Box Office Democracy: “The Expendables 3”
The first two Expendables films worked for me in the same way old-timers days work for me in baseball. They take a career that scarcely has any use for people over the hill and gave them a place to look relevant in a limited space. My biggest problem with The Expendables 3 is that it deviates too much from that idea by introducing a crop of young guns that expose the existing cast as being largely too old for this line of work while the presence of the established stars steals all the gravitas from the scenes shared with the newer actors. There are great individual performances and a couple of surprising ones. Excellent choices, but ultimately the Expendables franchise seems to be on a downward trajectory and I don’t know how it will right itself.
Sylvester Stallone needs to learn that there’s a difference between actors who have a lot of muscle on them and professional athletes who would like to break in to movies. Jason Statham can act, so can Wesley Snipes. Terry Crews is a delight on screen but making him do 80% of his work opposite a stiff like Dolph Lundgren takes all the air out of the scenes. Mixed martial arts fighters like Randy Couture, Victor Ortiz, and especially Ronda Rousey add a level of credibility to the action sequences but you can’t put them in a scene with Mel Gibson without calling attention to the fact that there’s a real skill at play here and some of these people just don’t have it. Gibson can conjure more menace just by the way he carries himself than can easily be achieved just by putting a freak physical specimen in a vest with pockets.
I’m also getting pretty sick of the fan service elements in The Expendables 3. In the previous film Arnold Schwarzenegger did an “I’ll be back” line in practically every scene he did, I found it kind of cute. In this film Schwarzenegger instead does variations on “get to the chopper” and it is decidedly less fun because that’s not an iconic line, it was widely mocked from the start. Harrison Ford is new to this series but a third of his work in this seems to be sitting in a fake helicopter cockpit and shouting meaningless variations on catchphrases. It doesn’t help the movie and it looks like the least fun work to do in all of show business. If the nostalgia engine in this film isn’t running it removes so much of the potential enjoyment this movie has to offer.
So many of these faults could be wiped away if there were masterful action sequences filling this movie but it, unfortunately, just doesn’t work out like that. This is the first Expendables film to come in at PG-13 and while I know there are good action movies made at this rating I don’t think many of them have starred any of the people in this film. The lack of blood and profanity hurts more than I would have imagined as the mass slaughters that punctuate these action sequences feel like a cheap Saturday morning cartoon without even a trace of blood. This franchise promises its audience cinematic gods and watching them do fight scenes that could be done by a skilled community theater troupe sucks all the fun out of the movie. I’m not here for the acting, you aren’t offering my any, at least make the fights look great next time.