As the gristly gaggle of action stars once again girded their aging loins (ew) and threw themselves into the breach of a third Expendables movie, it didn’t take a keen eyesight to notice something had changed.
Facing direct competition from the Fast & Furious franchise, that had evolved like an impossibly swole butterfly from a series of urban heist movies to car based super-blockbusters, Stallone’s leathery gang of merc was noticably losing ground.
So what ingenious plan would Sly and his producers implement to keep his rampaging team of old-timers relevant in a time where team movies were now either super-hero smack-downs or Vin Diesel banging on about family? Here’s a hint – it’s a tried and true idea that’s never truly satisfied a single solitary soul every time it’s been used.
We rejoin our resident mercenary team of emboldened oldies as they rescue one of Barney Ross’ old compatriot, the decidedly off ” Dr. Death”, as he’s being transported by armoured train to a gulag that looks like it could hold superman without breaking a sweat. Liberating him in order to aid with another mission (bit fucking cold considering he’s been in the pokey for seven bloody years), they bounce over to Somalia to intercept some rogue bombs, only for Barney to run into another old comrade, founding Expendables member Conrad Stonebanks. Now acting as one of the world’s most lethal weapons dealers and still seething at a past betrayal from Barney, he immediately shows off how dangerous he is by producing a sniper rifle that can penetrate Terry Crews and cutting down the future Brooklyn 99 star with near fatal wounds.
Never being one to overact, Barney promptly overacts and aims to protect his other team members by firing their outraged asses and recruiting new, younger members which raises quite a few odd questions like why exactly is Barney so gung-ho about hurling kids into a suicide mission in favour of risking obvious, weathered lunatics like the supremely damaged Gunnar? Anyway, as Ross and his team of arrogant young Thundercats try to take Stonebanks alive for trial under the request of grumpy new CIA contact, Drummer, it’s revealed that the bug-eyed arms dealer is constantly one step ahead and manages to take the “youngsters” hostage. Surviving being shot with a bazooka, Ross teams up with motormouthed Spaniard Galgo and old frenemy Trench Mouse to attempt to launch a hopeless attempt to rescue them, but thanks to the orjginal team volunteering their services, The Expendables are finally ready to go to war against Stonebank’s private army and blow some shit up right.
Anyone who lived first-hand through the gore spraying golden era of 80’s action probably found The Expendables series a fun (if hugely flawed) throwback to the explodey extravaganzas of the decade. They were also quaint alternate to the sanitized movies a lot of those orginal franchises eventually became (Die Hard, Terminator – I’m looking at you) and the filmmakers open strived to prove that they did indeed still make em like they used to – so imagine how pissed everyone was when The Expendables themselves reduced their violence quota in order to try and hoover in the dollars from a younger audience. It’s a tactic that’s always been hugely frustrating; the reason kids have always sneakily watched violent movies is for – wait for it – the violence, so when you take that away for the exact purpose to lure the young ‘uns into the multiplex it ends up as being counterproductive as trying to lure ants to a picnic by removing all the food. Now, while the action is admittedly still big, loud and bombastic (The Explodables?), the noticable lack of internal fluids takes the edge off the action like a joke without a punchline and even the standard appearance of a more violent cut for home release (The Extendables?) still doesn’t cut the mustard when the original magnificently traumatized audiences by having Randy Couture unnecessarily super-punch a burning Steve Austin in the face…
Also, when you turn the violence volume way down, it means more people are now going to focus on the plot and the characters – two things that have never really been the series’s strong points – which proves to be yet another stratospheric mistake in their strategy. While the spasm-inducing casting continues by adding more legends to it’s rosta (The Expandables?), it not only means less screen time for the originals (the whole original team drops out of the fucking movie for about an hour at one point) but even some of the newbies get trimmed. What’s the point of Stallone hiring old Demolition Man co-star Wesley Snipes as the hugely entertaining “Doc” when after about forty minutes in he literally has nothing to do but squabble with Hason Statham about who flings a knife better? Similarly, Antonio Banderas’ hyperactive mental case also is magnificent while sharing the screen with Stallone for the first time since Assassins and the replacing of a difficult Bruce Willis (The Excludables?) with a thoroughly fed up looking Harrison Ford also proves to be great fun.
The real problem is the young cast which consists a group who’s multiple special skills doesn’t seem to have an ounce of charisma among them. The massively uninteresting quartet, which contains Kellan Lutz, Rhonda Rousey and two other guys I couldn’t be bothered to trawl IMDB for means that the film (like most of the more mature cast) has a dense middle that makes the bloated run time drag and means we have an unnecessarily huge cast to keep track of (The Explainables?). Seriously, by the end fight, what with both teams merging and Ford, Schwarzenegger and Jet Li popping up to help shoot people, the good guys end up having a team of about fucking thirteen and despite Stallone commanding that they all work together, they mostly run around independently from each other engaging in their own, rushed set pieces and impressively not getting killed. Thank fuck, then, for the laid back bullshitting of Kelsey Grammer and villainous gurning of Mel Gibson, two examples of cute casting that mercifully manages to keep the plot moving through it’s deeply uninteresting middle. Grammer’s rumpled recruiter is great, but it’s Gibson; monologuing fiercely throughout the whole thing and shamelessly scraping a buck by relishing Stonebanks as a snide asshole; that’s the only things that manage to keep that dreary middle section interesting. Ypu can’t help but notice that the movie unwisely shifts from old-school bombast to slick – and boring – black ops that ironically ends up being the complete opposite of what these films are supposed to be (the Inexcusables?).
I didn’t exactly hate it, but despite the film stirring up some nice cheap thrills with some obvious stuff like Arnie bellowing “GET TO DAH CHOPPAH” at one point, it’s unavoidable to notice that the filmmakers have sold the franchise and themselves out to their detriment.
Yes, the bookending action is still strong (The Excitables?), but in an attempt to play with the big boys, The Expendables have ultimately betrayed their fans by leaving out the exact thing that made them stand out. Hopefully if the gang ever make a return, they’ll leave the battlefield awash with gore just like in the good old days, but until then, I guess you really can’t teach old dogs new tricks…