‘The Expendables 3’ is big, dumb fun
by Jonathan Hickman, Special to the Times-Herald
The straight-forward story has Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) leading a muscular group of aging mercenaries on dangerous secret government missions. His group are killers – tough guys who carry all manner of weapons that they use indiscriminately against anyone who stands in their way. At one point, a crane operator's throat is cut without a second thought. If you're not an Expendable, you don't matter.
When a mission goes bad and a member of the Expendables is badly injured, Ross disbands his group and tells the “boys” it is time for them to find another line of work. But that is just a ruse; Ross goes after a younger crew to track and capture an arms dealer named Stonebanks (Mel Gibson). Ross and Stonebanks have a violent history. Set in motion is a fun search for new Expendables, a sequence that serves as one of the film's highlights.
The all-star casting of former A-Listers and B-movie action stars is what this continuing high-concept experiment is all about. What is interesting is the eclectic mixing of acting talents. Kelsey Grammer plays a mercenary named Bonaparte, a handler who helps Ross team up with new recruits. And Antonio Banderas plays a wacko mercenary who joins the crew while continuously talking. Banderas is a delight as he never shuts up and drives the others crazy. Other additions include another appearance of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Harrison Ford working mainly in extended cameos, both goofing on roles from their past. Arnold is in complete parody mode, wearing colorful loose fitting clothing, chomping on a cigar, and making us laugh with his thick accent. A beefy Wesley Snipes plays a character who is broken out of prison. When asked what he did to land inside, he says, “Tax Evasion.”
“The Expendables 3” is fully aware that it isn’t meant to play things seriously.
The comic book narrative is so ridiculous that many may argue that the high body count is excusable. But I'm not so sure. Some viewers might have a problems with the reckless manner in which hordes of faceless armed assailants are mowed down. This time around, the film is rated PG-13, which means that depictions of blood and injuries are kept to a minimum. The action is shot so closely and cut so quickly that it is impossible to tell exactly what is happening most of the time. And the camera does not linger on the gruesome, bloody aftermath. I kept thinking about the poor souls that had to come in and clean up all those shredded bodies. Cleanup isn't a job for the Expendables, mainly because it wouldn't make for good cinema.
Many viewers will be keenly interested in how the old guys look. The movie is shot softly and looks rather ugly, which is intentional. Shot with the Red Epic (the one used for “The Hobbit”) and the smaller Red Scarlet camera (Red’s lower end cinema tool) in 4K resolution the images are captured harshly but obviously processed in a way that attempts to mimic film. Call it the digital film look. The result are dirty visuals that aren’t exactly flattering to its aging superstars. Lines in the faces are clearly evident if likely somewhat softened by post-production processing that attempts to bring down the sharpening of coarse details.
Long shots settle on Stallone's face revealing his age (he’s 68) and attempt to hint at his valuable, war-weary experience. His hangdog look and vacant eyes are still there surrounded by characteristic wrinkles. It is almost like instead of acting Stallone leans heavily on showing us how he really looks now. And it works, mainly because fans want to see how he’s holding up as the years tick by. The comparatively younger (by 10 years) Mel Gibson is really weathered. He looks better here than in the “Machete Kills” film, but that is mainly because the look is softer. And Gibson is given some of the film's best dialogue. It does appear that Mel has kept up a workout routine because he looks good beside Stallone as the two grapple in one critical fight scene.
While I would imagine that another Expendables is on its way to theaters, I’m looking forward to seeing these aging movie stars in edgier, more intelligent productions. Arnold has an interesting zombie picture called “Maggie” coming soon, and there’s Ivan Reitman’s sequel to Twins in production. That one is called “Triplets,” of course, and in addition to the return of Danny DeVito, Eddie Murphy is set to play one of the genetically engineered brothers. Let’s hope that the old guys can find a way back into our minds as well as tickling our funny bone.