Director: Patrick Hughes
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Arnold Schwarzenegger
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“Why were you in prison?” asks one of The Expendables after they bust Wesley Snipes’ other Expendable out of a maximum security fort. “Tax evasion,” he quips. This is as edgy as Sly Stallone’s sequel gets.
In a normal film, that wouldn’t necessarily be a problem. But in a two-hour, $90 million blockbuster designed to wow with brutal violence, it’s a surprise.
Surprises aren’t something The Expendables do: the word isn’t in the team’s collective vocabulary of loud grunts, forced bon mots and constant declarations of friendship. When you decide to see Stallone, Statham, Schwarzenegger et al. blow things up, you know exactly what you’re going to get: Carnage. Catchphrases. Cheese. And lots of it.
The first film delivered on its promise, drenching the screen in 18-rated blood despite an overly serious tone. The Expendables 2 scaled down the gore for a 15 certificate but ramped up the self-aware humour to introduce a new sense of fun – right down to the fact that its villain was called, erm, Vilain. With Con Air director Simon West out of the cockpit for The Expendables 3, though, that light touch has been replaced once again with clunky gravity. And with the violence also scaled down to a 12 certificate, the result is an action comedy that doesn’t have enough action or comedy.
“Get to the choppa!” yells Arnie, looking increasingly like an ageing dog wheeled out to shake paws with people for treats. (He says the word choppa another couple of times, regardless of context, just to make sure he earns his paycheck.) Stallone feels equally tired, barking with such a butch, gravelly voice that you can’t understand what he’s saying – although he’s still a darn sight more agile than the other veterans. And so they all get ditched by the star in favour of younger, newer models. There’s the computer hacker one (Victor Ortiz), the female one (Ronda Rousey) and the Hey, He’s Like A Young Sylvester Stallone one (Kellan Lutz). Unlike their senior counterparts, though, few of them are recognisable from modern action cinema, which makes them as bland as the mature Expendables are two-dimensional. (Where are Channing Tatum and Chris Hemsworth? Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer?)
The newcomers to the fray who do stand out are Harrison Ford, replacing Bruce Willis as a grouchy CIA agent – and proving, once again, that he could be the new Leslie Nielsen – and Mel Gibson, who plays our unhinged bad guy, an ex-Expendable against whom Sly has a grudge.
Teaming up, falling out, teaming up again; the narrative is as predictable as it gets. But that shouldn’t be an issue. This is an Expendables film. You should be having too much fun to think about plot. With the set pieces cut down to their bare, non-bloody minimum, though, the thrill of OTT combat is sorely missing, along with bullets and blood. In the first movie, a man got blown in half by a shotgun. Here, men fall over after other men wave guns in their general direction – presumably because they’ve fallen asleep from boredom. Even Lutz’s impressive motorbike stunts fail to liven up the climactic sequence in an abandoned apartment block, a fantastically-designed set with towering, wasted potential.
Thank goodness, then, for Antonio Banderas. The Spanish star is just as much an OAP as the rest, but he steals the show with his sprightly antics, jumping, climbing and running almost as quickly as speaks – which is very, very fast. He may be playing Puss in Boots minus the hat, but every joke he makes hits hard, a fact that only emphasises the lack of laughs and hard hits elsewhere.
Banderas proves that what this series needs isn’t a brand new generation of heroes, but a smart script with a sense of humour that doesn’t just rely on Arnie saying “choppa”. The Expendables 3 can’t decide what it wants, though: fresh blood or old tricks; new viewers or existing fans. The result is a mediocre sequel with too many characters and not enough clout for them to ever make an impact. It claims to offer more of the same, but serves up far smaller portions. (In the case of Jason Statham, almost no portions at all.)
Gibson gives good evils, but it’s telling that even his addition to the ensemble is free of any controversy or interest. Blunted for a younger audience, rebooted without being rebooted, The Expendables 3 is a dull, boring spectacle that’s as entertaining as tax evasion.