I really didn’t like the second Expendables film. Or the first one, for that matter. Yet here I am again, giving part 3 a try. And, you know what? I think they’ve cracked it! Some of the problems remain, but I think they’ve finally embraced the ridiculousness of it all.
Stallone and his crew start by pulling off a pretty impressive moving train rescue of a prisoner, who turns out to be…Wesley Snipes! He’d been in some deep dark prison that officially didn’t exist for 8 years, but he’s a former member of the crew and I guess the motto is “never leave an Expendable behind”.
We get our first taste of the major running theme when Snipes, asked what he spent all that time in prison for, says “tax evasion”. Throughout, there are references in the script to the film itself, the process of filming it, or the previous films of its stars. So you’ll get Schwarzenegger talking about how this is his last favour to Stallone, Harrison Ford dropping a Star Wars line, and even (in one fairly appalling moment) Mel Gibson talking about how you wouldn’t like him when he gets angry. Ultimately, if people want to employ Mel Gibson again, and don’t mind that it will keep people away from the cinema (Jewish people, women, people who don’t like awful human beings), then it’s their dollar. The moral case against some films is an article for another time, perhaps.
Anyway, back to the action. While Snipes is helping them on their next mission, they run into Mel Gibson, another former Expendable who went over to the dark side. Thing is, Stallone thought he’d killed him years ago, so him now being a super-wealthy international arms dealer is a bit of a surprise, and sends Stallone into a downward spiral. He fires his old team, and then goes to mercenary-supplier Kelsey Grammer (!) to get a new team, one who don’t mind this being a one-way mission. Kellan Lutz (from Twilight) is perhaps the biggest name of the new fish, but the obvious breakout star of this lot is UFC fighter Ronda Rousey. While not, at this point, the greatest actor in the world, she can kick ass and is a strikingly beautiful woman, so I see her having a similar / perhaps slightly better career than other MMA-star-turned-actor Gina Carano.
But Stallone’s hubris gets his new team captured! What will happen! Will the original team, plus a few old friends, get in on the rescuing action? Just who else will show up?
The climactic battle is sort-of a reverse version of “The Raid” (people trapped in building, fighting to get out), I’m positive was sold to the producers in those exact terms, and it’s amazing. No two ways about it, the best fight scene in any of the three films. The reason is, they stopped trying to pretend that these people, doing this, is likely to happen in the real world. It’s an over the top slice of escapism, and the acknowledgement of this makes it more fun. Stallone shoots an insanely large number of people, tanks are commandeered, there are some sweet bike stunts and some comic relief made good.
That comic relief is Antonio Banderas, who plays a guy you think might be faking it about being a badass fighter. He keeps trying to get on Stallone’s team, talks constantly, and acts like a guy who’s never shot a gun a day in his life. And through the final battle, he still doesn’t shoot, accidentally taking out a couple of goons on the way. I thought “either he’s not going to fire a single bullet the entire time he’s there, or he’s going to be the biggest badass of them all”. I will leave that fun discovery to you, the viewer.
Of course, it’s not perfect. The banter is still awful and wooden, which may well be a reference to how bad it was back then, but I think is more likely to be the writer (Stallone) not understanding how people sound these days – the entry of parkour into this film indicates he’s got up to the late 90s on his cultural references now. Anyway, Harrison Ford (replacing Bruce Willis as Sly’s CIA contact, dismissing Willis with the fairly clever line “he’s out of the picture”) is flying a helicopter round the scene of the final battle, and as a large group of goons are mown down by his machine gun fire, he growls “that had to hurt”. Of course it bloody hurt! You just shot them! What sort of monster are you?
There’s poor acting a-plenty, as well. Dolph Lundgren, never the greatest actor, has the good sense to stay in the background through most of this one, and I’m not sure Randy Couture gets more than a line or two. Ronda Rousey is going to be great, but she’s not here, and my favourite, Terry Crews, is sidelined for most of the film. Also, Ford, Schwarzenegger and Stallone don’t really try, realising people go to see them be them, not “act”. Still, Mel Gibson reminds us why in happier times he was a great leading man, Jason Statham continues to smirk his way through the huge paychecks he’s no doubt receiving for these movies, and the rest of the new blood remind us that in the 21st century, action stars need to be able to act as well as look good swinging through a window firing a rifle.
While not a great film, it’s certainly an entertaining one, which is more than can be said for the previous two Expendables movies. Also, now a non-action-star like Kelsey Grammer has become part of the family, it opens up all sorts of possibilities for future movies, plus you’ve got people like Pierce Brosnan saying they’re in talks for the fourth one. Ah well, if it’s as much fun as this one I’ll be happy to watch it.
Rating: thumbs up