dir: Patrick Hughes
Old old old, I’m feeling old today. I’m feeling so old that I think I’ll just talk about how old I feel and how old everyone around me looks instead of doing anything else that’s interesting or anything really worth reading. Did I mention that I’m old?
The first Expendables was a tribute to itself, in that Sylvester Stallone and a bunch of other has-beens from the 1980s thought they’d remind the world that they were still around, and they could still star in movies where they look like they’re total badasses. Let’s pretend for a moment that it wasn’t then and isn’t now special effects and stunt people stand-ins. No, these guys, because they looked like badasses, must have been badasses, surely?
‘We’re not past it!’ they’d bellow like nervous cattle, loudly through the screen at us while joking about being past it. Everyone else would tell them they’re ‘past it’, especially the villains, they themselves would mock each other about being ‘past it’, but they’d still win in the end. So, thus, the Expendables were anything but expendable.
Expendables II was perhaps even more unnecessary, in that some other relics from the 1980s probably scratched at Stallone’s door until he let them in so they could plead their case for further work or relevance by playing thinly veiled versions of their past glories. Did anyone ever want or need to see Dolph Lundgren in anything ever again? What about Jean Paul Van Damme? Didn’t you assume either of them had probably died in some fleabag Tijuana hotel, probably with hookers around, in a probably drug and / or autoerotic asphyxiation-related manner?
If such a thing could be imagined as possible, II was a step down in quality, in that it was flat-out dumber and clumsier, if such a thing could be done deliberately. I know the world jokes about the superhuman toughness of Chuck Norris, and I wonder how beloved Arnie Schwarzenegger still is by the masses, but seeing them in II retroactively deleted my pleasant memories of seeing them twenty years ago.
This precipitous decline in quality, if ‘quality’ is actually the word I’m looking for, continues, in that III manages to tell exactly the same story as the previous two, just louder and in a more irritating package. And good gods do some of these guys look old. There were scenes with Arnie where my helpful impulse kicked in and I felt my body starting forward whenever I saw him walking or carrying anything, in the way that I try to help my somewhat frail dad out when I visit him. Arnie looks like he should have a blanket over his knees at all times. I feel bad for some of these guys. How many naps did they have to miss to make this?
The film opens with an assault on a prison train as the Expendables of the title try to free one of their number we’ve never seen before. It’s on a par with any of the action in all the Expendables films in that it uses the logic and physics of an 80s flick, rather than the slicker, more frenzied stuff we usually see these days. Yes, it’s dumb, but I guess it’s meant to be fun.
When they fish out their fallen comrade, it’s meant to be funny because the jailbird is Wesley Snipes. Wesley Snipes? Yes, the actor, Wesley Snipes.
Later on a character asks him what he was in for, and Wesley Snipes smiles a mocking smile and mouths “Tax Evasion” with a pissed-off look in his eye. Is it funny? Well, the actor himself was jailed for tax evasion, so I guess it’s meant to be ironic at the very least. Did I laugh? No, it’s not funny, so why would I laugh.
The leader of the Expendables, Barney (Stallone), makes a big deal about their fallen comrades, of the other mercenaries he used to pal around with who presumably are now dead, because they either didn’t want to come back for subsequent Expendables movies, or Stallone worried they’d show him up yet again. It wouldn’t be hard, because Stallone’s delivery of a lot of lines in this is as terrible and mumbled as his line readings have been for at least, oh, I don’t know, thirty years or so.
Stallone has this tremendous ability to bring down any scene and grind it to a halt. Jason Statham may not be the greatest thespian in the world, but he can at least deliver a line, or a joke, or a look as required. In scenes where he’s talking with Stallone, Stallone’s cumbersome, lunk-headed response makes it seem as if you’re watching a conversation between two different examples of early human ancestors.
Who’s the winner in an argument between a Cro-Magnon and a Neanderthal anyway? The answer is: not the audience. Barney and his crew take a job to catch a guy, or catch his evil weapons or something, and it turns out the guy in question is a former member of the Expendables we haven’t seen before. Apparently, the Expendables had a rolling membership that previously included anyone who was in a successful film or tv show in the 1980s. Eventually I imagine, as they keep making more of these movies, and they must, the villains/ex-Expendables will be eventually be played by Pee Wee Herman, Don Jonson and Punky Brewster.
Stallone is terrible, but we expect him to be terrible. The villain in this, well, he’s graduated to being a villain in real life, so redemption is not what is being looked for here. Mel Gibson, Mel Fucking Gibson plays Stonebanks, an arms dealer wanted by the CIA for various crimes against humanity, and a former friend and compatriot of Barney’s. To say that Gibson relishes playing this role is an understatement. At least in the first part of the flick, he really seems to warm to his role as an unrepentant villain. He gets to shoot one black guy at least, but the only way he could possibly have enjoyed this one more is if he’d gotten to shoot up a busload of pilgrims to the Holy Land, if you catch my drift.
He takes to the role like a duck to water, like an alcoholic sociopath beating up his Russian girlfriend while she’s holding his child. He has a long speech justifying his rage against Barney, and against a cruel, unfair world that has bumped him down to taking shitty villain roles in shitty action flicks when he should be playing Lincoln or Golda Meir in a biopic about her life. He could have been a contender…
Barney, being an old man, and being addled by steroids and the massive quantities of human growth hormone he takes daily to maintain his appearance as a giant confused testicle, has a brain storm that his team of Expendables aren’t really expendable, so he fires them before any other bad things happen to them. He can’t risk their lives anymore with his crappy plans and poorly imagined strategies. Seriously, most of the actions his character takes to achieve his objectives are purely 80s in their complexity: everything in these flicks that Barney/Stallone comes up with is: to attack particular place, walk up to place, start shooting, hope everything works out okay.
I’ve seen Commando dozens of times, the 1980s action flick with Arnie at his finest, and it was a movie that, even without the presence of almost unkillable cyborgs, set the standard for just having the hero wander around in a place with a gun as various enemies run towards him just to die. Is it skills, is it experience, or is it just laziness?
History will be the judge. Stallone has never pretended to be original in anything he’s ever done, nor is he going to ever try anything new now, not when he’s so very old. What’s funniest to me is that there are these stilted, goofy ideas throughout the flick that you just know are his ideas. You just know it. When he fires his old crew, and replaces them with younger, hotter versions (including a female MMA fighter, who can actually fight), there’s this incredibly hilarious scene where the ‘old’ crew moon after Barney as they’re about to leave for some international hotspot. They’re there as the ex-partner, jealously mocking their replacement with catty, hurtful remarks, unable to get over the fact that they’ve been replaced. These are kill-crazy mercenaries, right? Not teenage girls on Facebook, yeah?
Even better than that is a montage scene where the various ex-Exs are sitting around on a Friday night with nothing to do and no way to go home, as if they’re desperately hoping, aching for Barney to maybe call them again, maybe in a fit of drunk dialling/texting. As an idea it’s unintentionally hilarious, but the fact that this adolescent mooning is being done by guys in their late forties / fifties / sixties is priceless.
The plot is retarded, I think I’ve made that plenty obvious, but no-one cares, nor should they care. It’s about whether this is fun or not. Mostly, it’s not, and the tired jokes about being tired from age is just stultifying. Gibson starts off as a decent villain, but then gets boring and one-note as the flick progresses. The movie builds to a climax set filmed in some Bulgarian shithole, and works out about as good as that sounds. As senseless as the violence is in many cases towards the end, there are these showcase moments where fighters like Ronda Rousey get to shine, or where Antonio Banderas, yeah, that guy, gets to pay homage to his most famous action role as El Mariachi in the Robert Rodriguez flick Desperado.
Most of the jokes are lame, painfully lame (Arnie keeps screaming at people to get to the chopper, like we didn’t get it the first ten times), and 99% of Stallone’s jokes don’t work. Of all the myriad actors to be in this, Harrison Ford gets to have a bunch of fun as some CIA controller, whose inability to understand Jason Statham’s pronunciation of the Queen’s English made me laugh. He chews the scenery like no-one else in this flick you’d think was made for scenery chewing.
As unimpressed as I was with most of it, I have to admit I pissed myself laughing at the very end when Stonebanks, at the end of his tether, plaintively asks Barney “What about the Hague?” the international court he was meant to be dragged to. It’s the only line, which, yet again references something else, being his action pinnacle as John Rambo, that Stallone lands, and he lands it as well as any human could.
Much was made about the flick being pared down from an R rating, like the other ones, to a PG-13. I honestly couldn’t see the difference, which, when you think about it as it applies to a flick where the good guys kill hundreds of enemies, makes a mockery of the thinking behind the classification. Sure, show this flick to 13-year-old kids where a thousand Bulgarians die, but it’s okay, because there aren’t too many swears, and we don’t show too much blood, and there are no boobs, thank the gods.
Ridiculous? Yes, it’s a ridiculous and terrible film that’s only sporadically enjoyable, but what else would anyone expect from the shrivelled mind and nutsack of Sylvester Stallone? The Expendables, despite being expendable, seem very hard to get rid of.
5 times I’m not sure that Mel Gibson realised this was a movie out of 10
“Nothing lasts forever. We're part of the past. If we keep this up, the only way this ends for any of us is in a hole in the ground, and no one will give a shit.” – just fucking die already – Expendables III