Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, August 21, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: The Expendables 3 (2014)

Part of the fun of “The Expendables” series is dreaming about who will show up in these movies next. Nobody does this more then Sylvester Stallone. For “The Expendables 3,” he threw out many names he had no intention of following through on. Nicolas Cage, Steven Seagal, and Clint Eastwood were all mentioned at one point. Despite these unfulfilled promises, the film did deliver on some big stars: Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas, and the baffling Kelsey Grammer. Most of the excitement for the third entry in the all-star series was bungled when its rating was announced. The sequel was going to be rated PG-13. Fans lost their shit. Further controversy arose when the film leaked to the internet early. Basically, a number of factors combined to make “Expendables 3” the lowest grossing film of the series and jeopardize the future of the franchise.

After rescuing an original member of the Expendables, known only as Doctor Death, the team of mercenaries get a new mission. They are tasked with capturing a weapons dealer, selling illegal weapons to warlords. Barney Ross gets a surprise when he spots the seller though. It’s Conrad Stonebank, an old friend turned sworn enemy. Stonebanks injuries a member of the team. Fearful for his friends’ life but determined to have revenge, Ross recruits a new generation of Expendables. When they are captured, he and the old team most reunite.

By the third film, the cast of “The Expendables” has bloated up to 16 central characters. Some established members get the shaft. Terry Crews is written out early on. Dolph, Randy Couture, and Jet Li aren’t given much to do. These are the flaws of an ever-growing ensemble. Some additions, however, are worthwhile. Crews’ part was originally written for Wesley Snipes. Now free of debtor’s prison, his addition to the cast feels natural. Snipes’ brings a lot of crazy energy to the part, livening the film, and has a cute rivalry with Statham. Antonio Banderas similarly peps up a thin part with some eccentricities, making Galgo a motor-mouth who likes to dance and seduce women, even in the heat of battle. Harrison Ford, stepping in for a greedy Bruce Willis, proves surprisingly fun. Not once does Ford seem like a grouchy old man. He seems to genuinely be having a good time. Lastly, Mel Gibson plays Conrad Stonebrooks. Gibson oozes hatred and wild-eyed bitterness, commenting on his real life troubles. Though he’s no Jean Vilain, he’s still one of the better villains the series has produced.

When focused on the old guys doing their thing, killing hordes of nameless henchmen, “The Expendables 3” works reasonably well. However, a lengthy section in the middle of the film focuses on Sly recruiting a new team. Since the whole point of the series is watching established action icons together, focusing on new-comers seems counter-intuitive. Worst yet, most of the new kids are not up to their mentor’s standards. Glenn Powell, as arrogant tech expert Thorn, is totally worthless. Victor Ortiz adds nothing to his character, who is the most thinly defined one in the bunch. A part presumably written for Milla Jovovich went to Ronda Rousy. Rousy has since become especially famous for beating the shit out of people. Sure, she’s good at that. But Rousy has no charisma. She’s stiff as a board, reading her lines monotonously, while her muscled body lacks screen presence. Really, the only member of the New-spendables that’s interesting at all is Kellen Lutz’ Smilee. Lutz already has some action credits to his name. Out of the new guys, he gets the coolest stunts, like flipping a dirt bike through the air. Lutz also has a molecule of acting talent, making him more compelling. Still, “The Expendables 3” is too focused on these new guys. Their recruitment and first mission take up far too much screen time.

Once the kids gets captured, and the old guys are reassembled, “The Expendables 3” finds its footing once again. With so many damn characters, the film has no shortage of things to do in its last act. Isolated in an abandoned hotel, the expanded team faces off against a literal army. Statham punches a guy into a wall. Rousy falls through the ceiling while spinning fools through the air. Dolph and Couture drive a fucking tank. Snipes assassinates baddies with his blades. Banderas joyously dances while capping enemies. Ford pilots his helicopter in improbable ways and Arnold tosses a guy into a wall. Through it all, there’s Sly, doing his thing. He screams, fires his pistol, and makes a daring leap onto a helicopter. His climatic fist fight with Mel is a bit short. However, the sheer number of guys killed in “The Expendables 3” is impressive. Honestly, the bloodless carnage doesn’t bother me any. Is it any better or worst then the CGI blood-fest the first two were? The film is no less thrilling.

“The Expendables 2” was satisfied with filling its margins full of in-jokes. And that was fine. Part three has its fair share of in-jokes too. Schwarzenegger commands people to get to the choppa’. Just by playing a pilot, Ford recalls Han Solo. Mel’s character is quite mad while Snipes is said to have been put away for tax evasion. My favorite joke is one of the most out-of-the-blue. Zooming pass decades of gay subtext, “Expendables 3” seemingly makes two of its heroes literally gay. I’m surprised that didn’t get more press. Yet the film has thematic concerns as well. The plot, of old Sly recruiting a bunch of younguns to replace his team, is ripe with real world echoes. Age and becoming irrelevant is definitely on the film’s mind. That the new team aren’t nearly as interesting or effective as the classics is something the script seems unaware of addressing.

On one level, I understand while fans were so antagonistic towards this one. Sly’s continued attempts to appeal to a wider audience, with the younger cast and the softer violence, seems misguided. For its’ flaws, I still had a good time with part three. Though its’ opening weekend numbers were dispiriting, “Expendables 3” still made money. There has been talk about continuing the series. I won’t regale you with my “Expendables 4” wishlist. (Nic Cage, Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh, and Michael Jai White are all near the top, I assure you.) If a fourth is even made is currently unknown. But I’ll see it. What the hell else am I suppose to do? Getting a bunch of washed-up action heroes together hasn’t lost its appeal to me, at the very least. [7/10]

[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Isolated Mercenary]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling 

Aside from the possibility of an "Expendables 4," Stallone is now more focused on returning to his other trademark characters. Sly continues to enthusiastically discuss a fifth and final Rambo movie, even going so far as to actually title it "Last Blood." If that gets made probably depends on the performance of his next movie. "Creed," the unexpected Rocky spin-off, hits theaters this fall and looks surprisingly good. Is watching Stallone still do his thing as he gets further into his old age still exciting? Actually, kind of, yeah. That's the thing about Sylvester Stallone. The man never gives up. The man will keep fighting, keep trying to find the eye of the tiger and go the distance, until the day he dies. There's something to be admired about that.

Thus concludes the Sylvester Semester. Thank you for reading.

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