Genre: Action, Adventure, Thriller
Directed by: Patrick Hughes
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Antonia Banderas, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Going in to this third outing from Sylvester Stallone and his band of maturing movie mercenaries, it’s hard to pretend that you don’t already know what’s coming. Both the first and second Expendables have vehemently stuck to the same thematic formula, with the only difference being that while the original tried to play it straight, the follow-up played the whole thing as a tongue-in-cheek pastiche (and was all the better for it). This time Stallone has attempted to try and pitch it somewhere in-between, resulting in a film that’s easy to find fault with, but hard not to enjoy.
Given that fundamentally the plot is merely meant to act as a tool for Sly & co. to engage in yet another gung-ho outing, it will come as no surprise to hear that the story is absolute nonsense. Having broken a former member of their team out of a high-security prison, Barney Ross and his bunch of big-muscled badasses set off to take down an arms dealer who, it soon transpires, was a former Expendable they thought to be dead. When brought to the realisation that his team is no longer as strong as it once was, Barney determines to hire some young new recruits in preparation for a full-blown final showdown that will push his team to their limits.
Those of you hoping to get as many bangs as possible for your buck are unlikely to leave disappointed. Indeed, considering the constant multitude of audible explosions, anyone who suffers from tinnitus is liable to find their ears ringing long after they’ve left the auditorium. Yet, no matter how many big bangs there are, there’s no escaping how tame the action is when compared to the previous instalments.
The backbone to the Expendables franchise has always been the opportunity to see our favourite action stars engage in bold and brutal shootouts together on the screen, but never before has the ensuing violence felt so bland and bloodless. Solely done in order to achieve the far more financially lucrative 12A/PG 13 rating, the visual restraint on the filmmaker’s part, in a film that at one point sees the eponymous armed-force battle an entire nation’s army, feels detrimental to what the fans desire.
It is instead left to the talents of the iconic cast to keep the action aficionados happy. There’s no escaping the thrill of seeing all of your favourite screen heroes together and it goes without saying that the film is at its most entertaining when the focus is squarely on them. Of those returning, it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger who, with his trademark Aviator shades and cigar perpetually glued to his face, steals the show in just about every scene he’s in. Although even he can’t shine the light away from new recruit Antonio Banderas, clearly having a ball as the loquaciously irritating yet amusingly enthusiastic Galgo.
Overseeing the scripting duties once again, Stallone is clearly at his best when writing lines for those he knows and as such the dialogue is peppered with a host of witty one-liners and filmic in-jokes that imbues much of the movie with a spirited lightness of touch.
Less successful is his handling of the new younger cast members, each introduced in-turn by a bemused looking Kelsey Grammer and forced to help carry the film with Stallone during its slightly sluggish middle section. It’s not that the actors don’t attack the roles with eagerness, with Glen Powell in particular seeming determined to make an impact, but that the script, which blithely fails to give any of them a personality, cuckolds them and merely seems keen to use them as a plot device.
Inevitably, it is here that Stallone begins to show signs of a struggle in his attempts to maintain the energy so effortlessly infused in to the film by his veteran cast. Having puzzlingly side-lined them all for a brief period, The Expendables 3 fleetingly transforms into the ‘Sly Stallone Power Hour’, with the actor determinedly endeavouring to contort his facial expression into something that vaguely resembles charisma while pushing forward with an increasingly theatrical plot. As with the first movie, it is when the tone becomes darker that the film starts to buckle, frustratingly turning it from a fun romp into a tedious one.
Mercifully though, the writer/actor never quite looses sight of what it is the audiences are really here to see. This is a film at its peak when watching the old boys doing what they do best: shooting jokes at each other and bullets at the baddies.