How is it possible that a film with this many badass action stars, enormous guns and explosions had me quivering with boredom like a three year old in a pew on Sunday morning?
One does not set high hopes for any installment in the perpetual Expendables series, so when I found myself being let down during this latest episode it was all the more disappointing. That must be some sort of physics paradox, but I never took physics and I failed calculus, so the world may never know.
The cinematic sleep aid begins with a heist involving Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and a skeleton crew (See what I did there? Skeleton crew meaning limited number as well as the fact that the symbol for the team is a skull? I'm sure something to this effect was in the script and later omitted from the final film.) attempting to rescue a prisoner from a speeding train.
Because this is the beginning of the movie, I'm going to go ahead and spoil it: The target is "Doc" (Wesley Snipes). He's in full Hannibal Lecter lockdown gear. It's at this point I mention to my wife that the Feds have really gotten serious about tax evaders. Once the rescue has gone off successfully (again, sorry about the spoilers), Doc finds himself asked why he was in prison, and, in the "meta" fashion we've come to expect from the series, Doc quips that it was for "tax evasion." I stand and take a bow before my wife tells me to sit back down and stop embarrassing myself.
The film isn't horrible, but it is slow and dull in a lot of places. The action scenes drag on, telegraphing the finishes miles before we get there, but the finishes themselves aren't that bad. Expendables 3 is something that, with a bunch of edits, has the potential to be a tight and fun little action comedy.
Mel Gibson's villain, Stonebanks, is an interesting character and one of the biggest highlights of the film, but he also bears expansion. To heighten the drama of the story and the rivalry and enmity he has with Barney, it would have been better to have Stonebanks genuinely believe the work he did was for a better world, to make him a sort of miniature version of the military intelligence apparatus, something that at one time was seen as a good idea, but ultimately has come to be associated with corruption and power-seeking.
Antonio Banderas also steals the show in many scenes as Galgo. Unfortunately, he's another character who seems to have a lot going on but whose story gets oversimplified to basic memes and tropes.
Looking back, I feel sort of bad for the movie. It wants to be liked and doesn't demonstrate much contempt for its audience. It tries to not take itself too seriously. Its themes are the value of real friendship, knowing yourself and something about betrayal and redemption. There is plenty of good stuff thrown in.
In the kitchen, it takes an expert gastronomer to blend disparate ingredients and not have it come out tasting either bland as things cancel each other out, or confuse the palate with too much happening at once. In the same way, Expendables 3 seems to have too many ingredients for its own good. They're all elements that if taken a few at a time or mixed in a different way might work, but instead fall flat here.