Thursday, August 14, 2014

"The Expendables 3" (2014)

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham and Mel Gibson
Written by Sylvester Stallone, Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt
Directed by Patrick Hughes
Rated PG-13 - Violence, language
Running Time: 126 Minutes

Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) has a crisis of conscience after a CIA-sponsored mission goes sour. With his friend and teammate Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) wounded and in the hospital, Ross disbands the Expendables and plans to go after the man responsible: Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), a former teammate Ross thought he'd killed years earlier.

With the help of a recruiter named Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer), Ross recruits a new generation of Expendables: Smilee (Kellan Lutz), Luna (Ronda Rousey), Thorn (Glen Powell) and Mars (Victor Ortiz). Ross' CIA contact, Drummer (Harrison Ford), wants Stonebanks brought in alive. When their capture op goes sour and Stonebanks ends up with the new team as hostages, the old Expendables, Christmas (Jason Statham), Toll Road (Randy Couture), Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunnar (Dolph Lundgren) and Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) along with wild-eyed newcomer Galgo (Antonio Banderas) decide to get the band back together.

Here we are again. It's hard to believe we got even one of these, but Stallone has rounded up an even more impressive gang of his buddies for a third go-round of cheesy, nostalgic shoot-em-ups. Unfortunately, despite a cast that should make fans pee themselves a little to see on screen together, the third time really isn't the charm.

That's not to say that a third "Expendables" should have been the greatest piece of cinema in history. As a vehicle for more explosions and gunfire than a room full of "Call of Duty" setups, it does the job ably enough. But it lacks the almost surreal tongue-in-cheek wackiness that made the second film so much fun. There are so many characters in this thing that none of them feel like they get their due, certainly not poor Terry Crews who sits most of this adventure out like Jet Li did the last time (and a lot like how Jet Li does this time, too... seriously, he's only in a couple scenes).

And, sadly, there are no moments of action-movie joy like the bit in the second film with Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone all in one place blowing away a bunch of dudes with big guns. That was a cheery-worthy moment in the second film, but this third one has nothing like that.

The new additions to the cast, in terms of returning fan favorites, are great additions, however. Wesley Snipes and Antonio Banderas are clearly having a blast. Banderas in particular feels like he walked in from a completely different movie, giving his Galgo character the kind of oddball energy this movie needed. Snipes gets to make a tax evasion joke with a wink and a nod. Likewise, Kelsey Grammer livens up the recruiting sequence early in the film. Harrison Ford's Drummer at one point says, "I haven't had this much fun in years," and it seems like it. Aside from "42," this might be the first time in years Ford hasn't seemed like he's just sleepwalking through a role for a paycheck.

And while it seems odd to say given his, um, personal problems... but it really is a joy to see Gibson back on the screen. The man really is a great actor and he totally owns every scene he's in, here. In particular, the scene in the van when he's explaining to Ross' new generation of Expendables why Ross hates him so much. Gibson totally nails it. He's easily one of the best parts of this movie.

On the other hand, the younger teammates are all completely overshadowed by the old guard. Victor Ortiz may as well not even be in this film for all the impact he has. Ronda Rousey scowls her way through the entire movie, and apparently tries to make up for the fact that she's the only woman by muttering "Men" with utter disdain after beating up a bunch of dudes... twice. The script hands her exactly one scene to attempt giving her character some depth and she falls completely flat.

Toning things down to PG-13 presents another problem for the film. While the second movie had hard drives full of CGI blood spatter, it still helped. Additionally, every character feels like they're just on the cusp of dropping an f-bomb... and then it either never happens or the film kind of awkwardly cuts away. It feels like there's a meaner version of "Expendables 3" trying to get out, but it's a caged animal.

Despite all these complaints, there's still a sense of warm, comforting familiarity. To me, it feels good that these guys are still up on the screen kicking ass. I'm smiling every time Schwarzenegger and Stallone are trading cheesy insults together. I'm smiling when Dolph Lundgren and Randy Couture are driving around in a tank blowing up everything in sight. I'm smiling when Jason Statham is using a guy's head as a battering ram against a cement wall.

It's just that... I smiled more during the second film.

See Also
The Expendables
The Expendables: Director's Cut
The Expendables 2