While writing the review for the third installment of a supposed 80s throwback action franchise that collects action stars of yesteryear as if they were Pokemon cards, it’s a bit weird to mention a film that couldn’t be more different from it in every way imaginable: In Charlie Kaufman’s drab study on creativity and mortality, Synedoche, New York, the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a theater director who keeps adding sections to his never-ending play until the stage is almost as big as New York itself.
The Expendables series, also known as The House That Sly Built, suffers from a similar bout of OCD. It cannot stop itself from adding five to ten cast members to an already bloated ensemble with each episode. I’m afraid that by the time we reach Expendables 5, the poster will be so full of names that there won’t be any space left for an ensemble cast picture showcasing so much steroid use that your testicles shrink just by looking at it.
There’s not much here to complain about or praise. If you enjoyed the first two movies, all you’ll be looking forward to is the same product with around 20% more action and a Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson boost.
If you’re not familiar with the franchise, you can dive right into part three without any prep work into its back-story since each episode repeats the exact same screenplay anyway. You know how everything’s going to play out every single step of the way and the instant familiarity is actually part of its charm. However, no matter how you slice it, franchise familiarity alone can’t get you past the realm of mediocrity.
The third film ups the ante with not one, but two overblown action sequences back-to-back. The first one involving a daring rescue of an original Expendable (A group of top secret badass mercenaries) out of a train is actually quite impressive, partly because it heralds the return of Wesley Snipes (There’s even a clunky joke about tax evasion). The shoot-out in Somalia that directly follows this opening is more generic, so it merely serves as the violent cherry on top.
From this point on, it’s extremely easy to predict every single story beat. Do you think one of the Expendables will get shot by the bad guy du jour (Mel Gibson, or as Key & Peele calls him, Racist-ass Melly Gibsons)? Do you think the rest of The Expendables will add some fresh new faces to the cast (Sorry, I meant "the team") in order go after Racist-ass Melly Gibsons for revenge? We’ve seen this movie before; it was called The Expendables 2.
Such a predictable screenplay gets the job done the same way a fast food drive-thru meal does. When you order a Big Mac Meal, you know exactly how everything’s going to taste, right down to the texture of the top-secret special sauce, which, let’s face it, is thousand island dressing. Yet we still buy Big Macs and enjoy them on a reptilian brain level, but who in their right mind would give a Big Mac a five-star rating?
Relative newcomer Patrick Hughes, who got tapped for the director’s chair this time around, and co-screenwriter/star Sylvester Stallone have only one goal in mind: Sprinkle as much carnage and references to older, much better 80s action classics across such a bland script.
The fans of the series will already know everything about the single-dimensional characters that return from previous episodes. They will only care about whether or not the new additions are worth their time and money. In that case, Wesley Snipes and Antonio Banderas stand out as the only two actors who know how stupid this material really is. Snipes has a blast with a kooky knife-throwing medic and Banderas goes for broke as the blabbermouth comic relief.
Mel Gibson tries to inject some energy into the bland bad guy archetype given to him but there’s only so much you can do. Taking over for Bruce Willis in the exact same role minus a last-minute name change for the character is Harrison Ford, once again asleep at the wheel. If his lack of energy goes on the way it has for the last decade, he’ll be propped up like Weekend at Bernie’s for Star Wars Episode VII.
P.S: There’s a bit of a controversy around the fact that the new film is PG-13 while the first two were R. Of course, if they used practical blood and gore effects like the films from the 80s they love to rip off did, I would have been disappointed at their absence. But we all know what they were actually going to do if the movie was R: CGI blood randomly added in post that looks so fake, a fourth grader with a ten-year-old iMac could have done a better job. In that case, the lack of blood is kind of a welcome subtraction.