They may be old enough to know better, but try telling that to Sly and the Family Crone as the Geriaction poster boys dispense more old school justice.
The 80s was a pretty naff decade for many reasons, but it did deliver a new kind of action film featuring a new kind of action star; one that didn’t ask you to think too much about what it was you were watching, rather to trust in the knowledge that the good guy would always win and kill a lot of people along the way.
They may not have been blessed with matinée idol looks, but that didn’t matter to the box office generated by the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and, to a lesser extent, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris et al.
The ‘one-man-war-machine’ genre largely disappeared to the DVD shelves during the late 90s and early 2000s, but made a big screen comeback in the latter half of the decade, most notably in the fun Liam Neeson flick Taken (2008). Not wanting to miss out, Stallone wrote and directed the insane Rambo (2008), in which the monosyllabic Vietnam vet turns the Burmese army into a giant hamburger with the aid of a massive machine gun.
Taking screenwriter David Callaham’s pitch and running with it, Sly co-wrote and directed The Expendables in 2010, essentially The Dirty Dozen (1967) and The Wild Geese (1978) featuring 21st century stunts and hardware in the hands of guys who should be lining up for their weekly pension.
Although hardly earth shattering, it more than wiped its face at the box office and instigated the inevitable follow-ups. The team this time faces that old action cinema trope – one of their own who’s gone rogue and is out for vengeance, in this case Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson).
Barney Ross (Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) and the rest of the Expendables are tasked by CIA operative Max Drummer (Harrison Ford) to track down Stonebanks, who has become a highly successful arms dealer. However, when things don’t go as planned Barney decides it’s time to inject some younger, fresher blood and recruits a quartet of new faces (including Ronda Rousey’s Luna) into the team.
Anyone expecting anything apart from more of the same will be in for a disappointment with The Expendables 3. Stallone previously indicated he wanted more humour in this latest escapade but, if anything, it has even fewer chuckles than the previous two films. Part of the reason is the arc surrounding Gibson’s character, whose bloodthirsty quest for revenge isn’t the sort of plotline that gets played for laughs.
Director Patrick Hughes keeps things zipping along and knows his way around an action set piece, especially the final firefight that takes place in and around a wrecked building (he’s clearly getting practice in for his English language remake of The Raid). The stunt work is also well handled, in particular an awesome motorcycle stunt in which one of the team bypasses the stairs to get several floors up on the building and a moment early on when Wesley Snipes’ Doctor Death flings himself from a train as it’s about to hit a prison (you’d think Snipes would have had enough of prisons by now).
With such a hefty cast it’s not always easy to remember who’s doing what (aside from just killing people) and the new recruits don’t really add enough to warrant their inclusion. Schwarzenegger looks like he’s at least not phoning it in this time, although Ford has that usual I’m-too-good-for-this look on his face and Banderas tries too hard to be zany as sharpshooter Galgo.
Of the rest, Gibson relies on his mad-eyed schtick to play the villain and Grammer adds a dose of humour as deadpan mercenary Bonaparte. Meanwhile, Stallone, Statham et al do what they do best.
Quite how much steam is left in this franchise, or its stars, (don’t be fooled by the ‘one last ride’ tagline) is highly debatable, but The Expendables 3 remains a diverting enough way to spend two hours with the oldies.