Saturday, 4 October 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Expendables 3

Directed by: Patrick Hughes

Produced by: Avi Lerner
Kevin King-Templeton
Danny Lerner
Les Weldon
John Thompson

Screenplay by: Creighton Rothenberger
Katrin Benedikt
Sylvester Stallone

Story by: Sylvester Stallone

Based on: Characters by David Callahan

Starring: Sylvester Stallone
Jason Statham
Antonio Banderas
Jet Li
Wesley Snipes
Dolph Lundgren
Kelsey Grammar
Randy Couture
Terry Crews
Kellan Lutz
Rhonda Rousey
Glen Powell
Victor Ortiz
Robert Davi
Mel Gibson
Harrison Ford
Arnold Schwarzenegger

Music by: Brian Tyler

Cinematography by: Peter Menzies, Jr.

Editing by: Sean Albertson
Paul Harb

Studio(s): Nu Image
Millenium Films

Distributed by: Lionsgate

Release date(s): August 14, 2014 (United Kingdom)
August 15, 2014 (United States)

Running time: 126 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $90 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $203, 914, 875

Alrighty then, it's time to get down to business. Seeing as how I'm off work for most of the week, I think it's about time that I finish out my reviews for the months of August/September over the course of the next week or so. Everything has been belated because I followed up my insane amount of work over the Summer with two holidays, one in Carcassone and one in London, both of which were wholly necessary in getting my groove back on. Since I've been on these holidays, my productivity rate in terms of writing as a whole is as good as it ever has been, and I attribute that to some well-needed chill out time. That being said, I've got a lot of stuff to do. Notwithstanding the upcoming reviews for October later in the month (I'm going to see Pride later on and I've a copy of Lone Survivor to watch), I've got this movie, Lucy, A Most Wanted Man, 20,000 Days On Earth and Maps To The Stars to review, so, for all the latest and greatest regarding the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is The Expendable 3, the latest film to emerge from Sylvester Stallone's film franchise which has become famous for not only it's ensemble casts featuring an A-Z of action stars from several different decades, but also for being a throwback to the more gung-ho, ass-kicking, on occasion politically-incorrect action flicks of the eighties-early nineties. For those of you who don't know (if you don't and read this blog, what have you been reading), I'm a big Sylvester Stallone fan, almost to the point where I become an apologist for some of the tripe has made alongside his more acclaimed work (though I've always admitted Cobra sucked!). One of my most notorious early reviews was giving a positive notice, which I stand by incidentally, to the fourth Rambo picture, which everyone is wont to remind me I was dead wrong about. Also, I'm a borderline fetishist of the action movies from the period in which much of the cast were in their heyday. Just looking at the revolving door of cast members who have been in this franchise reminds of all the Rocky's, Rambo's, Die Hard's, Terminator's, Indiana Jones', Lethal Weapon's, Universal Soldier's, Timecop, and yes, with a new addition to the franchise (guess who?), Passenger 57's I grew up on and still continue to enjoy to this day. However, one must remember that these are separate movies in themselves to be judged on their own merit, and The Expendables franchise does not deserve merit off of the memory of great movies from a bygone era. As a whole, they are a mixed bunch of films. I never reviewed the first film, but bought it the year after it came out and was really disappointed by it. With the contemplative tone, it could have been a dark, potentially great action movie (the best scene in the film is a dialogue between Stallone and Mickey Rourke), but instead it throws it all away with an implausible story lacking in true depth. The second one however does an about turn, with Con Air (surely one of the great contemporary action films, whether it means to be or not!) helmer Simon West taking the director's chair from Stallone and revelling in a tongue-in-cheek humour that's rather refreshing given that the first tried to wallow in the shadows and then contradict everything it tried to achieve. So, two years on, we have the third instalment, so here's a quick synopsis: Barney Ross' (Stallone) group of Expendables, Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren) and Toll Road (Randy Couture) extract former member Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) from military prison as he is being transferred. Recruiting him to assist in intercepting a shipment of bombs headed for a warlord in Somalia, they meet up with fellow member Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), who directs them to the drop point when the arms trader turns out to Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), the long thought-to-be-dead co-founder of The Expendables who went rogue. In the ensuing gunfight, Stonebanks' weaponry forces them to retreat, and Caesar is severely injured. Back in the United States, the Expendables' new missions manager CIA operative Max Drummer (Harrison Ford) gives Ross a mission to capture Stonebanks so he can be tried for war crimes at the Hague. Blaming himself for Caesar's injuries and haunted by the deaths of many members over the years, Barney disbands the current Expendables and, enlisting the retired mercenary Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammar), seeks to form a new, younger incarnation of the Expendables for the mission. Got it? Good! (There was more there than I thought there was!)

Starting with the good here, I would like to highlight some of the ensemble cast. Although there is nothing here that would get any major award nominations, there are some which worth noting. Sylvester Stallone is a solid anchor here, doing a lot less of the grunting which people regularly ridicule him for and giving out a decent performance. I do think that the Barney Ross character has a lot of potential and would be serviced well in better screenplays. The highlight is definitely Mel Gibson, who taps into the 'Mad Mel' persona that he has built around himself both on and offscreen. Even in this relatively minor role in his career, it's indicative of his significant talents that with one scene he is able to make people buy Stonebanks as a legitimate threat. Stallone plays it well too, but Gibson is the one who completely nails it in their face-to-face dialogue, making him all the more intimidating in that his character is a rational man who has come to these insane conclusions through sound logic. Also, Harrison Ford is a welcome addition to the franchise, his gruff wise old man persona of recent years fitting into the mix of things well, and the UFC Women's Bantamweight champ Rowdy Rhonda Rousey proves in her relatively short time onscreen that she's a formidable presence and has a potential somewhere down the line to transition into leading roles. Also, as mentioned as regards the face-to-face with Stallone and Gibson, the film does have some moments that remind you, as has been the case with the whole franchise, of what could have been. There's a great thirty-second shot zooming in on Stallone's face, from close-up to extreme close-up, with the sound of dog tags of fallen comrades jingling in the background. Stallone keeps his face stolid, but there's so much that can be read into those aged and time-rugged features, and I was sat there thinking "this is how the films should be done!" Finally, it has to be said that for all that is wrong with the movie (which I'll get to in due course), the stunts and action choreography are great. With all the accumulative years of wanton destruction this cast has done onscreen, you'd like to think they could throw together good action, and they do. Perhaps taking inspiration from 2012's The Raid: Redemption, which has in a way become one of the more influential action movies of the past decade (I still think this 'action movie in a building' goes back to Die Hard and reached its ne plus ultra with John Woo's Hard Boiled), much of the third act is spent with both the new and veteran Expendables trying to escape a building rigged with explosives. Engaged in numerous firefights, fistfights, flight-fights, tanks, explosions, all chopped together rather well as far as editing goes, this is perhaps from an action sequence, in terms of the controlled chaos and pacing standpoints, the highlight of the series.  

Sad to say, though nonetheless true, like its predecessors The Expendables 3 suffers from many of the same problems which were resplendent in those films. You'd like to think that after four years and an upward progression in quality from the first to the second film that they'd have managed to perfect this formula and give us the great film that's more than possible here. To start off, the script is retreading much of the same waters that were covered in the first film, in that those are old, world-weary dudes haunted by the past and troubled by the changing world, the future and prospects (or lack thereof). I mean, the plots of the first two are not exactly anything special, but for them to be going back over themselves again in this film ensures that there is nothing to distinguish it story-wise from the first two. Also, you undercut the whole premise of the new Expendables coming in and taking over the mantle when have (PLOT SPOILER) all of the original Expendables standing in front of the plane in some gloriously ignoble 'hero shot,' showing how Barney's friends never left him behind. Ya, comrades in arms! Live together, die alone! (SPOILER ENDED) Speaking of repeating itself, Brian Tyler's score is typically rudimentary and murder-by-numbers, which is a shame to say because it's something I've got used to rattling out about the prolific composer. Not only that, at the start of his still-young career, he did some impressive work on films such as Bill Paxton's Frailty (still a much-underrated movie), Don Coscarelli's Bubba Ho-tep and with William Friedkin on The Hunted and Bug. We know he's talented, and yet he seems content to slap on either any auld music or just do this unimaginative 'feel' music that tells us how we're supposed to feel (yes, the EHO have returned!), how courageous and heroic The Expendables are. Word out to Stallone, Tyler, director Patrick Hughes et al: this band will never be the Seven Samurai, kay! To paraphrase Captain America in Easy Rider, "you blew it." You had your chance, and you threw it away. Speaking of talented, what in the blue hell were they thinking with the Galgo character played by Antonio Banderas? Don't get me wrong, I think Banderas is a fine actor, up to recently with his turn as Dr. Robert Ledgard in Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In. However, this stupid comic relief character is the series' equivalent to Star Wars' Jar-Jar Binks, an annoying, jittery, overly talkative and borderline stereotypical Latino designed specifically to give the film a bit of levity from all the seriousness. I just have this horrible image in my head of Sylvester Stallone sitting a desk deeply chuckling to himself as he writes down all the ridiculous lines of dialogue the character has to spew out. My final note is that while I was impressed with some of the stunts and choreography, a number of the film's technical departments fail to make the movie look more than something that was done cheap as chips money wise. I mean, this was a $90 million movie, a good portion of which was I'm sure shot on location, and yet our spatial awareness as an audience doesn't seem to extend very far. We do not get the impression of there being any sense of scope, and for all it's worth the film may as well have all been shot on a studio lot or soundstage. The example I always come back to is District 9, Neil Blomkamp's terrific feature film debut which was made on a $30 million budget and yet looks like something made for at least $100 million, and you what that is through? That is through ingenuity and creativity, things The Expendables 3 is severely lacking.

I don't think that The Expendables 3 is a bad film, per se. There are things that I did like about it. I think some of the performances, Stallone, Ford, Rousey and especially the game Mel Gibson, are strong. Moments in the film, such as that slow thirty-second zoom from close-up to extreme close-up on Stallone's face are indicative of greater things, and I have to admit that the stunts and choreography, particularly in that last sequence, were of a good standard. However, as time goes by, there seems to be nothing done to change or to elevate The Expendables franchise above a base level. You can say "oh why fix it if ain't broke," but the fact is is that this series was never fully made. There have always pieces been missing, such as an engaging story, to get me into these films fully. Brian Tyler might as well have lifted his score from the first and pasted it onto this, because frankly I wouldn't have noticed any difference whatsoever. He's one of those composers like Steve Jablonsky who just has this horrible tendency to repeat himself. What a waste of talent, as is Antonio Bandera is the part of Galgo, the series' equivalent to Jar-Jar Binks. Also, it looks way too cheap for a movie made on a $90 million budget. Not an outright bad movie, but certainly a poor, very weak one.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 4.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Sniffly (goddamm sneezing fit!)

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