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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
The Expendables franchise is one of diminishing returns. The first had the novelty of having (mostly) a bunch of aging action stars from the ’80s and ’90s in one movie together. The result was really not the sum of its parts. The second installment improved the quality with much more humor, a stronger narrative, and a campy amount of meta references to the respective stars’ past. The newest entry tries very hard, but comes incredibly short in everything it attempts.
The script tones down the meta references dramatically from the second installment (which, let’s face it, is probably a good thing – Expendables 2 really pushed that as far as it could go), but doesn’t really replace it with anything of substance. The story is really all over the place with the tone, the themes, and the basic narrative, that the film doesn’t really know what it wants to be (other than the currently over-played “I’m old, but I’m still top dog” routine).
Hindering matters even further is that I didn’t feel at any time that any of the characters were in any danger at all. While the action is slick, when our heroes are gunning down hordes of henchmen without them really being in any noticeable peril, the film loses any sort of tension. The PG-13 rating was disappointing too. Incredibly bloodless and a bit too obvious when they cut away from seeing a bad guy get taken down. I realize that was a creative decision that Stallone wanted to enforce, but it is still disappointing that he felt he needed to do that to reach a broader audience.
We have a couple of new additions to the Expendables. Beyond younger recruits (who are completely generic and interchangeable), Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, and Antonio Banderas join Stallone and crew. Ford is an incredible upgrade from Bruce Willis as the team’s handler. While he does the standard “Harrison Ford Gruff”, he looks like he’s having a blast in the role. Sadly, Gibson (an inspired choice for a villain) is completely wasted in what could have been a really great, fun role. This is probably the biggest sin Expendables 3 could have had (especially since the bar was set surprisingly high with Jean-Claude Van-Damme in the second movie).
Oddly enough, after a lot of attention to Snipes joining the film, his character, while given a lot of attention during the first act (including establishing connections between him, Stallone, and Gibson), largely falls into the background as the movie progresses. He is mostly replaced in emphasis with Banderas. Even though this is a big script problem, I’m not too bothered by it mostly because Banderas is the best part of this movie. He completely steals every scene he is in. He’s absolutely hilarious. If they make an Expendables 4, they need to bring him back.
I don’t know. Maybe the magic is running out for this series. I sat there and was reasonably entertained, but much of the movie just felt flat for me. I know these are not meant to be very good cinema, but even for disposable entertainment, it doesn’t quite work. I guess you can tell there is a problem when the series continues to pile on new characters, but ones from the original entry are still completely undeveloped (seriously, what does Randy Couture bring to these movies?).
If a fourth entry is commissioned (which there is some doubt given the recent pirated leak), I really hope they look into what isn’t working. I really can’t pin my finger on it exactly, but the series is missing something. I want this series to be successful, and I want to like these movies more. But the novelty of seeing all these actors together is nearly extinguished. They need a new hook.