What hasn’t been said about The Expendables at this stage? Three times around it’s been varying degrees of fun. Three times around it’s been jokes about being past your prime. Three times around it’s been puffy-faced Planet Hollywood investors praying our tastes for nostalgia bring us back to the cinema. It feels pointless to debate the merits of one entry over another; yes, The Expendables 3 is mildly better than the second installment, but the routine and structure are only mildly different. The Expendables 3 does not do new. Perhaps that’s the point, but it always feels like a missed opportunity. The line-up of stars here (and most of the actors do come from a time when star-power opened movies) have a better legacy than The Expendables portray. This third instalment, like those before it, can’t seem to justify its existence.
Do not concern yourself with plot; no one involved in the production of this movie has. The big-bad this time around is a nervous looking Mel Gibson, forever seeming on the edge of a full-force crazy performance that never comes. Gibson wants to do bad things and the Expendables must stop him with lots of guns and lots of bullets in the guns. The movie seems to have been modelled on the Seanad, the upper house of the Irish parliament, known for being both a retirement home for politicians on their way out, and those needing a consolation prize for failing to make the big leagues. Head-honcho Barney (Sylvester Stallone) sees fit to disband the old guard to put them beyond harm’s reach and treks the world for some fresh recruits, each with a specific set of skills and inability to speak in full sentences.
With fresher faces on hand there is a brief nod to the possibilities of technology and limits of brute force, but this is never going to end with anything other than a fistfight. The story can find nothing to do with the tech geek so he climbs up a chimney for the last 20 minutes of the movie. We also get a fictional Eastern-European state with a corrupt army that is annihilated by the Expendables and their bullet-defying response times, with never a thought given to the socio-economic implications of having so many widows and orphans left behind. There are constant references to fallen members of the gang, one-way-trips and lots of darkness suggested by close-ups on Stallone’s immovable face. Yet none of this matters because the movie plays safe, safe, safe. You will never be offended by the movie, or frustrated with its limitations, or its storyline that refuses to consider logic, physics, or that time zones exist, but neither will you be overly impressed. Gibson and Stallone do share a strong (all things being relative) face-off scene mid-way through the movie but any menace is all a bit tepid and dialogue or non-grenade/bullet-based interactions are not the movie’s strong point. Any moments that are played sincerely are horrifically awkward. The humour is marginally better with some of the notable cast additions, Harrison Ford and Antonio Banderas and Kelsey Grammer all bringing good energy. The action is slick, never brutal or novel but all the same it is the movie’s best asset and will most likely be the only reason you’re interested.
The time seems right for the Expendables to re-consider their mission plan. The movie feels like a luke-warm bath that just isn’t enjoyable enough. It’s neither cheesy enough to like in an ironic away, nor bloody enough for action fans to get their kicks, and never considers being the all-out masterclass it could be.