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Expendables 3, The

D: Patrick Hughes / 127m

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Antonio Banderas, Jet Li, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Kelsey Grammer, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Robert Davi

Having rescued old friend Doc (Snipes), who’s been in prison in a foreign country for eight years, Barney (Stallone) and part of his team of Expendables head for Somalia in order to stop an arms deal that the US government – represented by Drummer (Ford) – wants foiled; they also have to capture arms dealer Victor Mins in the process.  But the plan goes wrong when Victor Mins turns out to be Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), co-founder of the Expendables, and a man Barney thought he’d killed years before.  As Barney and his team come under increasing firepower, Stonebanks targets Caesar (Crews) and shoots him, wounding him badly.  They manage to escape but the experience prompts Barney to “retire” the rest of his team, even his closest friend Lee (Statham).  With Drummer still anxious to get Mins/Stonebanks, Barney enlists the help of Bonaparte (Grammer) in putting together a newer, younger team.  Once assembled, Barney and his new recruits go after Stonebanks.  They manage to capture him but their getaway is prevented by Stonebanks’ men who rescue him, and in a reversal of fortune, seize Barney’s young team.

With at first only Galgo (Banderas), a mercenary desperate to prove himself, and Trench (Schwarzenegger) to help him, Barney finds his old team refusing to let him go without them; he also finds himself backed up (unofficially) by Drummer.  The group heads for Stonebanks’ military training complex.  Getting in proves to be easy, but with Stonebanks’ men plus an army ranged against them, getting back out is a whole different matter.

Expendables 3, The - scene

The first Expendables movie was an okay affair bolstered by the concept itself: take a number of ageing action stars and put ’em all together and see how much fun can be had.  The follow up was more of the same and had an extended airport shootout that was bizarrely unexciting.  Now, with Hollywood’s current penchant for making trilogies out of almost any movie idea, we have the latest – and hopefully last – testosterone-fuelled outing for the getting-on-a-bit daredevils.

For anyone who’s seen the first two movies, the lack of a solid storyline won’t come as a surprise, nor will the lack of credible characters, residing as they do in such an incredible world (perhaps Barney and his team should be called The Incredibles – no, wait, that’s already been taken).  The returning viewer will also see that the dialogue has been kept at a first draft stage, character motivations remain simplistic at best, and the performances are as one-note as before.  In short, there’s been as much effort put into this movie as the first two.

It’s an amazing achievement when a movie is the culmination of all the bad things of its predecessors, and then adds a few more bad things for good measure.  With The Expendables 3, Stallone and co-writers Clayton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt have taken the witlessness of these movies and instead of reining it all in, have instead ramped it up another notch.  There’s the opening sequence where Doc is rescued from a heavily guarded train: he’s been in prison for eight years – why is it only now that Barney decides to free him?  In Somalia, Barney’s jeopardises the mission when he sees Stonebanks and tries to kill him (it’s Stallone’s “Khan!” moment).  When he assembles his new team, Barney awkwardly swaps his old friends for “kids” he feels a paternal responsibility for – so in either case he’s trying to people he cares about from getting hurt, so why the need to change the team (other than as a script requirement)?  Surely it would be more dramatic if it’d been the other way round and Barney was using the new team to rescue the old one.

And then there’s the big bad villain himself, Conrad Stonebanks, a vicious, preening, self-deluded ex-mercenary turned arms dealer who doesn’t exactly hide from the world – at one point he’s seen attending a museum exhibition in the middle of Moscow – but whom the US government appears to have no knowledge of and worse yet, no photos of him.  And yet Drummer tracks him down to Bucharest with apparent ease and the new team track his movements – again, with ease.  But before all this, nothing?  No clue?  Not one photograph to run through a Facial Recognition programme?  No?  Really?

It’s disheartening when you see so little effort going into something that cost $90 million to make (though really it’d be disheartening whatever the budget; the makers of these movies aren’t exactly inexperienced).  But where the script founders and sinks under the weight of its own (limited) expectations, the hoped-for rescue from complete viewing drudgery courtesy of some slam-bang action sequences also fails to materialise.  Just how many times can these guys go through the same motions, the same fights, wade through hundreds of run-into-the-line-of-fire extras and stuntmen, without themselves wondering if it’s all worth it?  And how many times can the audience?

In terms of the cast, the Expendables themselves walk through it all without pausing to act, while newcomers Ford, Banderas and Grammer – we’ll leave Lutz et al. as they’re not allowed to contribute very much – do their best to inject some energy into the proceedings, though Ford’s grumpy turn serves only to reinforce every off screen curmudgeon story you’ve ever heard about the man.  Only Banderas seems to have gauged the mediocrity of the situation and decided to ignore it all; Galgo is the only character you can even remotely warm to (and he’s essentially a big motor mouth).

In the director’s chair, Hughes – who’s been tapped for the upcoming remake of The Raid (2011) (as if we need it) – shows a grasp of how to assemble an impressive action sequence but doesn’t bring anything new to the equation, instead falling back on tried and tested shots, camera angles and set ups.  Of the various showdowns at Stonebanks’ hideout, a two-hander featuring Banderas and Rousey taking on all-comers is more effective than most, and the eventual brawl between Barney and Stonebanks is a severe let-down, less of a brawl and more of a slightly “harder” version of patty-cake.

With The Expendables 4 already rumoured to happen, there’s a sense that whatever box office returns this outing secures, the series is going to continue until Stallone says otherwise (he’s also prepping further Rambo and Rocky sequels).  But unless he hands the writing reins over to somebody else, the law of diminishing returns may well dictate otherwise.

Rating: 4/10 – loud, dumb, unadventurous, and reworking a whole raft of already tired scenarios, The Expendables 3 proves that however much fun a bunch of actors are having on a movie, it doesn’t mean the audience will have the same experience watching it; short on ingenuity and with the now de rigueur extended action sequence to round things off, this is one movie that doesn’t know when to quit.

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