Right out of the gates, The Expendables 3 aims to show audiences it means business. Not surprising that it’s less than a minute, a mere 54 seconds to be exact, before our heroes’ heavy hardware sends the first of many non-descript bad guys reeling. Like the nameless goon peppered with bullets (rubber bullets it seems from how toned down the action is) pain sets in for the audience as well. The “pain” comes not from groan-inducing dialog, or over-the-top action, but the brain cells struggling to comprehend the blur that is the next 125 minutes. Even with the starts and stops, this hokey 2-hour action fest whisks along which is one of a few good things to be said about Sly and co. as they, in a fevered hurrah, rage against the dying of the light.
Even though the series, both in concept and execution, is a laugh and everyone takes great pride in not taking themselves seriously, things don’t click as easily as they should. There’s something about a bunch of fading action icons coping with real life issues on screen that stirs up more feelings of pity than it does of nostalgia. It’s not a pity that these guys can’t cut it, or are irrelevant, it’s a pity they don’t have better replacements than this younger cast. The series is formulaic, and an intentional B-movie throwback, but somewhere along the way this series steered away from being the pinnacle of action movies and instead became the action equivalent of a Muppets movie. You have action, but you’ve also got comedy, colorful yet shallow characters, travelling montages set to music, and of course, the cameos.
On paper it may sound great but not only are the jokes a little too intentionally bad, they can’t quite be the crutch the story needs. Comedy is intended to somewhat make up for the weak writing but comedy itself is weak. Arnold can only nail so many one-liners so thank God for Antonio Banderas. But what kills the remainder of the enjoyment is this PG-13 rating. Now it’s not to say that an actioner, even as an homage to big ’80s machismo, has to be a hard R but even though we don’t see blood or even bone-crunching punches land, the film is unfortunately like experiencing a car crash – there’s a lot of commotion, you have trouble connecting the dots, and when it’s over you realize that you missed part of the story. That missing part is the gravitas to the action because there’s purpose in the shots (both gun and camera). When you have whole frames that are removed in an effort to censor the action to get the rating, you wonder why this was even an action movie to begin with.
The series has shown that Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham have fun together but, finally, the new characters, like Antonio Banderas, Wesley Snipes and Harrison Ford, get to be in on the laughs. Not sure you can credit director Patrick Hughes for that because most scenes play like a bunch of old friends who got together, started rehashing their glory years, and after a few cold ones flipped on a camera just to see what happens.
The missteps and gripes are abundant but there’s a point in this series where you just have to let go completely. There’s no time for complex plot or character development because The Expendables 3 is a straight-up, but soft-soaped revenge flick. Like Sean Connery famously put it, “He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue!“. The mad quest for revenge unfortunately results in ridiculous dialog and exchanges like “Let’s do this!“…”I thought you’d never ask“. That might have even grade school kids ready to notice that the first guy made a declarative statement. So, for maximum enjoyment, one must not simply put your brain in neutral, but take the keys out of the ignition. Like a helicopter, or choppa!, with the rare ability to barrel roll (yes, it happens), you again have to go with it. Really though, this can be a lot of fun because the only element of the movie that draws legitimate criticism is the editing. And not editing as far as progression of the story, but the above-mentioned and steadfast neutering of what should have been a pretty explosive and fulfilling action movie.
In the film, even though time was a factor, Stallone and Kelsey Grammer still spent what seemed like weeks flying to remote locales and assembling their new team. As far as the young cast, this film isn’t really about “passing the torch”. It just sets up the new faces for a second or third outing when/if the big dogs are finally deemed “expendable” and written out of the series. Though somewhat disappointing, the first Expendables more or less did what it set out to do. Hughes’ film certainly makes up for Simon West’s sequel but only marginally rights the ship. Plot aside, it raises one good question. Will people want to see a Kellan Lutz led film especially if the new blood (Ronda Rousey not withstanding) failed to do anything of significance?
It’s big, it’s dumb and it’s moderately fun yet The Expendables 3 should have been a blast considering the talent assembled. It hurts to see our heroes get old (and someone tell Patrick Hughes to go easy on the close ups and use more low angle shots, please) but that’s life and should this be the last charge of Stallone and his immortals it’s a good thing he asked Banderas, Ford and Gibson along for the ride. They steal the show and produce the biggest laughs in this increasingly ludicrous beer commercial posing as a narrative. Still, for all the campy antics and toothless action, it might have been better to throw text like BAM and OOF! on the screen whenever an innocuous baddie bit the dust (or a one-liner was so casually albeit laboriously thrown around) because that would have at least been surprising.