Perhaps 10 years into the future we’ll be able to look back on the seven Expendables movies in the franchise and remember all those golden moments when various ageing action stars made their mark on the series. Until then, we have to sit through a load of turgid action scenes and – mainly – woodenly-acted plotting just to get to those few moments in each that tap directly into our nostalgia-driven memory of action movies from the 1980s. Adding around half a dozen seminal additions to The Expendables pot of gold is The Expendables III which has plenty of tired action, a lot of poor delivery, a half-arsed story and roughly 15 minutes of quality cameos and amusing self-referential lines.
Of the plot, it’s pretty much same same. Alpha action male Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) is still leading his team of guns-for-hire under the direction of the C.I.A. but en route to a mission they break out his old Expendables pal Doc (Wesley Snipes) during an elaborate train attack by helicopter. Barney, Doc plus series mainstays Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Caesar (Terry Crews) lead a charge on taking down a criminal, however when Barney’s former partner Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) turns out to be the target, everything goes south and it’s not long until Barney is making wholesale changes to the team.
With no hint of irony at all, he retires his team saying they are past it, and goes after Stonebanks with a new breed of Expendables. Of course Stallone seizes the opportunity to recruit more famous faces in Kelsey Grammar as recruitment specialist Bonaparte (a typically smug Grammar character) and, briefly, Antonio Banderas as hyped-up Spanish killer Galgo before choosing to jet off with the identikit muscle of Glen Powell, Kellan Lutz, Victor Ortiz and a rare appearance from a woman in the series in the form of Ronda Rousey. There’s no surprise Barney winds up needing some help from his old team, plus Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jet Li and Harrison Ford to reel in the bad guys.
Stallone insists on trying to keep The Expendables series as largely serious with a few knowing winks and cameos so small they verge on the pointless
The problem is with this new Expendables is the novelty has worn off and it being diluted down. Gone is the violence (this is a 12A in a bid to win a greater audience share, perhaps in The A Team vein), the action is poorly shot by relative newcomer director Patrick Hughes and the story is a tough one to get through as its all so laboured. Yet it doesn’t need to be this way, it should be going the way of Rambo III and adopting a switch to self-parody.
Given The Expendables III has Snipes refer to being off the action scene due to ‘tax evasion’, Arnie yell ‘get to the chopper’ and Harrison Ford refer to Bruce Willis as being ‘out of the picture’ when Ford’s character is quizzed for the whereabouts of Willis’ (the Die Hard star priced himself out of this sequel), you have to wonder why the spoofing stops there. These rare lighter moments have more resonance am than any of the macho talk or laboured action scenes, but still Stallone insists on trying to keep The Expendables series as largely serious with a few knowing winks and cameos so small they verge on the pointless – especially in the case of Jet Li.
So much is spent on getting these guys together, a little more time should be spent getting the right script and a half-decent director who knows what to do with them. Simon West was a good choice last time, perhaps John Woo would be too much money. If The Expendables IV happens, hopefully someone will man up and ensure we get more quality action, a better story and perhaps Kurt Russell along with Jackie Chan to mix it up a bit now we’ve seen what a great addition Antonio Banderas was as he ad-libbed himself into Expendables folklore.