Friday, August 29, 2014

The Expendables 3 Movie Review

Sylvester Stallone has spent the last eight years not so much trying for career renaissance, but to relive the glory days of his (relative) youth. Honestly, he wasn’t even that young when he was a major 80s box office draw. he has made new sequels to the Rocky and Rambo franchises, a boxing movie with De Niro that plays on their respective most iconic roles, and the Expendables franchise which is both tongue-in-cheek about the way it tries to relive the glory days of 80s action movie heroism and sort of serious in its attempt to be a modern action franchise. I’ll just put it out there that I really enjoyed the first film. It had some great playfulness, some killer action sequences and hand-to-hand fight scenes (especially those involving Jason Statham), and a great period appropriate villain and theme with Eric Roberts operating in Latin America as a kingpin. Our neighbors to the south served as the great action locations and source of villainy during the decade of cocaine. The Expendables was a welcome respite from the settings of Arab countries and former Soviet republics.

The first sequel sort of pulled out all the stops that had been left closed or forgotten by expanding Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cameo, bringing in Chuck Norris, and casting Jean-Claude Van Damme as the villain. What did Stallone have left for a third story? Steven Seagal reportedly said no, Bruce Willis wanted more money to appear a third time. . . so Harrison Ford came in. And Mel Gibson. And a fresh-face team of young actors and would-be action stars to supplant the team consisting of Statham, Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li (whose retired character makes only a brief appearance), and Terry Crews, originally cast because Wesley Snipes was headed to jail for tax evasion, is now cast to the sidelines in favor of Snipes, who allows a winking joke about his real life and character’s absence. Snipes isn’t the only addition this time out. Kelsey Grammer appears as a kind of Expendables talent agent and the superfluous presence of Antonio Banderas as a desperately eager to participate Spanish mercenary who can’t get hired in this young man’s game.

What worked well the first time around: good camaraderie among the characters; some good chemistry between Stallone and Statham; every character getting at least one showcase scene, is completely gone. The plot and the cast are so bloated that there’s just no room for anything remotely interesting. The introduction of new blood (a means of extending the franchise without having to watch men who will soon be nearing three quarters of a century pose as action heroes), and a sequence that introduces them leaves few opportunities to spend time with the old guys. As such, the result is a disjointed mishap.

Director Patrick Hughes just isn’t up to the challenge of staging coherent action pieces. His camera placement is laughably inept and it never follows a logical flow. It crosses the line so many times, defying very basic rules of filmmaking, that it just creates a dizzying effect. And Hughes apparently never met a bad special effects shot he didn’t like. The CGI in this movie is about as bad as I’ve seen. This is most discouraging because one thing I admired about The Expendables was its almost total lack of CGI-created action scenes. Okay, this franchise is supposed to be of the quality of B-movies, even though there is no room in marketing and distribution anymore for them. Everything coming out of the studios is big budget and expected to rake in huge returns. I guess the production blew its budget on culling together so many name stars that there was nothing left for effects. The first film used that as strength, relying more on close-up action, fight scenes, and gun battles. The Expendables 3 could easily be tagged, “Bigger, louder, dumber.”

Everything about this sequel just feels lazy. No effort seems to have been expended generating anything remotely fun or just plain awesome. The story writing (Stallone collaborated again with Creighton Rothenberger with additional screenplay help from Katrin Benedikt, whose work on Olympus Has Fallen was about on par with this), set pieces, direction, and dialogue are all on autopilot. Mel Gibson is the only actor in the entire film giving anything. He delivers hard-boiled lines with relish. Harrison Ford looks sleepy. Statham looks like he’d rather be elsewhere. Stallone looks ready for the wax museum. The young actors comprising the new blood (Glen Powell; Victor Ortiz; Ronda Rousey; Kellan Lutz) aren’t even up to the rather limited challenge of matching wits with the old pros on hand.

If the movie has anything of value to say at all, it does so minimally. The film recognizes (more so even than any previous late-period Stallone film) that the time is done for these guys. Of course Rocky V was saying that about Stallone twenty-five years ago, but nevertheless here he is. In the game of mercenaries going into dangerous situations, as in Hollywood action films, it’s the young who dictate terms and are the most desirable element to exploit. Stallone and Schwarzenegger basically invented the modern action hero. Without them there would be no Vin Diesel or any of countless others who have taken over the reins. But they are expendable, (not quite) ready to release their tight-fisted grip on these reins to the next generation (or really the following generation at this point).

I would love as much as any other guy of my generation to keep seeing movies like Predator, Commando, Cobra, and Demolition Man. But it’s time to face facts. These guys are finished. The first Expendables served as a nice little curtain call. Now they’re just overstaying their well-worn welcome.



  2. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Harrison Ford sharing the screen can be enough to raise a smile.