There is a vast difference between a good concept and a good story. Anyone can brainstorm the basic germ of an idea. Taking that seed, sowing it, and caring for it until it blooms is the challenge every creator faces. Sometimes it never comes to fruition no matter how many times one tries to tell the story. This problem consistently plagues “The Expendables” franchise, which in spite of three attempts, has never delivered anything other than an average experience.
The concept for “The Expendables” has always been a good one: A group of action stars from yesteryear come together to form a cinematic super group—like a gun-toting, ass-kicking Traveling Wilburys. The testosterone-fueled heroes embark on various adventures that require them to shoot first and ask questions later. And the only thing they bother asking is: “When do I get my paycheck?”
The first movie was fun, stupid, and featured a plot so generic it could have been packaged and stamped with the white label: “Action Movie.” The second installment was a lot more fun, though significantly brainless. It’s almost like the enjoyment factor of “The Expendables” is directly proportionate to how idiotic they’re willing to be.
I hoped the producers and creative team behind the third movie would realize they needed to embrace the over-the-top elements and make something obscenely garish like Robert Rodriguez’s “Machete.” Sadly, this was not to be.
“The Expendables 3” re-treads old material in an epic fashion. It tries hard to be an action movie that hasn’t been en vogue since big-budget blockbusters abandoned maverick-style crime-fighters for spandex-clad superheroes. It returns to the well so hard one could call the entire movie “Jack and Jill.” The well isn’t just dry; it’s loud, angry and has a developed man boobs from years of steroid abuse.
Traditionally, movies with “3” in the title don’t fare very well. “The Expendables 3” is no exception. It decides the best way to fix the broken formula is to inject the movie with new members for Sylvester Stallone’s crew of mercenaries. This includes a bunch of young bucks like UFC Women’s champion Ronda Rousey and hunks of meat like Kellan Lutz from “Twilight.” There also are a few more old bones filling out the cast, including Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, and Harrison Ford.
On paper it seems like a grand idea; however, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. These films’ plots always involve villainous rogues who need to be dispatched at the behest of the CIA. Mustache-twirling, implausible evildoers, who are barely capable of two dimensions—much less three—litter the story world. This time around the scenery-chewing responsibilities are hoisted upon Gibson, who proves to be more than game. Truth be told: I miss seeing the old, hateful bastard on the big screen. He still has so much charisma and energy, and he almost is capable of salvaging this mess.
The movie’s biggest problem is how tired it all feels, which is mirrored by the stoic, craggy faces of its senior-citizen action icons. Stallone still looks like he’s carved from a battered piece of granite, and he talks with a mouthful of marbles. The supporting cast is just as exhausted. Jason Statham, probably the youngest member of the original crew, has lost a few steps even. The most depressing part is watching Harrison Ford slum through it all. The magic he once generated on screen has expired. (I lament that next year’s “Star Wars” will feature an aging Han Solo as a main character.)
“The Expendables” series should make viewers rally around these old action icons. Unfortunately, it turns into a sad affair. I was interested the first go ‘round, and hoped they could right the ship with the second movie. But the third entry is proof positive that this good concept—this seed of an idea—will never bear fruit. It’s a bitter harvest that’s never produced a good yield. Plow the field and salt the earth. Nothing will ever grow here.
The Expendables 3
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham and Mel Gibson
Directed by Patrick Hughes