|Sometimes more is better.|
I miss the days of the classic action movie, where one or two manly men fought their way through a small army of goofy henchmen and sub bosses to an ultimate showdown with a charismatic villain, all the while dropping one liners dripping with gloriously awful puns. The explosions were real and if somebody so much as bumped the camera, much less shook it, they’d be lucky to keep their job. Yep, those were the days. So when Sylvester Stallone sought to rekindle that spirit with the action hero team-ups we always wanted and never got, you can bet I was on board with this Expendables thing.
Thus far, the Expendables movies have been fun little romps, though not without their flaws. The first one started beautifully but unfortunately transitioned into a more modern style of filmmaking that obscured a great finale with darkness, shakycam, fast cutting, and lame CG effects. The second one did a better job on that front, but it also had a much less coherent plot. Then again, the Chuck Norris cameo alone made that film worth the price of admission, so now we've got The Expendables 3 with even more 80s and 90s action stars filing into the ranks.
Like the first two, this one is quite a mixed bag. The action choreography is great once again, but it’s also heavily obscured by the camera work and editing. Some of the sequences look almost like they have unfinished effects in them, and as many people have noted in their complaints about the movie, it’s only PG-13 which somewhat undercuts the whole gratuitous violence thing for which these kinds of films are known.
Of course, these movies operate primarily on the nostalgia of seeing old stars back in action, and on that front it delivers quite well with a bunch of classic faces that oddly enough includes Kesley Grammer. Fortunately though Grammer is not an action star, he’s always dependable in almost any capacity. In this case, he’s the recruiter friend of Stallone’s Barney Ross tasked with finding some new blood that’s more expendable than usual.
Given Jason Statham is the closest thing we have to a modern day Stallone/Schwarzenegger and he’s already a member of the team, it’s a foregone conclusion the newbies are a group we've all barely heard of and thus have a hard time taking seriously when compared to the star power of their elder compatriots. That has raised some hackles since most everyone came to this movie to see our favorite sexagenarian action heroes blowing stuff up and aping their old one-liners, not a bunch of 20-somethings who have yet to make a mark on the world. On the off chance you might recognize their names, that group is made up of Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, and Ronda Rousey.
Personally, I thought they handled the sequence with the “kids” rather well. The setup for it is certainly abrupt, but the recruitment and the subsequent mission not only were enjoyable, but a good way to keep from overusing the in-jokes from all the classic actors. And frankly, at some point these old guys will, in fact, be “too old for this shit” as evidenced by the fact that the climactic showdown between Stallone and Mel Gibson is shot a mile away from both men so that you might not notice their stunt doubles. (You’ll notice.) So at some point somebody has to take over, and why not see if you can’t create a new crop of action stars that are not comic book characters?
The young guns portion also introduces Antonio Banderas’ character, who you will either find terribly hilarious or totally insufferable. I fell into the former category, which made the very pointed reference in his back story to the attacks on our consulate in Benghazi all the more poignant. It’s perhaps the only real world call out that doesn't rely on some form of self-deprecation.
Of the remaining new old faces, Wesley Snipes’ character is pretty funny too, but he fades into the background early on. Harrison Ford pops in and out randomly, and he’s clearly just there to replace Bruce Willis, who bailed over a financial dispute, so there’s very little in the way of references to his movies. As I alluded to earlier, Mel Gibson handles the head villain duties and although there isn’t much to his character, he sells it incredibly well anyway which makes his return to the big screen quite welcome.
The Governator returns for a bit more screen time this go round, now that he’s back making movies again, but poor Jet Li could've stayed home and nobody would've noticed. Sadly, Jason Statham gets horribly short-changed by being the middle child caught between the classics and the newbs.
An early leak of the full movie online combined with some bad word of mouth crushed this film at the box office, so who knows if The Expendables 4 will make it to the screen, but I still think this idea has some gas in the tank so long as Sly can decide what kind of movie he really wants to make. Watering it down to PG-13 and turning the old guys into obligatory cameos just won’t cut it, but an over the top classic action movie where the students become the masters? That could be worth seeing.
*This post cross-posted at http://theirfinesthour.net/