“We’re like children with arthritis,” Sylvester Stallone joked during a press conference in Cannes earlier this May. No offense to the youth, but not many of us “kids” would not be able to do half of what the kick-ass grandpas are doing in The Expendables 3, the latest installment in the franchise, even after months of solid workouts. Despite adding a bunch of muscular, tanned newbies, The Expendables 3 still stands on the wide arms of a whole battalion of legendary action genre heroes. And it is an experience as expected as it is enjoyable.
“It started with a kiss” is how romantic stories often take take off. This one starts with a blast – a classic, blow-it-all-up action sequence with all the fancy props an action-genre fairy godmother could provide. A speeding train, humongous guns, a bit of fist-fighting, and a helicopter dancing in the air swiftly as a well-trained ballerina are all here, leading to a spectacular explosion that ends the reign of doom. The good brutes win, as they always do. But this is just the beginning of their problems. As usual.
Despite maintaining the good shape, the Expendables are tired. At least, this is what Barney Ross (Stallone) concludes after a failed action that leaves one heavily wounded and the bad guy they were after still on loose. Upon the discovery that his former partner – now a deadly enemy – Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) is still alive, the terse leader decides to ditch his former companions and put together a rejuvenated killing squad of desperados. There’s no place for loose ends; Ross needs to make sure Stonebanks will be erased from the picture effectively, once and for all. But as viewers may expect, sooner or later, his faithful former comrades turn up in the fictional, supposedly post-Soviet country of Azmenistan. Despite taking place in the modern, computer-driven era, some oldschool swag and genuine friendship will never fall out of fashion, at least not in this universe.
That’s enough about the story. Plot analysis in this case is utterly useless – Expendables films are all about tickling the well-known spots, and changing countries or gear has no importance in this deliciously repetitive scheme. We get what we so eagerly waited for – muscle power, manly confrontations, sweat, angry gazes, catchy one-liners, pride, team spirit, and a promise of a fourth part in the works. However, despite understanding all the marketing strategies, the younger cast is rather bland and unnecessary. They fail to build any sustainable connection with the audience, serving merely as nicely shaped props, designed to attract a younger audience accustomed with orange makeup and violet lipsticks put on men. (Sorry, Kellan Lutz. Blame your blind make-up artist.) Sadly, the least appealing appearance is delivered by the only woman in the whole bunch. However fit and strong, Ronda Rousey’s acting ability leaves her looking like a less charismatic shadow of Haywire‘s Gina Carano. Also, slight upper movement might be OK for action film legends with all their symbolical and pop-culture background, but in this case, it falls as flat as a cheap MTV reality series. The only highlight among the new additions is Antonio Banderas as the unstoppable talker Galgo, a funny, satirical, light character with a darker past. But somehow, his character seems unintentionally stereotypical, maybe even slightly racist. Banderas was grateful for the team giving “a Latino a more significant part in an action flick”, he said in Cannes. However, sadly, it feels not so much like a “part”, merely an illustration of previously existing assumption about ethnic characteristics.
One other thing Stallone mentioned during the conference at Cannes is worth pointing out. This time, the producers were aiming at a PG-13 rating, and it shows. The most auto-ironic of all, the second part of this explosive franchise remains the best. The Expendables 3 is more of a smooth remix, still delivering the predictable thrill, but much less finessed than Sly’s impeccably defined muscles.