Aug 152014
 
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Title: The Expendables 3
Director: Patrick Hughes
Starring: Sylvester Stallone,
Jason Statham,
Antonio Banderas,
Wesley Snipes,
Dolph Lundgren,
Mel Gibson,
Jet Li,
Harrison Ford,
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Genre: Action
Runtime: 2 Hours 6 mins
Music: Brian Tyler
Studio: Lionsgate
Certificate: US: PG-13
UK: 12A
Release Date: USA: August 15 2014
UK: August 14 2014
See If You Like: The Expendables,
The Expendables 2

Barney Ross and his gang of trigger-happy He-man’s, known as The Expendables, are exploding onto cinema screens once again this summer with The Expendables 3; a big, bold, brazen firecracker of a film, with a cast-list to die for.

And as we all know, The Expendables franchise was built on its cast-lists; that and a nostalgic wish to return to the action heyday of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s (where bulging biceps and a fuck-you attitude could see a single pun-wielding man take down an entire army of faceless bad guys on his way to saving the world); but now, four full years since the first Expendables was released, an ever inflating list of once-upon-a-time action heroes, and hopeful up-and-comers, isn’t enough to sell a film all on its own.

Sure, the novelty factor has worn off now, but there’s still something amazing about seeing a poster containing a list of names which includes not only returning stars Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren, and Jet Li, but ageing stars Wesley Snipes (Demolition Man), Antonio Banderas (Assassins), Harrison Ford (Air Force One), Mel Gibson (Mad Max), and Kelsey Grammer (Frasier), and a crop of younger newcomers effectively worked in via the first bit of real writing in the entire series.

This time out we see a key member of the team taking a bullet from a previously unseen, presumed dead, arch nemesis of Barney Ross (Stallone); an arms dealing ex-Expendable called Stonebanks (Gibson); and suitably wound up at the wounding of a teammate, Barney decides to abandon all of his closest allies, hire an entirely new team (with the help of an amusing finder played by Kelsey Grammer), and go looking for vengeance.

It’s not only an interesting twist, showing a slightly darker side to Barney (as he selfishly wants to protect his teammates, and purposefully hires the new guys with the expectation that they’re all likely to die on this mission), but works as an effective hook to bring in a new crop of ass-kicking future action stars, the only problem being, like Barney, we couldn’t give a shit about a single one of them; the hacker played by Glen Powell (The Great Debaters) is instantly forgettable, Victor Ortiz’s hardman is memorable only if you’re a real-life boxing fan, and while Kellan Lutz is given a bit more to do, and is not only the best new addition, but performs far better than he did in The Legend of Hercules, he’s little more than the new Liam Hemsworth stand-in, and real-life UFC champion Ronda Rousey is also an acceptable addition, but thrown in merely for being a girl (the scene in which she takes down a bunch of brawling losers in a club, while wearing high heels, being a prime example of the cliched “look, she’s a girl, who can hit/aren’t we supporting equality” rubbish The Expendables is trying to convey); and not only would you be hard pressed to remember a single one of them in a weeks time, you wouldn’t care less if they were written out of the next film altogether.

The same can be said for some of the bigger stars in the film; as for their limited parts, and general lack of enthusiasm, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jet Li, and Harrison Ford could’ve all stayed at home without anyone batting an eyelid; but there are some inclusions which are well worth their weight in gold; aside from the necessity of having Stallone and Statham back at the forefront of this ‘80s throwback, Antonio Banderas plays a blinder as the annoyingly chatty new member of the team, can still hold his own in a fight, and becomes one of the best things in the movie.

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Despite reservations Kelsey Grammer was a decent inclusion (largely because his character was different, and not the action men we’re usually accustomed to seeing in these films), Mel Gibson was fantastic (and completely scene-stealing) every single time his was on screen (though that should come as no surprise, because Mel has always been fantastic; look at How I Spent My Summer Vacation to see he never lost it; and it’s just a shame his personal problems have affected his movie career so grossly), and fresh-from-the-clink Wesley Snipes (who’s even busted out of prison at the beginning of the film, and makes a sly joke about being imprisoned for Tax Evasion) is as brilliant as ever; proving he can not only act, but still fight as well, or better, than any of the younger stars, and deserves a bigger screen, and better movies, to showcase his talents.

Plot wise, there’s the revenge angle, and that’s about it. Barney flies in, things go wrong, and BOOM, it’s shooting time. It may be thin on the ground, but no-one comes to see an Expendables movie for a hard-hitting, thought-provoking, story. We come for the action, and get it in spades; the only problem is, it’s not as good as we’d like.

Sure, an army of faceless bad guys catch a tonne of bullets, tanks get blown up, buildings get blown up, people do fancy jumps and punch other people in the face. There are big guns, small guns, miniguns, shotguns, rocket launchers, and C4. And it’s not that it’s not enough, it’s the fact that it’s too much, and you end up suffering (like many of the faceless baddies) from overkill; there are barely any breaks in the killing, no emotion, no character development, and you either don’t care what happens to the characters you’re watching, or are so convinced they’ll be safe (as they’ve already dodged every bullet to ever come out of the 1980s), that it really doesn’t matter, because we’ve seen it all before.

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Mel and Sly’s big final battle goes the opposite way and ends far too quickly (it’s also not a patch on the Stallone Vs Van Damme fight in The Expendables 2), the entire film is littered with poor CGI (something which seems to be becoming a staple of the franchise), and although there is a good deal of fun to be had with some of the action (it’s certainly big, there are plenty of bullets, an undeniably fantastic cast, and plenty of things which explode), and a lot of the fan-pleasing comedy, it’s just lacking that little spark which could make it great.

What we need from the next movie (and it’s already been confirmed, Expendables 4 and 5 are on the way), is a trim down; cut the fat from the cast (quite literally in some cases), have a big cull at the beginning of the next movie and kill off a good deal of the team, leaving it wide open for some real emotion, a bit of character development, and Dolph Lundgren (who’s consistently been the best thing about the entire franchise since the opening scene in the first Expendables) going justifiably batshit crazy on a whole host of semi-famous bad guys (the evil Expendables); that, and taking it back to its roots, with more blood, more gore, more intimate fights, and more big blokes swearing, by going fully R-rated once again.

After four years the novelty factor has worn off, and taken away much of the goodwill towards The Expendables 3. There’s fun to be had, there’s a cast full of action legends who’re dying to reclaim their youth, and there’s plenty of fan pleasing moments mixed in with the comedy and non-stop action, but the youngsters are a waste of time, some of the older cast are now worthless, and even the ones we wouldn’t mind seeing more of get pushed to one side because The Expendables 3 has become too crowded. Despite seeing a plethora of pointless pawns cut down as they take on the Invincibles, bad CGI, and a disappointing final fight, as well as a lack of connection with anyone involved, and the horrendous decision to make the film PG-13 also drags the action down, but at the end of the day, The Expendables 3 delivers what it promised; two hours of escapism, watching a host of once-upon-a-time legends shoot people in the face. It’s just a shame it wasn’t quite as fun as it should have been.

Matt Wheeldon@TheMattWheeldon.

Movie review ratings 5-10