Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Director: Patrick Hughes
Screenplay: Sylvester Stallone, Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Dave Callaham.
Runtime: 126 minutes.
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson.
Trailer: “What are you going to do? - Reload.” (warning: oh boy. Lots more where that came from.)
Plot: Ageing mercenary Barney Ross is back working for the CIA, only to discover that his nemesis and former brother in arms Conrad Stonebanks is back too – in the latter’s case, from the dead. Cue Barney’s mission to put the team back together, with some young new specialists, and capture Stonebanks for a trial in the Hague. But things do not go as planned, leading to a showdown in the fictional Central Asian nation of Asmenistan (I’m choosing to spell that as diplomatically as possible).
Review: The Expendables 3 is a film that gets on the elevator, forgets which floor it wants, and presses all the buttons just in case. The results are equally as tiresome. Not so much running on testosterone these days than on hormone replacement therapy, the Expendables are back for the third instalment you didn’t ask for, and this time they’re looking for a blood transfusion. Sorry – a figurative transfusion of young blood, in the form of four new team members. Clive James once brilliantly described Arnold Schwarznegger as ‘a brown condom full of walnuts.’ Well, The Expendables 3 is a nut lover’s orgy – featuring Sylvester Stallone (68), Arnold Schwarznegger (67), Harrison Ford (72), Jason Statham (47), Mel Gibson (58), Wesley Snipes (52), and Dolph Lundgren (57). Prepare to see your favourite geriatric action stars fake-tanned, lubed-up, and firing automatic weaponry with no recoil in highly ineffective continuous arcs.
The Expendables 3 opens with a daring rescue of former member, Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes; and he’s medical doctor, not a PhD in English country house poems of the 17th Century, as I initially assumed), from a heavily armed train heading to a prison in the desert. Now, this gave me pause right at the start – for a few reasons. Firstly, who owns and administers this prison? Is this a private prison? Has Doc been extradited, or taken to some sort of CIA black spot? Where is this desert? Sadly, these questions and the millions of others that occurred to me throughout this Swiss cheese of a scripted film were not answered. You’ll have a lot of irrelevant questions too, mainly because the audience’s mind is left to wander throughout the absolutely brainless action sequences of the film. The Expendables 3 doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence, as it never occurs to the film they have any in the first place. After all, they’ve just bought a ticket to a film written by Sylvester Stallone.
Instead, Doc is rescued by the remnants of the Expendables mercenary corporation and the jail is blown up by the unstoppable train – as the tracks head straight into the prison itself, a puzzling design flaw I’d really like to question the architect about. But in no time we are on to the next mission – stopping former member and now arms dealer Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson). This does not go well, and poor Caesar (Terry Crews – a youthful 46) has to sit the rest of the film out. Downcast Barney disbands the old team, and searches for new members among the up and coming ‘Worst-period-Generation-period-Ever-period’ (to quote Aaron Sorkin, a fellow tanning-bed addict and coke head).
Enter Kelsey Grammer as Bonaparte, the mercenary unit’s recruiter. My heart leapt when Barney calls in old Kelsey, as I immediately assumed he’d assemble the ‘Best Friends Gang’ from 30 Rock for a final job. I’d watch the shit out of an action film starring Jenna Maroney and Kenneth the page, gunning down North Koreans while Kelsey distracts the military leadership with his one man show “Kim Jong Un – Moon Base Basketball Champion.” Sadly, this was not the plan – and we are perfunctorily introduced to:
- Thorn (Glen Powell) who hacks stuff while rock climbing/cracking wise to said rocks/parachuting;
- Mars (Victor Ortiz), who is the buffest PhD in Experimental Physics ever to work for DARPA (yes, really; confusingly, he demonstrates firing special guns James Bond-style, which play no further part in the film – take that Chekhov!);
- Luna (Ronda Rousey) who is a mixed martial arts champion and the acceptably sexy one (as opposed to the glistening sheen of homoeroticism that lacquers the rest of the film); and,
- Smilee (Kellan Lutz), who is positioned as the adopted son to take over the franchise once Stallone et al. die from the side effects of Human Growth Hormone.
Poor Galgo (Antonio Banderas) also attempts to get into the group, but is quickly rejected; setting up a tale of redemption and acceptance for later in the film. As quickly as the new team is assembled they are captured; and so it is on to the quaintly named, fictional Central Asian country of “Asmenistan” (like ‘home of the Turkmen’ Turkmenistan, except for assholes? I have no idea) for the final showdown – where Stonebanks has the country’s entire army on his payroll. Ostensibly they are there to capture Stonebanks, for later trial at the Hague – but every team member’s expression reads ‘fuck rule of law – let’s kill this guy!’ In a scene reminiscent of the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis, the entire army opens fire on the hotel meets White House where our heroes are trapped. And so it goes.
Throughout the film, I wondered – who exactly is this for? Who is the ideal audience member for this franchise? The only answer I could come up with is fat, aging frat boys looking for reassurance of their worldview and some cool ass-kicking; maybe with a hot chick getting the shit beaten out of her, because that’s cool and equal opportunities and totally doesn’t come across as taking out every rejection they’ve ever received on someone they perceive as a mouthy sex object. They remember Stallone, Lundgren, the Terminator from their glory days and if those guys are still super awesome, then they themselves must still be super-awesome. Another tip-off is the villain of Stonebanks; mildly intellectual, appreciates art, deft at navigating complex political and economic systems, entrepreneur, everything The Expendables 3 ideal audience member isn’t and therefore resents. Whether or not you fit into this category is determined by your reaction to this piece of repartee:
Crews: This bitch'll solve all your problems.
Lundgren: Yeah, maybe for ten seconds, till it blows its wad.
Crews: So now you got that problem too?
Stallone: You walked into that one. [fist bump]
I’m guessing that Stallone got to write his own dialogue; and he delivers it like a drunken, less talented Ed Helms from Modern Family. I’m also guessing he would have preferred ‘That’s what she said,’ but as we know that phrase is now owned by the estate of Steve Carell. I’m happy to report that most of us don’t fit into that category, so civilization is safe.
There’s so much more you won’t enjoy about this film – from the villain returning for a final showdown in building he is about to blow up, to the subtle promotional consideration furnished by the Ford Motor Company, to the many military equipment related questions you’ll have (like, should that helicopter from MASH really be able to blow up tanks, and isn’t fourteen people a little above its capacity?). The action scenes are entirely unoriginal; but you won’t be able to follow them, and you won’t care. Once an embarrassing showing for the Armed Forces of Asmenistan is over, you’ll be relieved to get to the overlong karaoke session that closes out the film.
Who knows how many more instalments of this Hollywood Pension Plan for Infirm Actors will be inflicted on us, but it is likely to be quite a few. Spoken in that hollow tone of bravado guys are supposed to talk to other guys with, the franchise is unlikely to wear out its welcome because it didn’t have one in the first place.
Rating: One poor, battered Asmeni army.