What’s Life Like for The Expendables 3? A Movie Review

16 Aug

By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

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The Expendables franchise is simply about old-time action stars making one last hurrah. Some succeed at showing that they do indeed have staying power at remaining big and others are best left to sit in the annals of cinematic armageddon. For this series of films, the producers and Sylvester Stallone show that this team of soldiers turned mercenaries are going to keep on going strong and may the devil be damned if you don’t like seeing them cause carnal damage one more time. The challenge for the third movie is that these old-timers face stiff competition against the Guardians of the Galaxy and mutant turtles from city sewers a lot more than the problem that occurred a few weeks back.

During the Thursday free advance screening of this film, crowds loved the humour, action and conflict created. Despite the fact this film leaked to the Internet for wannabes to see at home, the true fans of this 80’s action showdown genre packed the house to show that everything is bigger and badder on a large screen. There’s no denying that a free movie even at the theatre will get people out, but this franchise is lucrative since it helps bring the thrill-ride action of the yesteryears back to the silver screen for fans, if not the old-timers, to enjoy.

The series works by using a simple storytelling formula of showing how a brotherhood of mercenaries fends for one another. When one strays off the path of righteousness, they can get blacklisted. In the first film, one of the members starts a firefight and thinks hanging a pirate is right. But Barney Ross (Stallone) discourages it. There’s a fine line that even mercs do not cross. By the third film, even when their leader wants to go solo, the crew is willing to risk their lives to help him out. Audiences learn that this group’s co-founder Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson, who is having a blast at being bad) went renegade; he turned traitor by becoming a devil-may-care arms trader that many folks thought was dead. He’s very much alive and he loves the fine arts, which he uses as a cover to sell weapons.

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Now it’s up to Ross to “do” the right thing. His contact Max (Harrison Ford) is a CIA operative who wants Stonebanks put to trial for war crimes. Much of the film plays out in expected tones of subterfuge and loud bangs to make covert ops look cool. However, the thin plot and less than stellar performances from the new cast mates hardly make up for it. The long action sequences are okay in its PG-13 rated form. There’s less bloodshed, and oh how the times have changed.

The sad problem is that these films never try to be anything more than a throwback to simple action film culture. They’re just good ol’ boys meaning no harm until they get in trouble with the law. For viewers expecting something more from these characters, Stallone does a better job at showing how each member have nothing better to do with their drifter lifestyle. These are individuals who would rather go out in a bang and be recognized for their efforts. The thought of retirement in order to find happiness in middle class suburbia is beneath them. The first film tried to show one of the characters, Lee (Jason Statham) trying his hand at a normal life, but when when his girlfriend discovers what he does for a living, her importance in the narrative just disappears.

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In the third film, Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammar) is hardly settling down. He’s retired from the scene but still keeps an eye out for talent should the need arise. He helps Ross recruit a new team of Expendables to go hunt Stonebanks down. When he realizes his old team — Lee Christmas (Statham), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren) and Toll Road (Randy Couture) — are not up to the challenge because of one of their own fell in the line of duty (and perhaps slowing down due to their age), what Ross hopes to do is lead a new and younger ragtag team to deal with the Stonebanks problem.

But these new guys and gals — an ex-Marine John Smilee (Kellan Lutz), bouncer Luna (Ronda Rousey), computer expert Thorn (Glen Powell) and weapons master Mars (Victor Ortiz) — are rookies as far as the old team is concerned. They have not developed rapid-fire instincts for combat. This film is simply a trial by fire to see if they can prove themselves to the old timers. There is a well-meaning story to be found even though the action and generic acting overshadows the tale.

Thankfully, Antonio Banderas saves the film. He’s the irrepressible Mexican, Galgo, who wants to join the Expendables. His humour keeps the film together and even the appearance of Arnold Schwarzenegger shows he’s still king of the cheap and cheesy one-liners. Audiences cannot expect anything more from this former Governator who is returning to acting. The world is not safe from the low-calibre direction or performances found with this film. It’s only Banderas and Gibson that saves this movie from being lacklustre.

As for what’s next, more action stars from recent years will eventually get added to the roster. If this new generation is not well-received by audiences, perhaps there’s hope if action-stars like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson or Hugh Jackman get a chance to earn their wings when the time comes. In this film’s case, it’s the Skull and Raven tattoo.

3 Stars out of 5

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