Not great, not bad, The Expendables III is diverting entertainment for the over-long run-time it lasts for.
There is not a whole lot to say about The Expendables III. It is a film that does exactly what it says on the tin and nothing more. You want to see some over-the-hill action movie stars and some up-and-coming would-be action movie stars blow stuff up real good in the cinematic equivalent of being subjected to a straight shot of testosterone for two and a bit hours? Do you mind that being done in a competent and not exactly stellar fashion? Congratulations, this is your movie. It is utterly passable and diverting filmmaking that knows its limitations and, as a result, sticks solely to what it wants to do. I hesitate to say “its strengths” because, much like the last two, it’s still not great at what it does and is far too long (this one busts through the two hour mark by the time the credits are finished and does it ever feel like it at points), but it is decent fun, although less overtly silly than the last go-around (you decide whether that’s a good thing or not).
Honestly, there’s really not a whole lot to talk about here. If you’ve seen an Expendables film before, you know exactly what you’re signing up for. It’s another one of those, it’s a bit more serious than the last one but the overall pros and cons are the same. Stallone and Statham still have inexplicably amazing buddy chemistry together, so obviously they don’t spend nearly enough time together on screen. There’s still a perverse joy in seeing these aging action stars, and up-and-comers who often deserve budding action careers – Kellan Lutz is the real surprise standout of the younger cast, especially so given that The Legend Of Hercules is barely six months old – kicking ass and taking names, but the film is still too overstuffed and therefore many people (including perennial “fill-out-the-numbers” members Randy Couture and Terry Crews) don’t get their big moment, let alone a character to play. The final action scene, which spans pretty much the entire final half-hour, kicks all kinds of ass but the film seems permanently stuck in third gear for the rest of its run-time. There is a good sense of fun throughout the production, but it’s still overwhelmingly macho and the equivalent of watching a raging boner projected on a cinema screen for two hours which, depending on how willing you are to turn off your brain, may be off-putting – although, thankfully, it’s a dumb action film in 2014 that doesn’t sneak a whole bunch of disgusting racism and sexism past everyone under the guise of “we’re a big dumb action film, it’s not like anything uncouth that we do or say matters, right?”
Let’s talk minor differences, then, eh? First, that 12a rating. It means there is no blood. That’s it. Literally the only things stopping this from being rated a 15 are the complete lack of blood and an excessively shaky camera whenever knives get involved (otherwise known as “Hunger Games-ing it”). Swears are thrown about frequently, hundreds of people are violently gunned down, bones are broken… you know, the usual, just now with 100% less CGI blood-squirts and only one deployment of the f-word. This is still not a film that is suitable for anybody under the age of 10 – stop using the cinema as a babysitter, random parents who brought their two young children into the screening with them – don’t panic. It’s still violent, still brutal, it’s just cagier about the details. Also, none of this spoils the last extended action sequence; despite taking place across a large space and multiple floors, it’s nearly always clear where everyone is in relation to what and to what they’re engaged in.
Elsewhere, I found the way the film treated the younger Expendables to be really refreshing. See, the plot kick-starts when a routine mission for Expendables Classic that has them assassinating Mel Gibson – there really is no point remembering these guys’ names, better to just come right out and call them by their actors’ – goes south. Gibson puts Terry Crews in the hospital and causes Sylvester Stallone to have to face the reality that his current crew (also comprising Jason Statham, Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren and a freshly-broken-out-of-jail Wesley Snipes) aren’t getting any younger and soon may end up in the ground. So he forcibly breaks up Expendables Classic and jets off with Kelsey Grammar to recruit Expendables Modern (Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz and Ronda Rousey in the role of “Michelle Rodriguez Said ‘No’”) to try and take revenge on Gibson who, surprise, has a deep-forged connection to the Expendables crew. Oh, also, Antonio Banderas shows up as a mercenary cross between Charlie Chaplin and Doug from Up, and Harrison Ford is subbing for Bruce Wills and looking more interested and happy to be here than he has been in years.
What’s refreshing is that this “Damn these new kids, swanning in here trying to claim that our line of work is a young man’s game, now” plotline never actually demonises the new kids. Yes, they do get captured, necessitating a rescue and eventual team-up – which is not particularly a spoiler as a) all of the damn trailers have revealed this point and b) you saw this coming if you have seen almost quite literally any action film ever before – but that’s simply because Gibson is one step ahead of everyone, in typical movie bad guy fashion. Otherwise, the kids are shown to be exceedingly competent, their methods are proficient, their technology really useful, they get the job done. They even hold their own in the big chaotic finale without having to have their butts saved by the older guys. It’s a surprisingly embracing approach to this kind of plotline, one that’s often used simply to refute the young whippersnappers and remind everyone that the old guys are still relevant dammit (*coughcoughSkyfallcough*)! I mean, one may immediately want to retract this point due to the fact that none of the youngsters have a real character – Lutz apparently has a problem with authority, Powell is the tech guy who can climb stuff, Rousey is The Girl and derisively says “Men…” after every beatdown, and Ortiz… I’ll get back to you on that one – but I’d counter-argue that nobody in this franchise has a real character so it all shakes out.
Oh, and there’s also a really amazing dreadful one-liner near the end. Like, holy crap, is it hysterically terrible. It’s one of the best and worst lines I have ever heard. You have to hear this line, it is ridiculous. Not kidding, I burst out laughing at it, 100% unintentionally. We’re talking Mortal Kombat 4 levels of brilliantly bad, here.
Aaaand… yeah, that’s about it on my thoughts on The Expendables III. It’s another one. It drags too long in the middle, its final 30 minutes are the best kind of dumb popcorn fun, it’s lightweight, everyone seems to be having fun, there’s nothing particularly memorable, the dialogue still stinks to high heaven but in an endearing way. If you’re not sold on this franchise, this won’t change anything; if you are, this is another reliably decent way to spend two hours. I feel like I should be lauding it to high heaven for at least being a dumb action spectacle this Summer that’s actually good at what it does, heaven knows those keep getting rarer, but it’s still just a bit too forgettable for me to go overboard on the praising. It’s good at what it does, I had fun whilst it played. If what it does is what you want, go for it. If not, skip. Simple.
Of course, it does feature the image of a man entering the sixth storey of a bombed-out building by jumping a dirt bike up the tail of a destroyed airplane. Plus, that line. Holy crap, that line. So, there’s those.
Callum Petch is about to bloody this track up, everybody get back. Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!