Banderas of brothers
The Zorro guy is the cat’s pyjamas in this bigger, but blander instalment in the series.
SEEMS to me that the fellas behind The Expendables franchise have given up trying to give the movies any semblance of dimensionality, narrative creativity or that extremely stray cat called “making a whit of sense”.
Nope, the sole Key Result Area seems to be “just have a good time”; and on that narrow front at least, this third instalment tries quite hard and usually succeeds.
It also continues the series’ trend of diminishing returns, unfortunately, and is really the least of the lot. A Chuck Norris joke might have put it level with the second one, but nooo ....
Sure, they’ve thrown in nearly everything and the kitchen sink (it’s probably lost somewhere in Wesley Snipes’ hair when we first meet his character), and a whole new team of Expendables, and the entire freakin’ Bolivian army (okay, they’re not really Bolivians, it’s just a Butch & Sundance reference ... yes, I’m old, even more than “Expendables old”), strung together by the flimsiest of excuses.
The excuse this time is Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), one of the founding Expendables turned international arms dealer, a man who was supposedly put down by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) but obviously, was not put down hard enough.
When their paths cross again during a mission, Stonebanks puts one of the team members in the ICU and Ross takes it upon himself to finish the job he didn’t complete years ago. Only their new “handler”, Drummer (Harrison Ford), replacing Bruce Willis’ Church, steps in and warns that his employers want Stonebanks brought to The Hague for his crimes against humanity.
(Though, if Stonebanks is so high on the international community’s most wanted list, why still rely on mercenaries instead of sending an international task force to bring him in?)
Even with the stakes not appearing that high – come on, the writers should have had Stonebanks kill off one of the guys – Barney doesn’t want to risk his old team, so he cuts them loose, much to their chagrin.
He then goes around recruiting an all-new and significantly less colourful group whose members include Kellan “the other Hercules” Lutz and mixed martial arts champion Ronda Rousey.
In his mind, they’re truly expendable, and (he thinks) he won’t feel so bad if they all bite the dust on this mission. Not that fans of the franchise would miss these newbies, who are undeveloped and just flatly written.
Do count on it (NOT a spoiler) that both teams eventually join up to form the mighty Voltron – oh sorry, that’s one 1980s’ action icon that won’t be showing up in this franchise (for now) – I mean, form a big group of @$$-kickers to take on Stonebanks and his army in the big finale.
Somewhere in between the young and old teams, we have Galgo (Antonio Banderas), a former Spanish military man who desperately wants in, but is too old. Or maybe too talkative. The scene-stealing Banderas is easily the best thing in the movie, with his wannabe enthusiasm and sudden lapses into Latin lover mode.
But he’s no mere wuss in boots, as he proves in a lethal tag-team pairing with Rousey, who makes up for her undeveloped role with some impressive screen combat.
Snipes comes a close second (let’s not forget that this is the man who single-handedly ... uh, single-footedly kickstarted the Marvel movie franchise trend back in 1998, with Blade), but his contributions occur mostly in the first third of the movie, so they’re distant memories by the end.
The rest of the gang pretty much goes through the motions – cinematically awesome as some of their moves may be – and the dialogue has none of the urgency you’d expect given the deadly situations these warriors find themselves in.
It’s like they’re discussing strategy for an upcoming meeting, or arguing over who gets to marinate the steaks for next weekend’s barbeque.
At times, the discussions lapse into the self-referential (OK, “meta” to you whippersnappers), like when Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Barney talk about “getting out of the business” given the lukewarm reception of the stars’ recent solo action flicks; or when Drummer mentions that Bruce Willis’ Church is “out of the picture”, a reference to the Die Hard star being dropped from this one, reportedly over salary expectations.
And while there is action aplenty, its gore-free PG-13 level might not sit well with fans who thought the plumes of CGI blood in the first movie were positively ... balletic.
Guess the filmmakers figured their old-school, bloodthirsty 1980s action-flick audience has been pretty much tapped out, and this sanitising of the franchise is another concession to broaden its appeal to the more fragile psyches of today. (Grizzled old-timer voice) Gee, they sure built ’em tougher in my day.