Smile if you’re in it for less than 5 minutes.
It’s ironic and not just a little sad that The Expendables 3, or hashtagEX3 as its marketing wants you, the kids, to refer to it, seems to want to look to the future because for the most part it is an anaemic recreation of the past (which may actually be what the modern world is like – I’m still not quite sure but will amend this article appropriately should my findings change).
Despite being unable to age like a normal person, Stallone lumbers aimlessly through each scene that doesn’t require him to shout or shoot someone, meeting other remnants of action films from the past. They mumble at each other for a few minutes then shamble off. And then the character pretty much disappears for most of the film’s running time and you wonder if that scene existed or if this is what the early stages of dementia feels like.
What’s most insulting – even to fans of the worst of 80s action cinema – isn’t the way hashtagEX3 thinks it can keep you entertained by trotting out the stars of Christmas past to bloodlessly murder hundreds of generic henchmen, or roll out to recant their most famous lines like they’re in an expensive end-of-pier performance, it’s the way that there’s barely an ounce of passion, innovation or effort made in its construction. The script, written by 3 people (probably at the same time and on the same typewriter) is so trite and predictable that video-shops, should they still exist, would have to create a new bottom shelf in order to have somewhere to stock it.
Most of the blame can be placed on Stallone himself. Now looking like a totemic recreation of a sullen owl, or a hastily constructed replica of the Rocky Balboa statue fashioned from grizzled kebab meat, he seems to be sleepwalking through the role of ‘grumbling old man who likes to kill people’. He also surrounds himself with people who can’t act whilst giving short shrift to those who have talent, screen presence or you might actually want to see on screen.
This is doubly disappointing because others actually seem to give a crap. Arnie appears to be having fun fulfilling the role of an inappropriate uncle at a family gathering. Banderas too, is obviously having a blast playing Puss in Boots with his actual body. Snipes reminds you what a great screen presence he is, whilst Mel Gibson embarrasses almost everyone by utilising something called ‘acting’*.
But for the most part Expendables 3 concerns itself with Stallone and a bunch of children using modern techniques like ‘computers’ and the 12A rating to combat the villains. This comes at the expense of almost everything else – not just the actors you want to see. It seems that logic, consistency, character motivation and coherency are just as disposable as the laughing band of murderous mercenaries that make up the title.
In fact the only thing that appears to be ‘pendable’ is Stallone’s hubris. As ridiculous as it may seem, perhaps the best way to make a Stallone film these days is probably without him stealing the running time and churning out random scenes of recycled dialogue and calling it a script. Maybe we’ll see that in the forthcoming female-centric ‘Expendabelles’ – though I wouldn’t bet against the debut of ‘Sylvia Stallone’ bravely attempting to wrestle the limelight from Cynthia Rothrock.
* That’s without mentioning the fact that for some reason Jet Li is hired only to hang off a helicopter and machine gun people and the excellent Terry Crews spends most of the film lying in a hospital bed. This suggests that he may be even smarter than real life Chemical Engineer graduate Dolph Lundgren who spends most of his time playing a large moron locked in a tank.
The former Pendables.
Whatever effort Sylvester Stallone exerted when making The Expendables seemed to go into his appearance. Covered in the kind of body art that really brings a prison cell to life, more ripped than anyone in the SAGA catchment area has any right to be and seemingly wearing eyeliner offset by a slightly effeminate beard, he looks like a chiselled lump of wood painted to resemble a human, or a new romantic tribute act stumbling away from a terrible accident involving gamma radiation and varnish. As a physical specimen, he’s a fascinating subject worthy of further analysis, as a character, he’s about as deep as the minimum gene pool requirements needed to understand the film’s plot.
As much as was promised that this would be one last hurrah for the 80s action heroes, Stallone’s obviously held back by his desire to be taken seriously as an artist. This ambition kind of worked for Rambo, because the character’s essentially a child – albeit one who tears people’s throats out – and you feel sorry for him even when he’s being used to make lofty observations about war and human nature. But his character in The Expendables doesn’t seem quite as mentally defunct so his motivation for going to a small South American island to kill everything is the wrong kind of stupid and needlessly contrived*.
We don’t need to understand the plot machinations in The Expendables because they’re mercenaries. All we need at the start of the film is someone offering the team a bag stuffed with cash, weapons and a map highlighting a small island with a drawing of a bomb, and we’re away. The same applies to scenes showing the characters’ personal lives. As far as I’m aware Jason Statham is probably attacked by ninjas when he returns home every night so why they decide to show him have tedious relationship problems in The Expendables is beyond me.
I suspect that when he finished writing the script, Stallone probably had about 5 pages, so had to keep adding stuff that didn’t involve people getting shot to keep the budget down. This would also explain why the film is only bookended by the full team in action, the rest of the time it’s the Stallone / Statham show, which is disappointing unless you’re a fan of cheesy banter and homo-eroticism. There is a 3-way scene between Stallone, Arnie and Bruce Willis (which sounds all kinds of wrong when following the previous sentence) but whatever momentum is generated from their appearance together is soon lost thanks to poor jokes and Arnie’s distracting ‘Superman From Del Monte’ outfit.
When things do finally kick off in The Expendables it goes some way to fulfilling its potential, becoming loud and exciting, if not easy to follow.
Despite having awesome-on-paper match-ups like Jet-Li versus Dolph Lundgren, Li and Staham versus direct to video colossus, Gary Daniels, and 2 large bald men shouting at each other, the camerawork subscribes to the modern aesthetic that shakiness > being able to tell what’s going on. It’s likely that Scott Pilgrim contains better old-school fight choreography despite a common perception that it’s less manly. Not that I’d know, because it’s not out in the UK yet, hence you and my mum reading a review of the new Eric Roberts film.
Despite its flaws, I did have fun with The Expendables. It is something of a thrill to see a number of actors rise up from the bottom shelf of the video shop (ask your parents) to get their moment on the big screen again. And despite some pandering to the modern action aesthetic and his creative aspirations, Stallone has made a film that holds up to the 80s action heyday. Just think Cobra and Red Scorpion instead of Die Hard and Predator.
* For the record the reason appears to be because he’s given a drawing of an attractive lady and Mickey Rourke tells him a story that makes his eyes leak man-tears. It’s a good scene from Rourke, but a bit random.
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