Gathering a number of once hugely bankable stars, most of whom can presumably still carry a film on their own, and putting them into a single film would seem to be a great idea. And, it was… twice.
This time out, producers decided to change a formula that proved pretty successful the first two times out, opting to bring in UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and former WBC welterweight boxing champion Victor Ortiz in a clear effort to expand the audience to a younger set than those who were actually alive at the time Rambo and The Terminator were first-run features. In an even more blatant move to ‘expand the audience,’ filmmakers upped the body count but nixed the blood and guts, so the film could achieve a PG-13 rating instead of the R given to the first two “Expendables” films.
Getting the extremely popular Rousey along with other younger celebrities familiar to a younger crowd is one thing. Putting out a picture that racks up corpses like a shoot-em-up video game, only with far less blood, is just silly. It waters the whole thing down, and the result is a film that is, well, watered down.
It’s not that the action scenes aren’t great. They’re technically outstanding. It’s really two things — the plot and the acting. Of course, those are two pretty huge ‘things’ that go into making a movie.
The “Expendables” flicks have always kept things pretty low on the plausibility scale, but here, all semblance of the characters living in the same world as we do flies out the window — and not just for the sake of special effects. Instead, we get supposedly trained martial arts and fighting experts who make silly and obvious mistakes, and pass up easy kills to extend a fight for another couple of minutes, while eight other bad guys lurk waiting to take their turn to be killed by the action star du jour.
It’s not that the stars aren’t doing their jobs, because they are — technically. It’s that the stars — with two notable exceptions I’ll get to in a moment — just don’t seem to be having that much fun. Maybe it’s the lack of on-set squibs to spray fake blood and keep the ‘realism’ alive, or at least harken these actors back to their glory days filming such gore-fests as “Predator” and “Rambo.” Either way, it seems as though most of the cast has figured out this whole “Expendables” thing and how to do their job, collect a check, and go home.I didn’t watch the first film in the series right away. I kind of waited until the trailers for “Expendables 2” caught my attention. And, I didn’t think the first was really that great a film, though it made plenty of money and spawned a full-scale franchise (a fourth film is already in the works).
As was the case in the first two “Expendables” films, there’s some serious box office power here. Sly, who once commanded a salary of $20 million a picture (and got it six times) plus Schwarzenegger, who collected upwards of $25 million a film, and Harrison Ford — who was guaranteed at least $20 million on six occasions — would seem to indicate there’s a fanbase out there ready to see these folks.
The first film was made for around $80 million, and the second for an estimated $100 million. Given the exotic locales and special effects budget, there’s no doubt that these former box office heroes have come down a notch.
The kicker is that the formula worked. “Expendables” did $274 worldwide, and the second went north of the $300 million mark. And though I thought the second film was far better than the original, it didn’t even make enough money in the U.S. box office to cover its budget — though it pulled a not-insignificant $220 million around the rest of the world and was still very profitable.
“Expendables 2” was also the best-reviewed film of the bunch. The first earned a meager 41 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, but the much funnier, and much more fun follow-up garnering a respectable 65 percent score.
“Expendables 3,” with an estimated $90 million budget, is also the longest. The first two came in just past the hour-and-a-half mark that seems box office magic for brainless shoot-em-up films. “Expendables 3,” however, pushes past two hours… something usually reserved for films with more significant plots or more monstrous special effects (This year’s “Godzilla” was three minutes shorter, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” four minutes shorter).
All of those factors combined serve to produce an “Expendables 3” that was a bit of a let down. Where the first two “Expendables” films had the feel of rejuvenation, the third just feels like retirement.
I don’t really want to use this review as a spark for more debate on whether the kind of massive onslaught of bloodless killing demonstrated in “Expendables 3” might actually be worse than gory killing, in terms of desensitizing the younger viewers attracted by the PG-13 rating. But, the filmmakers here clearly wanted to mix what appealed to the older audience — a bunch of near-geriatric action stars kicking the same kind of butt they did two decades ago — with younger stars to appeal to a younger audience. In fact, the first version they sent to the MPAA still came back with an R, and more bits were cut to achieve the desired PG-13.
While that rating allows the film to reach a broader audience, and therefore make more money at the box office, I’m just not sure it’s the best move for the franchise.
This is perhaps Gibson’s best acting in years… though maybe it’s not acting. The guy who made his career as a rough-edged hero in “Mad Max” and “Lethal Weapon” has come full circle as a villain, in this and Robert Rodriguez’s brilliant “Machete Kills.”
If Internet reports are to be believed, Harrison Ford replaced Bruce Willis as the Expendables’ CIA contact because the former “Die Hard” star wanted a million dollars a day for his work on “Expendables 3.”
Having already blown his catchphrase ‘Yippee Ki Yay’ in “Expendables 2,” Willis was mostly likely deemed expendable at this point. The problem is, Ford doesn’t have the kind of noteworthy catchphrases in his repertoire as the rest of the gang.
Wesley Snipes’s character ‘Doc’ is introduced as one of the original members of the Expendables, and Snipes gets to make a pretty funny crack about his real-life tax troubles. Yet it just seems like everyone, and more significantly — the script — is just going through the motions, and we have a decidedly less ‘fun’ film than its predecessors. Though Schwarzenegger does get to say, “Let’s get to the choppa” in one of the film’s more cliche moments. Rousey gets to use her famed armbar a couple of times — to the same devastating effect as in the octagon — and Stallone gets to make a play on his “I am the law” line from “Judge Dredd.” But it really seems that filmmakers, realizing there weren’t too many one-liners left, tried to complicate what should have been a very straightforward plot.
Patrick Hughes takes over as director for “Expendables 3.” This is only Hughes’ second feature-length film, and his first-ever studio project. Stallone found Hughes by way of some commercials Hughes directed, and hired him to ostensibly ‘freshen up’ the series. Instead, Hughes makes a mess of the story, completely misses the mark on what should have been major ‘ta-da’ moments when introducing new cast members, and fails to take advantage of it’s star power. What Hughes delivers a film that, while expertly shot, is full of great special effects, and is ‘technically’ competent, just lacks the soul. In a word, it’s boring.
We can only hope that with the rumored additions of Hulk Hogan and former James Bond Pierce Brosnan, “Expendables 4” will strike the right balance of action and fun.