[ Director: Patrick Hughes; Screenwriters: Sylvester Stallone, Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt; Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham,Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kelsey Grammar, Mel Gibson, Jet Li, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Antonio Banderas, Rona Rousey; Running time: 126 minutes; Certification: 12A ]
During the build up to production on The Expendables 3, there were reports that Bruce Willis turned down appearing in the film because he wanted $3m for his few days’ work and, unsurprisingly, didn’t get it. Whether that’s the whole story or not, it seems a bit pathetic from a man who most likely has more money than he knows what to do with. Yet fear not, for it can hardly be said that the film misses his presence – and not only because Harrison Ford steps in to replace him with some excellent little Willis-aimed jabs (“Don’t worry about Church, he’s out of the picture”), but because Stallone and co. appear to be working by the method of one actor leaves, ten actors replace him. So, cue Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Kelsey Grammar, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, the return of Jet Li, a host of youngsters to bring an age diversity to the group, and a role for Arnie that gives him some actual lines rather than pun after awful pun about other people’s movies (though they can’t resist a “Get to da choppa!”).
It makes sense that with each film the cast grows exponentially, but it’s a wonder who’ll they approach next when they’ve already reached such a ridiculous list of names. Jackie Chan and Nicholas Cage are reportedly on the radar…but then who will they go to for The Expendables 5? Maybe that’s a question for another day. The Expendables is, of course, a series built on the idea of big action stars teaming up to shoot stuff together; there was no other ostensible reason for the first movie to happen, and The Expendables 3 certainly delivers on that idea more than the first two films ever did. While the series has sort of become one of my guilty pleasures, if I’m allowed to use the phrase, there’s been a sense of disappointment so far in that, despite all of these big names, they’ve yet to really team up properly. What The Expendables 3 at least does right in its big third act set-piece is throw everyone into the same pot, so we finally get to see The Terminator, Rambo, Chev Chelios, Zorro, Blade, Indiana Jones and Martin Riggs just blowing stuff up together.
The film approaches Ocean’s 11 territory as Barney Ross (Stallone) attempts to pull a new team together, aided by his old friend and scout Bonaparte (played by the brilliant Kelsey Grammar), resulting in a bit of a dip in the second act when aforementioned newbies come in to perform a mission. It’s not their fault, they’re just not very interesting. We want to see all the old big guns firing big guns, not a bunch of youngsters making up the numbers. The fact that the film has been trimmed down to a 12A certificate also means one of the few uniquely entertaining things about the franchise (the ludicrous, OTT violence) has gone, yet it’s far from the issue you might think. Perhaps the action is a little bit more generic than before, but it’s still generally good fun, and at least provides a potential positive for Patrick Hughes’ remake of The Raid – he doesn’t hide everything under shaky cam. It’s rather surprising that it made a 12A anyway. The thing is still pretty violent, and the lack of blood doesn’t do a whole lot to dampen that.
But look, no-one’s pretending this is a great movie; or at least they shouldn’t be. It’s predictable, weakly scripted and fairly generic, but it would be unfair to look over the fact that it’s also pretty darn fun at times. Some of the characters have at least a little development, and who can really be upset when Harrison Ford is flying a chopper while Jet Li and Arnie fire massive guns from either side? There’s an argument that these films aren’t having as much fun as they could, and it’s probably true, yet they’re demonstrably entertaining enough for audiences to keep coming back. Don’t shout it, but it’s okay to be quietly looking forward to the next one.