The Expendables III - Reviewed
'The Expendables' are back and still a great guilty pleasure, but is a third deja-vu chapter more dusty doyens than Dirty Dozen?
Barney Ross (Stallone) and his Expendables team simply can't stay out of trouble. Even catching a train is a major mission. However spare a thought for the circumstances as it turns out that said train is a heavily-armed prisoner transport from which they have to snatch 'Doctor Death' (Snipes), a knife-wielding mercenary on his way to an impenetrable fortress. Well, almost impenetrable.
After successfully retrieving their target, Barney and Co are whisked away to stop an ever arms-dealer from selling his latest illicit cargo. However there are some surprises in store as Barney realises that the warmonger in question is a familiar face - Conrad Stonecross (Gibson): the man with whom Barney founded the Expendables. Stonecross was believed long dead, executed by Barney when his former partner decided to be less particular about their clients... but it appears rumours of his demise have been greatly exaggerated.
With Ross and Stonecross back on each other's radar, the scene is set for a major confrontation, but with his team badly hurt and with government official Drummer (Ford) replacing the absent Church (a no-show Bruce Willis), Barney has to turn to a new group of mercenaries to help bring Stonecross down...
Let's be honest... The Expendables III is probably Republican Party's idea of a Disney flick: a checklist of dancing bullets, bravado, ballistics and, yes, even a damning mention of the tragic Benghazi incident for good measure. An action-man play-pen made 'real', there are tanks, rocket-launchers, hand-guns, plastique, planes, trains and automobiles... all defying the laws of physics in aid of explosive punctuation. But by this time you surely know what to expect when you buy your ticket to ride. To complain about the level of booming ammunition and peow-peow gunfire here is as silly as critiquing Marvel for liking super-powers and in the grand scheme of things, The Expendables possibly causes less collateral damage than the likes of Man of Steel and Transformers. The violence is plentiful, but the level of actual bloodshed wouldn't worry The A-Team, with the death and destruction mainly happening long-distance (and which enables the film to scrape by with a PG-13 certificate on technicalities if not good behaviour).
Cinema mainstays like Antonio Banderas, Wesley Snipes and Harrison Ford all appear to varying degrees, with the new wave of Expendables including the likes of Kellan Lutz (recently seen in The Legend of Hercules) Glen Powell and MMA fighters Victor Ortiz and Ronda Rousey. But it's Gibson who comes out best from proceedings, playing everything straight and delivering some of the better 'dramatic' moments of the film. If the whole film had been played this way, rather than the parody it tips into, it might well have scored higher.
But even for a film that has its gun firmly in cheek, it's incredibly uneven - a film that can never decide whether it wants to be an all-out comedy with an action remit or an old-fashioned macho beat 'em up with an extra helping of one-liners thrown in for good measure. The film opens like an OTT adventure, veers into the kind of self-referential territory where you half expect people to look directly into the camera and then back again into darker realms before giving up the ghost and settling for stunts and sarcasm.
The main poster for the film - one that, has to be noted, is merely a badly photo-shopped line-up - sums up both the selling point for the film and its major flaw. There's just too many faces here, the Powers-That-Be assuming more is better. The truth is that this only means that some faces get much less screen-time than others. Jet Li has little more than one scene, Harrison Ford is visibly still marvelling at the size of the pay-cheque that convinced him to take part for so little effort and, perhaps most sadly, Arnie looks out of his depth here, essentially shuffling around and largely reduced to firing the equivalent of baby-sitting a Gatling gun and cigar rather than taking part in any real military manoeuvers.
Some of the marketing proclaimed this is the final part of the Expendables franchise and though Stallone told Impact he'd like to do at least two more, it will pragmatically depend on the box-office of this entry. Box-office will not have been helped by the leaking of an HD-quality version of the film in July, for which the studio is enacting its own big guns legal response. In the meantime there remains talk of a female-led Expendabelles. (Cynthia Rothrock, Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hamilton, Zoe Bell, anyone?). However in an era where the likes of The Raid can go back to action-basics and yet still feel fresh, fast and furious, it may well be time to retire or reassess the veterans who simply want to perform their old tricks in new backdrops. Almost all of the actors are still on active duty in their own titles, but it's not clear if there's anything new to say in this collective venture.
For the sheer star-power wielding firepower the result should be phenomenal, but this third chapter feels like a missed opportunity - a good joke repeated so often that its punchline no longer has the full force and conviction behind it - one that still has novelty value and moments of fun and nostalgia but which you know has seen better days. It's not that Stallone and crew can't deliver, it's simply that the material for them to work from here is often lazy and repetitive. If our veterans truly want a fourth and fifth mission then it could be time to accept that the particular joke that originally inspired the franchise is now over and it's time to tilt at other testosterone-fuelled windmills. A movie with a more concise cast, played less for laughs and more for drama could well be great entertainment.
As an action fan, go see The Expendables III and enjoy it for the silly, cheesy celebration of the action genre that it is - but just remember it's more romp than circumstance...
Review score: 7 out of 10
Similar To The Expendables III - Reviewed