The premise was simple and appealing to guys like me: get all the has-been action stars from the 80s in one over-the-top movie that reminded us all of how much we loved dumb, machine-gun toting heroes back in the day. The result was a fun but disposable R-rated blood bath like we don't see much anymore.
I'm sorry to say that now, with this third entry, the franchise is dead.
I had my gripes with the second movie, too, which was dumber and less fun than the first (despite JCVD being awesome in it) but #3 takes the cake.
Here are my issues (Mel Gibson not being one of them. He was gloriously insane):
The entire appeal of these movies is to see aging former stars duke it out. So what does Expendables 3 do? It shuffles most of the original cast to the side to introduce a bunch of young actors who nobody knows. The sheer hubris of the movie-makers to put these unknowns' names on the poster, and just their last names too, as if we're all supposed to be familiar with them. We're not. Don't play the ol' switcheroo with your audience. We came to see the old guys, not spend half the movie with these punks. Where the hell was Jet Li? He shows up for a couple minutes near the end, then has an implied tryst with Arnie.
In a misguided bid to make more money, they diluted Expendables 3 to a PG-13 rating, down from an R. Remember in the first one when Terry Crews mows down a bunch of bad guys in an example of ridiculous 1980s violence? None of that here because it's sanitized. No blood either (even though the first two had that awful CG blood that you see a lot of now days).
So why make it PG? This franchise is trying to appeal to older guys who loved these actors 20-30 years ago. No kids would have an interest here, so why bother? I suppose that's why they threw in some young punk actors to steal the limelight but judging by its box office take on opening weekend, it didn't work. (Blaming piracy is a straw man here.)
Cheap Effects and Lame Humour
The laughs from this kind of movie should come from the ridiculousness of the action. Since its inception, this series' scripted "humour" has simply died on-screen. The quips are not funny but seem to think they are. When a terrible non-joke is uttered and the other characters laugh uproariously like George Carlin descended from the heavens with new material, I'm just embarrassed for everyone involved.
And where did the budget go for this? The actors, I suppose? How about you don't have 20 characters to split the money and instead put it into production value. There were two shots I could think of off the top of my head that made me cringe:
- A scene with Frasier and Rambo driving where the scenery outside the car is clearly green-screened. (Seinfeld had more believable driving scenes.)
- A part where one of the young guys falls off a cliff while rock climbing and his parachute deploys, sailing over the heads of Beast and Rocky. Simply jarring.
Harrison Ford, you clearly didn't want to be there, why did you take the job? Oh right.
It's not a complete wash though. Like I said, Mel Gibson is trying to claw his way back into Hollywood by taking thankless gigs like this, but he was the life of the party. And Wesley Snipes, fresh out of prison for tax evasion, had a manic energy...that is until he largely disappeared after the intro.
We'll see if there's a #4 based on the international box office (those guys will eat up any dumb American action trash these days. To wit, the Transformers' series enduring popularity) but it's not looking good.