If you need a sign that the Expendables franchise is overstaying its welcome, then look no further than The Expendables 3 – a mostly joyless, fun-less affair, and easily the worst film in the franchise thus far.
The first Expendables movie was released four years ago, and while it isn’t what you would exactly call a “good” movie – not by a mile – there was a certain conviction about the film. It was rough around the edges, but that worked for the film. Stallone was going after a kind of lyricism, the kind you could only get in the classic action movies of yore, many of which he has himself starred in (Rocky and Rambo immediately come to mind). But there was also a lot of self-effacing humour in that first film, and a certain amount of self-awareness that was crucial in helping it toe the line between loving homage and balls-out parody.
Movies like The Expendables 3 should be crazy, bombastic, and fun. And such movies should have incredible freedom to do as they please, and not feel beholden to perfunctory stories and standard action plots. (Think Red and Red 2, which did what the Expendables movies tried to do, only better.)Yet that is exactly what happened to The Expendables 3. Instead of filling the film with endless mayhem and over-the-top action, we get our attention trained on a no-one-will-buy-it sub-plot involving the dissolving of the original Expendables group, and the recruitment of new mercenaries.
So Barney (Stallone), Christmas (Statham, doing the grizzled man thing again) and the rest of the team come face-to-face with Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), who years ago co-founded The Expendables with Barney. Stonebanks later turned rogue, and subsequently became an unscrupulous arms dealer. Barney was left with no choice but to kill him, and that’s at least what he thought he did. Stonebanks, who escaped death before, is now on a mission of vengeance.
There’s an entire chunk of the film that revolves around Barney parting ways with his old crew for a new one. It’s not a believable development at all, but it’s one that’s mandated by the plot, to make way for the requisite reconciliations and the “I’ll always have your back” macho-isms later on in the film. Despite those reaffirmations of friendship, however, the chemistry between the already large cast is a lot less palpable compared to the previous films, and this is made worse when you throw in four or five new cast members into the mix.
If anything, the film’s over-earnestness is what saps the joy out of it. The Expendables knew not to take itself too seriously, and its dialogue reflected as much. But for some reason, the quips made by the characters in The Expendables 3 all largely fell flat. Gone is the silly, jovial repartee between the characters; in its place, we get lots of uninspired, joyless quips that are less funny and more trying-hard-to-be-funny. And the trying-too-hard-to-be-funny thing gets really obnoxious when a Zorro-channelling goofball (Banderas), clearly meant to be the (failed) comic relief of the film, enters the fray.
Stallone also throws in too many “character moments” to hammer home the point that these characters are all pals and will always love one another. At other times, we get Stallone straining for emotion in his scenes with Gibson, who, fortunately, does capture his character’s fury and dementedness.
Despite all these problems, action movie fans who are looking for amazing explosions and relentless fights will not be disappointed. This movie has guns, grenades, bazookas, missile-firing helicopters, tanks and basically everything you would expect from an action movie. While the first few action pieces were somewhat perfunctory, if serviceable, the final set piece is something truly spectacular. It’s huge, bombastic, and over-the-top, which is precisely what the movie should be.
Unfortunately, instead of being a purely mindless spectacle, the film too often gets sidetracked by phony attempts at emotions and story. Just save us the fancy talk and give us the monosyllabic obscenities already.
Summary: There are some pretty cool action sequences, but everything else is a bore.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 stars