor Death's (Wesley Snipes) talent with knives, as he disarms and slays a parade of faceless henchmen. Every blow is restricted by a wobbly edit, removing all blood and more importantly choreographed spectacle from the set-piece, reducing it to a slog of snappy, barely coherent images strung together by grunts. By removing even the basest of this series' trademarks, “The Expendables 3” renders itself utterly inconsequential, the neutered aesthetic overriding its numerous attempts at honouring the thumping legacy of true 80s actioners. That being said, the editing doesn't much improve when blood-letting isn't involved, never better exemplified by a finale in which there are at least three too many mobile pieces on the board. Hughes is unable to control the rhythm and pace of the sequence, extending its banal action to accommodate an array of seemingly pointless extras. What the hell is Kellan Lutz trying to achieve on that bike?
Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris and Van Damme may be absent (for reasons both diegetic and external), but there are a rash of new faces on board to help fill the void. Snipes makes a game addition to the team, even adding a few dollops of charm to the muscled void, showcasing sufficient physicality to make me suspect there's life in the old dog yet. Harrison Ford looks like he enjoyed the experience, but his performance is without even the snide texture of Willis' earlier incarnation, the “Star Wars” veteran just looking sort of...well...old. It's unintentionally amusing to watch him quip and participate in the action with the polish of a stoned undergrad, but he's far from operating at the top of his game. On the other hand, Antonio Banderas is trying much to hard as an excitable merc desperate for a gig, mugging and gesticulating with admirable energy, but not much comedic success. He's more irritating than funny, and whilst he remains a handsome presence even at 54, “The Expendables 3” might have benefited from less of the Spaniard's chatter. Indeed his own overacting also stretches to underline just how sedate the rest of the group are, with Stallone, Arnie, and Jason Statham phoning in their contributions.
And what of Mad Mel? The disgraced former A-lister uses his surprisingly limited screen-time to exude some of his thundering presence, but the film sells him short, painting Stonebanks as a clichéd megalomaniac without much human motivation. One interaction between Gibson and Stallone radiates menace, recalling the excellent work Philip Seymour Hoffman offered in “Mission Impossible 3”, Gibson infusing his dialogue with the sort of eerily confident venom that makes a bad guy formidable. Unfortunately the screenplay does little with it, forcing the actor through the third act on a wave of generic slime-ball behaviour. He shoots employees who fail and garrulously charges into the routinely executed finish with credible determination, but it's not enough to make him memorable. He's as disposable as every other villain in the franchise.
Hughes' Hollywood debut is frustrating, chiefly because he can obviously do better. “Red Hill” was an atmospheric and intelligently chilling work, yet “The Expendables 3” is flavourless. The production design is embalmed with greys and his compositions are almost never interesting. There are an abundance of wide, aerial shots that seem to be gazing at approximately nothing, just huge swathes of land embedded with rubble and abandoned military complexes. The action is handled poorly, but I strongly suspect that's on the back of the PG-13 business. Scenes feel like they're missing vital beats and climactic shots, forcing us to endure endless rounds of ammunition and countless blows to the face, sans the guilty and brutal pay-off most B-movie connoisseurs crave. This threequel's sense of humour also appears diminished. There wasn't much sophisticated about part two's devotion to foolish reference, but it was executed with a cute, foolhardy energy. Here the comic relief is erratic, and reliably uninspired. There are two “get to ze choppah” gags for Christ’s sake.
Is this the end for The Expendables? Box-office prognosticators seem to think so, this entry bowing to less than half of the original movie's opening weekend of four years prior. A few months ago I wrote an article about the death of Geriaction, a special brand of rose-tinted cinema intent on reliving the triumph's of a past generation's macho conquests. Most of the solo outings associated with the movement (except, crucially, those headlined by Willis) have failed to ignite audience fascination, the solidly performing “Expendables” adventures the only life-line some of its stars possess. Now, even that buoy is no longer operational, and with “The Expendables 3” it sinks rather ineptly.
Still, for a practical joke, $600 million and 4 years of mileage isn't bad. Right?
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2014
ARTICLE - The Death of Geriaction