The surprising or unsurprising success, depending on how you look at it, of The Expendables back in 2010 meant that sequels were inevitable. While it was never exactly a classic entry into the much-loved genre, the first film found at least some of the right notes to keep action movie junkies happy and begging for more. They followed that with the overly self-aware The Expendables 2, which toned down the on-screen goriness of the action and increased success at the box office as a result of not only building on the first one’s popularity, but also opening it up to a wider (and younger) audience.
Now the gang have returned for a third – but presumably not final – installment in the “geri-action” franchise. The result is no less bombastic than you might expect, but something feels off this time around. It’s neither as bloody as the first one nor as tirelessly self-referential as the second, but rather feels curiously flat and lacking in verve.
The plot follows the group of ageing mercenaries, led by Sylvester Stallone’s snarling Barney Ross, as they come face-to-face with an old friend-turned-foe and arms dealer, the ruthless Conrad Stonebank (Mel Gibson), co-founder of the team way back in the day whom Barney thought he’d killed. Stonebank plans to wipe out the remaining members of the team, so Barney decides to recruit some new, younger blood to help stop him.
It’s an effectively straightforward plot, at least compared to the plutonium and kidnapping nonsense of last time. It should have been a simple layout for some entertainingly over-the-top and, in spite of the age of some of the cast, energetic action to show that you’re never too old to mow down a bunch of bad guys with a giant machine gun. The trouble is the cast just don’t seem to have any passion for the material this time around, almost like they’re getting too old for this crap and really don’t care anymore (surely not!).
Along with most of the usual cast members including Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and Terry Crews, we have some new – or rather old – recruits to add to the list of people we remember from other things coming together to kick ass and take names. As the posters have kept reminding us, the film is packed to the brim with famous, and not-so-famous, action heroes. Unfortunately much of the cast is wasted, particularly Wesley Snipes who has a fair bit to do in the first act when the team bust him out of custody aboard a moving freight train, but disappears into the background for most of the rest.
Antonio Banderas seems to think he’s in some sort of pantomime as he leaps around and incessantly chatters. Kelsey Grammer and Jet Li might as well not have turned up. Gibson is basically a giant blade and a space station away from being his character in Machete Kills. Arnold Schwarzenegger, to be fair, seems to be having more fun than most of the others -though he’s provided better action renaissance in other recent films like The Last Stand and Sabotage. The newly added younger cast members, including Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz and MMA fighter Ronda Rousey are extremely forgettable. And as for Harrison Ford, who practically replaces Bruce Willis, he looks utterly bored throughout. “This is the most fun I’ve had in years,” he utters at one point, putting him firmly in the running for least convincing line delivery of the year.
Whereas the first two had a sense of humour about them, this feels far too po-faced for its own good. And when it does attempt humour the timing is way off, particularly disappointing considering the enjoyable banter and half-way witty chemistry between Stallone and Statham up until this one. It throws up the eternal question: where’s Chuck Norris when you need him?
There’s nothing particularly terrible about it when it comes to the nitty-gritty of the action – it’s perfectly okay and just might appeal to fans of the franchise and hardcore action movie lovers that get joy out of the mere sight of their favourite action stars sharing screen-time and fighting random baddies side-by-side. However, by this point, it’s merely going through the motions rather than firing on all cylinders. They should have upped the ante instead of delivering such pedestrian and repetitive action that disappointingly relies too much on CGI. The film is meant to provide old-school no frills action among a sea of superhero and giant robot blockbusters but it just comes off as old hat.
This review was previously published on Scotcampus.