The Expendables 3
The one more famous for being pirated pre-release than its content. I’d like to say that’s a shame. There are certainly those who will proclaim this as The Expendables movie that gets it right(er). But really, it’s more of the same as the last two, only with several additions to the cast that make it – periodically – a lot of fun. Not enough to guarantee – or merit – a fourth outing, however.
Indeed, Stallone appears to have been intent on shooting his lumbering franchise in its steroidally inflated foot, as he introduces a bunch of young bucks (and honorary doe) with all the personality of mainstay Randy Couture. It’s as perverse a decision as focussing on Rocky’s son and a new champ in Rocky V (and look how well that did). Patrick Hughes, thrown his Hollywood entrance exam following decent Oz thriller Red Hill, does his best to keep his head above water, but there’s little very memorable here, or that Simon West couldn’t have done.
The plot, such as it is, finds Sly’s Barney Ross bent on getting even on discovering old Expendable co-founder turned uber-villain Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) is still alive. He doesn’t want his erstwhile chums to meet a grizzly fate (poor Terry Crews – far more watchable than Couture, so I don’t know why he had to be side-lined) so he fires the lot of them and takes on four anonymous newbies (one of whom wasn’t even memorable in Twilight), courtesy of Kelsey Grammar’s talent scout (asking what Grammar is doing here is akin to pondering why he would show up in a Transformers movie; to win that Razzie). These non-presences are at least balanced by the arrival of Antonio Banderas seemingly having the best time he’s had Stateside outside of voicing Puss in Boots.
He plays a sharpshooter no one wants to work with because he can’t stop talking. Banderas, playing (mostly – at one point he starts flirting with Ronda Rousey) against type, brings the kind of goofball energy and humour The Expendables needed from the outset. Instead, the series usually opts for tedious locker room camaraderie and groan-worthy quips.
There’s some amusement to be had from the bromance chemistry between Sly and the Stat, although most of their lines of fourth rate. Many of the ones relating to the Stat’s character, based on his surname, would have been rejected from The World is Not Enough (“Christmas is coming”; “But it’s only June”; “I’m the knife before Christmas”).
The misplaced search for a new gang (“I can do that” proclaims Sly, 69 this year, unconvinced that he can equal their feats) is thankfully replaced by the return of the old when dirty rotter Stonebanks ensnares the Expendatots. The worst of this is that Sly and his co-writers have spent the entire opening section of the movie introducing a hugely watchable Wesley Snipes (asked why he was locked up, his character Doctor Death replies sportingly “Tax evasion”; when Sly references an agency spook, Snipers doesn’t miss a beat with “Excuse me?”) He even cuts his beard with an unbelievably enormous and vicious-looking knife. Perfectly. But then, he’s gone. Snipes barely registers even when he’s brought back for the big rescue. If nothing else, it’s a reminder of what a strong screen presence he can be.
On the subject of strong screen presences, there’s Mad Mel. Gibson knows how to relish being a nasty bastard, and, unlike many of his co-stars, he has a natural intensity. It means any scene he’s in can’t help but carry a conviction the picture doesn’t really deserve. I say any scene; he’s hardly in it, but he casts a long shadow. Mel makes a particular impression escaping from his Expendable captors while riling and mocking them. Later he starts shooting his own men in frustration at their ineptitude (“How hard can it be to kill 10 men?… Couldn’t you even wound a few?”) That the picture finishes on a fairly crappy fight with the (10 years his senior, lest we forget) Sly is inevitable, but otherwise Mel makes the most of every minute he’s on screen.
The action isn’t especially memorable, and at times is just irritating (the motorbike sequence stands out in that regard). And all the big explosions are in the trailer (it’s also the case that there entire third act takes place in the same unscenic derelict warehouse). So the only things to talk about are the aging cameos.
None more aging than Harrison Ford. Ford’s arches had fallen badly when he ill-advisedly returned as Indy. It now seems that his face is following suit. Sometimes cinematographer Peter Menzies Jr looks favourably on Harrison, and he bears a resemblance to the icon of old (most of these shots are in a helicopter cockpit, where Ford sits against a green screen for the majority of his slender scenes). At others, it looks like he’s been slowly melting. Ford did at least make me laugh a few times, playing on his irascibility and failing to understand Lee Christmas’ accent (“What language is he speaking?”; “Stop mumbling!”)
Unfortunately, Dolph has little to do. And neither does Arnie. He gets to reel off his Predator line “Get to the choppa!” several times, to rather desperate effect. But then, something very peculiar happens. He’s paired up with Jet Li, and the genuinely hilarious, playful Arnie is let loose. He accuses Sly of jealousy at their special relationship, while Li mocks Lundgren; “Tall people don’t live long”.
Robert Davi (Special Agent Johnson) appears for all of one scene, alas. The Expendables 3 is fundamentally quite crappy, but there’s enough sporadically likable silliness to make this, by a whisker, the most enjoyable of the trilogy. Just follow the through line from Snipes to Gibson to Banderas and on to Arnie and Li (there’s a good ten minutes post-final fight, but the latter duo make it bearable). Stallone wisely (at least since the early ’90s) contents himself with being the eternal straight man.