Going Through the Motions
When the original Expendables hit theaters back in 2010, the promise of aging action stars trundling out of their wheelchairs for one more run at relevance was deliciously inviting. My friend and I saw it, hated it and loved it. The acting was terrible, the script was pure corn and by the time the 150th explosion rocked our ears, we had enough. But it was still fun. In fact, we ended up laughing so hard at the movie, it became our favorite comedy of the year. Given the good time, it probably deserved a bit better than my 40% score.
Two years later, Expendables 2 was released and on the back of the blast we had poking fun at number one, we had to see the sequel. To our surprise, it did everything better than the original. The action scenes had well-crafted insanity, the team seemed more cohesive and everything was played with a knowing wink. The franchise had settled into a groove and, like the best Robert Rodriguez movies, knew what it was and played off of those strengths. That said, it still wasn’t good by any stretch and probably deserved less than my 70% score.
After my screening of the third film in the franchise, I’m confident my rating will not waver over time. The Expendables 3 chooses to tread water instead of building on the fun of the previous movie. The result is a noisy bore fest better left to the bargain bin.
Usually I tie an actor to their character but since nobody cares about series canon, I’ll refer to them by their real world names. At the outset we find Sylvester Stallone leading what’s left of the mercenary crew from Part Two on a rescue operation. Their target is Wesley Snipes, one of the original members of the Expendables team. After springing Snipes from a hurtling train, they get a new mission from CIA agent Harrison Ford. Their target is a mysterious arms dealer bent on world domination. But after the mission goes south, the team discovers the dealer is none other than Mel Gibson who looks to be “back from the dead.” Fearing the task is guaranteed suicide, Stallone dismisses his aging colleagues and recruits a brand new team of young bloods to go after the maniacal madman.
The biggest flaw is in the last sentence of the synopsis. The charm of the series has always been watching classic action heroes duke it out amongst a barrage of bullets and bombs. After two movies worth of team development, the original cast is thrown aside for a crew of no-names. While I’m sure this was done for practical reasons (seriously, how long can Terry Crews fire a Gatling gun), the core source of the campy fun is tossed away, reducing the movie to another generic action flick. The script “fixes the situation” towards the end, but by then it’s too late.
While the kids never jell as a team or provide any reason to remember their names, the old guard doesn’t do much better. Aside from some fun moments between Stallone and Kelsey Grammer and the wasted potential of Wesley Snipes, the bulk of the team simply goes through the motions. Jason Statham deserves a better script, Mel Gibson is average given his importance to the story and Antonio Banderas provides the most annoying comic relief since Chris Tucker in the Fifth Element.
Much like the geriatric cast, the action feels tired and un-inspired. From the opening freight train gone wild to the final assault on a makeshift military headquarters, everything blurs together. While I’m aware this isn’t Saving Private Ryan, the leaps of faith Expendables 3 takes to hammer in the action goes beyond suspension of disbelief. It doesn’t want you to lose yourself in the fun. It wants you to not pay attention to the atrocious story.
Everything else falls flat. Corny references to better action movies sink like stones, the numerous quiet moments have an Ambien effect and the movie finishes off in a predictable, consequence free manner. When Arnold Schwarzenegger is forced to make three “get to the chopper” references in the space of 15 minutes, you know somebody, somewhere has given up.
Like an old factory worker putting in his time until his pension kicks in, The Expendables 3 simply punches the clock, does the basics and heads home to watch late night TV. The series was never “good” but unlike Transformers, they were at least made with a goal in mind. As throwbacks to the wild old days of 80’s action excess, they at least had a purpose. With bland direction, boring new faces and a stillborn feeling of age and fatigue, The Expendables 3 marks a new low point for a franchise used to poking fun at the barrel floor. Not even sarcastic laughs and a little too much booze would make this an enjoyable experience.
Score: 3.5 out of 10