Thursday, August 14, 2014

Rohan: Expendables 3: Disposable

(UK-based Rohan Morbey blogs at Stop Thinking For Yourself, and sometimes gets a look at movies in advance of their US release. We're delighted to repost his advance word on the latest installment in Sylvester Stallone's Expendable franchise, which hits US screens tomorrow. Do follow Rohan over on Twitter!)

Watching The Expendables III, one can’t help but see the irony. In 2010, Sylvester Stallone rounded up a group of fellow action stars to give audiences what they always wanted to see, even if it was two decades too late: 1980s action gods Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and Stallone himself sharing the same screen (with a few other C-List names added to make up the numbers). The film was fun, self-referential, ├╝ber violent and filled with ‘old school’ action.

Fast forward four years and nearly $600 million at the global box office later, this third entry seems to have forgotten or ignored all the parts which made the first two films a genuinely fun, if totally disposable, experience. What was once a product of nostalgia has become an ‘event’ marketed like a Fast And Furious film, and where once we saw heads exploding in unabashed R-rated fun we are now left with below-par PG-13 action set pieces which depend on the CGI of a production twice this budget. In truth, this film is DOA.

Quite what Stallone, the mastermind behind this series, was thinking with the story and plot for this movie is anyone’s guess. The film attempts to turn Barney Ross (Stallone) into a fully realized character with a background, hidden past, and unresolved issues. Normally this would be a good thing for a third film in a series but The Expendables III is not the type of film in which to do it, and ‘more of the same’ would have been welcome here because cartoon action is all anyone wanted. Barney Ross’s background is of absolutely no interest to anyone and a lackluster revenge plot when one of the crew is nearly killed is both laughable and excruciatingly boring when the actor in question is incapable of showing anything resembling an acting range.

Furthermore, the film ditches the older guys in favor for a selection of ‘actors’ who wouldn’t even find themselves on the D-list, let alone be worthy of starring alongside Stallone in an action movie. The decision to include this younger crew over the older guys says to the audience ‘all you want to see is action, no matter who is on screen’ and that is a fundamental flaw. The film spends far too long recruiting the new members when no one cares about them; the reason we choose to see these films is for the charisma of the action icons, so why deny us this simple pleasure? The familiar team is restored for the final third, but the film’s desire to have it both ways simply doesn’t work.

“But what about the action?” I hear you cry, for action is, after all, the one thing which we want, regardless of story. The opening sequence wants to be like a James Bond opening but has no originality, stakes, or impact on us. Similarly the next set piece shows plenty of things blowing up because they can, but nothing here has any lasting effect; they seem to only be there because the next hour will be so dull. The final 30 minutes is the film’s only saving grace because it is non-stop explosions and carnage with each of The Expendables getting their moments to shine, but even this goes on far too long and suffers from the Michael Bay school of thinking where more means better. Perhaps they wanted to make up for the awful hour which proceeded it, but it’s of little comfort when all hope has been lost. You could watch the final 30 minutes in isolation and enjoy it, but as part of a two hour film, it’s nowhere near enough reason to see this film.

As for the stars who have joined this production, there is bad news and great news. The bad news is that Harrison Ford, Kelsey Grammer, and Wesley Snipes are wasted and serve only to have their names on the movie poster; if you’re looking to watch the film to see them then forget about it. The great news is that Mel Gibson is back on the screen and is by far the best thing about the movie; Gibson chews scenery as the bad guy and savors every moment even though you can tell he isn’t anywhere near the top of his game. It is sad to see Gibson reduced to the ‘boo-hiss’ evil man when he should be the star we’re rooting for; he has that leading man presence sorely missing from many of today’s leading stars. He’s the one star in this entire movie franchise who is better than this nonsense.

Even with lowered expectations The Expendables III is a massive let down. No one expected an action masterpiece here but a film as dull, predictable, and fun-free as this is unforgivable. It’s become everything it shouldn’t be and fails at nearly every turn and if it were not for Mel Gibson there wouldn’t be a reason to watch it.

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