On the Silver Screen – The Expendables 3
Reactions to this series have been pretty mixed since the first outing and I can kind of see why; in terms of substance there really isn’t much and the franchise capitalises on the complete novelty of having many people’s favourite 80s action heroes teaming up to kick ass and blow things up. Enjoyment all but lives or dies on whether you can accept this premise and just go along for the ride. Fortunately, I’m one of those who really enjoys this idea and I’ve had a blast watching the first two, the second being my personal favourite. It’s great to see Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Arnold Schwarzenegger etc sharing the screen and cracking wise all the way.
This film deals with the return of an old friend/enemy of Stallone’s Barney Ross -in his line of work, many people are both- in the form of Mel Gibson’s Conrad Stonebanks. Stonebanks was one of the founding members of the Expendables team who went rogue and started selling weapons. What we have here is essentially a grudge match that plays out in a very violent and explosive way. After their first encounter with Stonebanks goes horribly wrong Barney fires his old team, recruits a new team of younger action stars and goes off on a personal vendetta.
Mel Gibson plays a very effective villain; Stonebanks is sarcastically menacing with some fairly piercing dialogue and the impression that he’s a genuine threat to everyone around him, Gibson plays him as being on the edge of sanity without ever truly falling off. Definitely the best villain this series has ever had and a welcome addition to the cast. As for the good guys -for want of a better word- Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes and Antonio Banderas fill out the cast as the new old guys. All of them play their parts pretty well with some knowing winks to the audience regarding the conditions of Snipes’ incarceration among other things. Banderas is mostly pretty annoying but he holds his own and is able to be taken seriously when the occasion calls for it. It’s really nice to see Harrison Ford actually try when in a film for a change, I’m tired of seeing the guy look so fed up.
My main problem with the film comes from the idea that Barney recruits a younger team to go after Stonebanks, I feel that it somewhat betrays the whole idea of this franchise by turning to younger actors to fill out the cast. The second act is essentially a recruitment montage that slows down the film immensely, there’s some good banter between Barney and Kelsey Grammer’s Bobaparte but it’s not really enough to hold interest in what’s going on in that section. Stallone also lacks charisma in this section and mumbles his way through the scenes as if he is as uninterested as I was. The younger characters are played by Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Ronda Rousey and Kellan Lutz; in short they are all terrible. They’re about as thinly written as the rest of the characters but they don’t have the 30+ years of action movie baggage to help the audience fill in the gaps so they just fall completely flat. The scenes featuring these younger team members fronted by their aging leader feel like they belong in a more modern action movie and feel out of place. If they were trying to go for contrast between the old guard and the archetypal modern action character types then they failed miserably. All this unnecessary addition does is slow down the film to a near halt.
That being said, once we get to the explosive third act all is pretty much forgiven. The old guys return to show the new guys how it’s done and they team up against limitless waves of henchmen resulting in one of the more entertaining action sequences I’ve seen in quite some time. We get guns, explosions, hand to hand combat, physics and logic being thrown out the window, one liners and so much more. Stallone’s final battle with Gibson is a whopping disappointment but the rest of it is pure gold. Even Harrison Ford seems to be enjoying himself, it’s just a blast. Though this a personal bugbear but Arnie is woefully underused in this film and in this action sequence in particular. You could almost skip the rest of the film and watch the last half an hour purely on its merits as entertainment. Mercifully it’s light on shaky cam rapid cutting which pleases me to no end. The older actors prove that they have a couple more sequels in them at least.
The Expendables 3
In general the film is very watchable but the second act is horrifyingly slow as well as uninteresting and for the most part the film takes itself too seriously. I thought they’d found the perfect tone in the second one and should have stuck to that for the remainder of the series. The inclusion of the younger actors was completely unnecessary as the film is at its best when the old guys are riffing off each other. It’s not the best in the series but does manage to be good fun and is elevated by an excellent third act action set piece. Stallone and friends have still got it!