It took all of two seconds for me to lose any enthusiasm for the “Expendables 3,” and an additional three seconds to realize how stupid the additional two-plus more hours of screen time would be. It came from on-screen text to inform the audience the train they’re seeing on screen is an “armored prison transport,” which is made quite clear once star Sylvester Stallone and his compatriots start shooting the heck out of that thing. What that reveals is a supercilious attitude of the audience's ability to decipher the action on screen – a habit the filmmakers fall back on repeatedly – and an overarching inability to do something interesting with staid material.
I'm admittedly a novice into what is now the “Expendables” series – I elided right over films one and two – but the gist of the storyline is simple enough. There's a ragtag crew headed by a melting Stallone that includes Jason Statham, Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews and new member Wesley Snipes, who are paid to capture a bad guy played by the nefarious Mel Gibson.
The crew inevitably fails because they’re too old, apparently, which leads Stallone to assemble a new team (with Kelsey Grammer's assistance) with younger blood in the form of Ronda Rousey, Kellan Lutz, Victor Ortiz and Glen Powell. I’m still not sure why this is necessary, as Stallone is the one tipping the age scale further to the AARP side of the spectrum, but whatever.
The infusion of youth backfires, of course, and Stallone has to rescue his new younger teammates and maybe get the band back together and make everyone work as a team and a family or something. Oh, and Harrison Ford, Jet Li, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Antonio Banderas stop by to shoot people.
Three graphs of roundup and I'm already bored with “Expendable 3's” plot machinations, which lumber along at a less than thrilling clip. The film is just overstuffed with abundance and scenes whose only significance is to add screen time for the stars (Gibson has a couple of these instances) or to showcase the stars’ special talents (in this case fight scenes with Statham and MMA star Rousey). “Expendables 3” is an excellent example of the law of diminishing returns: Adding more elements, in this case action stars, to a production of any sort can lead to a reduction in satisfaction after a certain threshold is passed.
Perhaps cutting off a star or two – maybe Couture and Powell – could have boosted the CGI budget to push the special effects slightly above straight-to-VOD caliber. For a film that's major selling point is action scenes, the effects behind those scenes – in particular any helicopters, cars or airplanes – are surprisingly choppy and are more befitting a Star Fox game than a big-budget motion picture.
At the heart of the problem though is, again, an overwhelming lack of interest in making an interesting action film. Director Patrick Hughes – the third director in the series – lacks the chops to stage an impressive action sequence (seriously, how do you make a train escape dull?) nor does he seem all that capable of filming a coherent fight scene. (The latter is a little frightening for fans of “The Raid: Redemption,” as Hughes was announced as the director for the American remake.)
“Expendables 3” is really bogged down by the expectations of nostalgia and mandatory callbacks to the stars’ previous films. That means Schwarzenegger has to bellow out a token “get to the chopper” line while Snipes tosses out a tax evasion joke to make fun of his real-life financial problems. I'm not sure if I should give the filmmakers credit or grievance for avoiding an “always bet on black” reference for Snipes; a small part of the film does take place in an abandoned casino.
That isn't to say the nostalgia method is entirely ineffective; that Snipes line is pretty good, and there are a few other references that land well enough. And despite the glut of actors, there are a couple who get a chance to shine, especially Statham, Banderas, the ice-cold Gibson and even Rousey.
“Expendables 3's” best moment however belongs to Stallone and Grammer, when the two are shooting it while gallivanting about to find new recruits. It hints on the type of film this could have been: a group of aging fighters fighting, chatting and busting on one another with a mix of joy and existential clarity as they prepare for the last big battle. It'd be a very different film, but one with much more to offer than a haggard and sloppy second sequel.
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