There was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth from die-hard action movie fans when it was announced that “The Expendables 3” was (deliberately) looking likely to get the coveted PG-13 rating (12A for us Brits) as it chased a wider, younger audience. While the film is deprived of virtually any blood and gore, the surprising result is just how violent and action packed the film still manages to be while getting this allegedly tame rating. I don’t think I’ll be letting The Mertmas watch this any time soon.
After rescuing a long lost member of his original team (Wesley Snipes) from a foreign prison, Barney (Sylvester Stallone) leads his Expendables on a mission to take out an arms dealer at the behest of their new CIA handler Drummer (Harrison Ford). However, the arms dealer turns out to be Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), a former Expendable turned ruthless renegade and someone Barney believed he had killed years before. When Stonebanks critically injures one of the team, Barney disbands the Expendables and starts to assemble a new squad for a personal and probably suicidal mission: to go after Stonebanks.
For a film series called “The Expendables”, the core cast is remarkably indispensable returning film after film for more geriaction-packed shenanigans which makes it all the more baffling that “The Expendables 3” chooses to side-line the old favourites in favour of a new generation of faceless action lunks. I mean, what the Hell? I want to see the Expendables, not the Unmemorables!
While the first act picks up pretty much where the last film left off with its mix of ‘old married couple’ bickering, bone-crunching fight moves and tongue-in-cheek pyrotechnic action and the third act is a masterful escalation of action and spectacle, the middle of the film marks an abrupt tonal change which doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the movie(s). Gone is the humorous tone and in its place is a seriousness and a harder edge which, while it fleshes out Gibson’s character, feels way too dark for an Expendables movie. It almost feels like Stallone’s script feels the need to bulk up the grit and seriousness of the film to compensate for the absent gravitas of most of the main cast. He might want to induct younger actors into the expendables roster but he clearly doesn’t trust them to hold the audience’s attention.
And he’s right. None of the new Expendable juniors make much of an impression, with both Kellan Lutz and Ronda Rousey especially marking themselves out to be future stalwarts of bargain bin direct-to-DVD action timewasters at best. The new veteran additions to the cast make a better go of it, though and it’s great to see Wesley Snipes back on the big screen – he even pokes a little bit of fun at the reason for his absence. Kelsey Grammer is surprisingly awesome as retired mercenary and now recruitment agent Bonaparte. Despite his lack of an action movie pedigree, he’s effortlessly convincing as a former badass and it’s a disappointment when he doesn’t join the rest of the gang for the no holds barred finale. Gibson is, as you’d expect, just perfect as the villain: adding a dash of that old Riggs craziness to spice up the angrily dark and vicious mercenary come art dealer.
It’s Harrison Ford who sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the seasoned old-timers and forgettable youngsters. Especially in his early appearances in the film, he looks old. Like, really old. Despite his best efforts to be gruff and masterful, there was an undeniable air of frailty around him that gives me a real cause for concern about his ability to revisit the role of Han Solo in the forthcoming “Star Wars Episode VII”. One of the weirdest parts of “Indiana Jones And The Crystal Skull” was not being able to ignore the fact that Harrison Ford walks like an old man now and the situation hasn’t improved in the intervening years. Danny Glover (not in this film, although that would have been a fun cameo) needs to have a word with him. I’m still holding out hope that somewhere in the future “The Expendables” is on course to overlap with the “RED” franchise and “The Fast & The Furious” series to deliver the biggest, best action movie ever: “The RED and The Expendables” with Betty White as the villain, and Adam Baldwin as her chief henchman.
In the meantime, though, this remains a fun franchise and although its joints are beginning to creak and it needs to catch its breath a bit more often than it used to (the final showdowns between the hero/ villain and sidekick/ henchman are, like in “The Expendables 2”, shorter and less spectacular than you wish for), there’s still life in the old dogs yet.