When a powerful ex-member of the Expendables resurfaces, it will take more than the existing team to take him on.
You Again, I Thought You Were Dead
This third outing finally manages to live up to the standards set by the action stars assembled in this film. The last two movies in the franchise have failed to properly deliver on the action and characterizations of the films that inspired them, namely the action films of the 1980s and 90s — by contrast, everyone involved this time around (except Ronda Rousey, at first) is firing on all cylinders and I think more so than in any of the previous films, we truly get to see a film worthy of the genre.
For those that didn’t have the privilege of growing up during that aforementioned 80s to mid-90s period of film going, well it was a time when genre films ruled the box office. Sure we have some fun action films that do well at the box office now, but the sheer volume of tentpole flicks in the action genre back in the 80s puts to shame the stuff we see now. Arnold Schwarzenegger alone was putting out 2 big movies a year for nearly every year of the 80s. Add to that Sylvestor Stallone with 2 movies that same year and Mel Gibson with his own movie and that’s just 3 actors. I challenge you to find a single year in the last decade that rivals what was happening back then.
So, with that as a backdrop, it’s no surprise that Stallone and the team behind the Expendables franchise have been trying to resurrect that hayday. Unfortunately, so far they’ve not really lived up to their own goals. The first two films were very tame in terms of action set pieces and that resulted in not much to do for the stars involved. The films had their moments, but I never walked out of the theater thinking I just saw something cool. It was all rather “meh”.
The Expendables 3 is a different story.
Speaking of Story
Action movies of the 80s and 90s weren’t exactly Oscar nod material in the story department. Story in a pure action film is simply a mechanism for getting you smoothly and logically from action scene to action scene. What made those earlier efforts stand out was the creative backdrops (Total Recall, action movie on Mars) and the action moments you weren’t expecting (Red Heat, Arnold rips a man’s leg clean off to get his attention). Because of how many films were being made and released, the big ones had to constantly top each other with interesting hooks and blood pumping spectacle. Modern action films try too hard to be smart and spend less time being creative in the action department.
From word one, the Expendables 3 shows which side it’s on. It’s bigger and more daring in its shoot-em-up offering and just gets bolder as the movie goes on. Like the previous two films, EX3 is directed by a different person. Stallone (Rambo) directed the first movie, Simon West (Con Air) handled the last one, and newcomer Patrick Hughes (Red Hill) takes over duties on this one. With this being only his second feature, Hughes is instantly going to be my name to watch in the action scene from here on out. I might even catch his upcoming remake of the THE RAID. He’s so good that he simply wipes the floor with the previous series efforts which is impressive considering that both Stallone and West have probably directed a dozen high profile action films between them. If you haven’t watched Red Hill btw, do yourself a favor and track it down. It’s a great modern day take on the western set in small town Australia.
This third film expands the cast dramatically with mostly younger members, but also some older heroes (Antonio Banderas is great), and yet it still finds a way to give each of the original team a chance at the spotlight. They also wisely choose to split up the teams (old/new) at the start which gives the audience a chance to see what both groups bring to the game. The younger guys work smarter, not harder. They rely a lot more on technology and employ things like high-tech surveillance and tech-enhanced guns while the older more experienced dudes largely go in guns blazing. Their experience allows them to survive purely out of the fact that they’ve built up the necessary muscle memory to react to unexpected situations. They think on their feet a lot more, but that doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from the younger team and vice versa. The final and biggest action sequence allows this to happen as this is where both teams must work together to defeat the sheer numbers that the film’s villain has thrown at them.
I believe this is the last film in the series, but the same producers are planning to start a similar team-up franchise with an all woman cast. I hope they’ll take some of the lessons learned on this last outing when they prep the script for that film.
As it stands though, this is by far the best effort and an upward trajectory from here on out would guarantee my enthusiastic return to the plush seats. If you were wavering on this series based on previous series efforts, turn around and return for this last outing. It’s worth your time, if not your money.