The Expendables 3 Review
A little less expendable than the last one.
In my bizarre form of personal narcissism I naturally assume that everyone I meet knows who I am and is familiar with me and my life. In particular I assume everyone has at least read my blog (if that were true then according to my tracking data California has a population of about 87 people). Of course my rational brain understands this is tremendously far from the truth and most people I meet assume I am some kind of mover, truck driver, or thug in the employ of the local criminal element. However when I let my blog fantasies write themselves in my head I see all of Hollywood eagerly reading each review, rejoicing at each crumb of praise and bemoaning each gentle criticism (“I really don’t want to hate it and him on all levels (even subatomically) but he just makes it so, so very easy” – recent Transformers review) and taking in my feedback to the betterment of their craft or at least committing ritual seppuku.
(classic Expendables poster from the movie t-shirt category)
The point is it almost feels like the producers of the Expendables 3 read my Expendables 2 review and took out 70% of the stuff that really bugged the hell out of me. They cut back on the classic action star deluge to a manageable level and didn’t have them popping out of the scenery like heavily armed prairie dogs. They got rid of the horribly invasive plot devices to include all of them. They had a story that didn’t suck (and was almost coherent). The non-classic action movie actors they hired could deliver a line with more nuance and emotion than an Animatronic buccaneer from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The plot advanced organically and didn’t leave giant plot holes in its wake like massive road apples. The film felt adequately long at 126 minutes. There was no completely unnecessary and annoying romantic love interest. The comic relief was actually pretty cool and fitted in well. In general a true improvement over the last film.
What, then, about the remaining 30% that annoyed me you ask? Well, unfortunately nothing was done to improve most of that. In fact it got tragically worse. The biggest problem this movies suffers from is the fact that they went in for a PG-13 rating. I have talked about PG-13 draping over other action films like a wet blanket but in this film it is like an ocean container full of wet blankets landing on the screen and flattening it out. They tried to push the PG-13 boundary as far as they could and took full advantage of the one per film allowable S-word and F-bomb but were I a witness in court and was asked if I had actually seen any of the several hundred peopled killed in this film die I would have to answer “I don’t know”. For all I know they were all stunned with rubber bullets fired by a completely different team never shown on screen.
Also I’m pretty sure the Expendables team is guilty of massive war crimes for killing hundreds of handicapped people as the only excuse for enemies shooting so bad is that the bad guys exclusively hire the blind to be their henchmen. Either that or just give them blanks as some kind of practical joke. None of the so called “Expendables” are ever expended. Like, not one. The sad fact is the more indestructible the heroes and the more incompetent and worthless the bad guys the more boring the film. Remember how in the Star Wars prequels the Jedi could cut through hundreds of the robots like a chainsaw through butter? Did you even for a second think that Robot Q134-SF273-4 was going to get lucky and put a blaster bolt into Obi Wan’s left butt cheek? No? Then why bother showing it to us at all? If there is no struggle then there is no interest for your audience. You might as well have Anakin and Obi Wan land the ship and have the robots valet park their ship. It’s effectively the same.
The same thing happened in this film. I actually got excited and interested when early on Barney fired his old team and recruited a bunch of nobodies to be the new Expendables. I thought “No way are they going to kill of Dolph Lundgren or Jason Stratham but these new people have no cache and can be killed with impunity”. I actually sat forward in my seat and for the next 20 minutes cared about the action. Buuuut, then they were all captured alive and proved to be as indestructible as the old crew and I felt my interest level wan like my prospects of getting a second date with a girl I like.
And of course that made the action even more ridiculous. I’m not sure what reaction the producers were hoping to get from the audience (one would hope excitement but based on the evidence I can’t assume that) but for the most part they were all laughing out loud. I kept thinking back to Machete Kills and how Rodriguez was trying to make the action comical on purpose but instead just bored everyone. He should have hired whoever did this film because the action here was Laugh Out Loud funny. Every character managed to kill about 200 trained soldiers (even the chick and the guy on the motorcycle) while said soldiers were shooting at walls, floors, birds flying over head, each other, or anything other than the guys killing them from 20 feet away. The action buried the needle of the Stupid Meter when Harrison Ford did a barrel roll with a helicopter (yes, that old trope. I thought they outlawed that one when they cancelled Airwolf) but it did not have far to travel.
Something else occurred to me during the epic fight scene at the end. In order to not alienate any potential foreign audiences the three bad guys were the usual suspects: North Koreans, Somali pirates, and some made up Warsaw Pact country I can’t recall the name of so I am going to call Fartknockerstan for the purposes of this review. In the final battle Mel Gibson has gotten the army of Fartknockerstan to do his dirty work by hiring the commanding officers but I couldn’t help but think that here were hundreds of young men who had joined the Fartknockerstanian army in order to defend their homeland and families or perhaps save up money for college to become a doctor and here were a bunch of American mercenaries executing them wholesale. How many grieving widows and fatherless children did the Expendables leave behind? You can’t tell me they were all evil mercenaries hired by the Mel. Mercenaries rarely have tank and helicopter support.
In spite of all that this film was full of guilty pleasures and the guiltiest has to be Mel Gibson. For all the issues you may or may not have with his personal life he stole every scene and was in all ways awesome. I think he has found his new niche as the bad guy heavy and should do about 10 more (better) films like this one. While the action was dumb it was fun and if all you want is to see Americans (and Antonio Banderas, Jason Stratham, Jet Li, and Arnold Swatzenegger) mow down hapless third world losers you have found your muse. I honestly enjoyed it a lot more than the last one.
The film starts off with Barney (Sly Stallone-Rocky, First Blood, Cop Land) and the rest of his Expendables Christmas (Jason Stratham-Parker, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, the Transporter), Gunner (Dolph Lundgren-Universal Soldier, the Punisher, Red Skorpian. By the way his filmography is facinating. Check it out), Toll (Randy Couture-Ambushed, Hijacked, Setup) and Caesar (Terry Crews-Blended, Draft Day, the Single Moms Club) rescuing a former Expendable from a North Korean prison train. The guy turns out to be Doc (recently released from prison Wesley Snipes-oh, I see what they did there! Blade, Demolition Man, US Marshals) who blows up the prison on his way out.
The team is then contracted to do something in Somalia having to do with an arms shipment. While killing the locals they run into super bad guy Stonebanks (Mel Gibson-Mad Max, Lethal Weapon, Braveheart) who managed to shoot Caesar, putting him in a coma. At the hospital Barney gets chewed out by CIA contact Drummer (Harrison Ford-Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Ender’s Game) who tells him that their next mission is to capture Stonebanks alive.
Barney is feeling bad about getting Caesar shot and fires his old team to keep them safe. He gets Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer-Cheers, Frasier, Think Like a Man Too) to help recruit a bunch of new Expendables. Rather than name their characters I’m going to define their stereotypical movie role: hot blond kung fu chick (Ronda Rousey-no other movie roles but she is an accomplished MMA fighter), hacker computer nerd (Glen Powell-April Apocalypse, Wind Walkers, the Dark Knight Rises), adrenaline junky action sports guy with authority issues (Kellan Lutz-Immortals, the Legend of Hercules, Twilight), and Mexican-American sniper guy (anyone else remember Clear and Present Danger? Victor Ortiz-Dancing with the Stars and not a whole lot else). Also along the way they meet up with Galgo (Antonio Banderas-Spy Kids, Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico) but pass on him for being too old or something.
So they go to capture Stonebanks and the plan goes south, leaving the new team all captured and Barney on his own. He goes back to put together a rescue and gets Galgo and his old crew. They invade Fartknockerstan and fall right into Stonebanks trap, who sends 100,000,000,000 blind guys to be killed. Stuff gets blown up, tanks get destroyed with the ease of flipping a Smart car, and as always the final dust up boils down to a fist fight between Barney and Stonebanks (does Stallone have a final boss fight written into his standard movie contract? The only film I can think of that didn’t end that way was Cop Land).
As always, seeing Stallone and the rest of the action Rat Pack puts a smile on my face. One star. For all my complaints the action was fun and entertaining, although not in the way I think the producers intended. One star. I really, really enjoyed seeing Mel Gibson as a bad guy. Two stars. Believe it or not but there was some character development that I thought worthwhile. One star. Believe it or not again but I actually also really enjoyed Antonio Banderas. I thought he was the perfect comic relief. One star. For once the female eye candy was kind of believable and Ronda’s MMA skills play a big role in adding to the action. One star. In general fun to watch. One star. There was a very open minded joke at the end that I thought was great. One star. Total: nine stars.
The black hole:
The PG-13 rating was a cancer that ate away at the soul of what could have been a great action film and made almost all of the action ridiculous. Can I just be the first ever to say to hell with kids and their need to see all movies? Let them sneak in from other theaters like I used to when I was 15, the lazy bastards. Kids today. Two black holes. They tried to make up for the PG-13 action by making the fights laughable stupid. One black hole. On that same note let me sum up the next black hole with three words: helicopter barrel roll. One black hole. Another Expendables movie where none of the guys are ever expended. In the last film at least one guy was killed to give the film meaning. Adding a crew of new red shirts and then having none of them die is having your stupid cake and eating it too. If every character is clearly never going to die I might as well take a nap through all of Act 2. One black hole. Also on the same note the clear issues that all the bad guys had with seeing and hearing (not to mention shooting) drained whatever remaining tension could have remained like water cooler bottle hit with a shotgun blast. One black hole. Total: six black holes.
So a grand total of three stars. Kind of a meh score but that’s actually a full star improvement over the last one. Worth seeing? Sure, as long as you are OK with just going to see third world draftees being executed by Americans. It is fun and entertaining but by the end you will probably feel guilty for the time and money spent. Date movie? Probably not. Not really a chick film. Also odds are she has had a fantasy or two about Jason Stratham, Rocky, Conan, or one of the dozen other classic action heroes and as such you will not fare well in comparison. Give it a pass.
Thanks for reading. I need to write up Sin City next but honestly am feeling a little spent after this one. Tomorrow probably. Follow me on Twitter @nerdkungfu. Comments on this post or movie are welcome here, and off topic questions or suggestions can be emailed to me. Have a great weekend.
The Infamous Dave Inman