I’m Getting Too Old for These Sh*t Movies

by Thom Yee

The Expendables 3 images courtesy of Lionsgate

The Expendables 3 images courtesy of Lionsgate

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. I was a pretty violent kid. But it wasn’t my fault.

My heroes killed dozens, sometimes hundreds (if there were sequels) in the name of… some reason that I’m sure was rational. Their child was kidnapped… their Kung Fu headmaster was poisoned by the hated rival Japanese Karate school… they were hired to take over security at a bar and bring order through any [throat-ripping] means necessary… and a lot of them were cops just driven too far by society’s breeding of a new kind of criminal. Whether they used guns, knives, makeshift weapons like steam pipes, or their bare fists of fury, they were masters of justifiable murder, disciples of vengeful deaths, bullet ballet virtuosos, often licensed to kill. From a slightly more adult perspective, that idolatry may seem a little foolish if not entirely confused and misfocused as I pull back the curtain of time while settling into such an extreme age of personal sensitivity that it must be some kind of early onset male menopause or something. Still, it’s hard for me to imagine a childhood without the fantasy of killing lots of people. In the name of good of course.

Now I want to be one hundred percent clear about one thing: perhaps more than any other movie, The Expendables is something we go into as adults fully aware of where we’re going and what we’re doing. Expectations are lowered. Critical reasoning is dismissed. Concessions to base intelligence and reasoning are made. All in the name of unchecked violence, and for some of us, a return to a simpler time where good guys were good (but always being reprimanded by their direct supervisors) and bad guys were bad (even if they had diplomatic immunity).

 

And that’s okay. There’s a certain level of pulse pounding, a certain type of adrenal acceleration that you can only get from high levels of gleeful, but justified onscreen killing, and I’m not so sure how well my critical thinking instincts distinguish between watching buddy cops escaping from prison after being wrongfully charged with murder or a charmingly mismatched English journalist and septuagenarian traveling to the United States to find out what happened to the long-lost son she never forgot anyway (both of which are movies I would’ve given a 9).


While on a routine mission to extract original Expendables member Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) from a black ops facility — routine meaning guns, ammo, short-range explosives, knives, helicopters, lucky rings and high-speed trains being explosively run into remote third-world prisons — Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), leader of the hard-hitting, hard-drinking, hard-living Expendables is shocked when his mercenary group is attacked by Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), yet another original Expendables member, long thought dead, and now apparently an arms dealer. The evil kind of arms dealer. Realizing the burden he’d be putting on his team in hunting down Stonebanks (?) and grappling with his own old age, Ross recruits an all-new, all-different, all-younger team of Expendables… who are promptly taken down and then need to be rescued by the old Expendables… and then they all team up… and no one dies or gets hurt except the bad guys. Spoiler alert?

So… uh, it wasn’t quite as bad as Expendables 2.

I heard a really great point about The Expendables franchise the other day… or maybe not, I wasn’t really listening, but this is at least what I absorbed from what the guy was saying: “Why aren’t there any good villains?” The first had Eric Roberts, whose defining trait to most of us is being Julia Roberts’ older brother. The second had Jean-Claude Van Damme, and this time we have Mel Gibson, and while both are reasonable villains, we know them best as hero action stars and many of us would rather see them as fellow Expendables rather than forcing themselves into their best bad guy impressions. But here’s the point where things get really (or actually) interesting: “What if the villain was Alan Rickman?”

 

For me, suddenly light bulbs lit up, alarm bells wrung, and the pillars of heaven shook, if only for a moment. “Of course. That’s it.” Just imagine if we had a truly great villain in The Expendables in a way only Alan Rickman could deliver. Just imagine how much more satisfying these movies would be if we had a villain as truly compelling, as incredibly charming, and as genuinely lovable as Hans Gruber. How much more would these movies come together and linger in our memories if the villains overmatched the heroes, not just with henchmen, but with their screen presence.

On the other hand, while the point about villainy may strike like lightning as we imagine what could be done if the producers gathered a cast of classic ‘80s villains and henches to rival the Expendables… the truth is that the problems run much deeper than that.

It is at this point that I feel compelled to point out that I have yet to really talk much about Expendables 3 itself.


Despite it’s present standing, it’s my belief that The Expendables was originally conceived as a genuine action piece rather than the nigh-comedic assemblage of geriatric elder statesmen the franchise has become known as. I’ve said before that I liked the original Expendables, and a lot of that comes down to what appeared like an earnest attempt to make an okay-good movie. That Jason Statham knife sequence was pretty awesome, and Jet Li vs. Dolph Lundgren was a great super-fast, trained-from-birth-in-Wushu David vs. “I Must Break You” Goliath fight, even if it got to be hard to follow. On the whole, The Expendables wasn’t any more or less predictable than the movies that followed, built around a betrayal plot line eventually glossed over and entirely ignored in the sequels, but at least it didn’t come across as a movie where the producers were just trying to get ahead of the jokes that come from how old Stallone and Schwarzenegger are looking lately. Besides, Stallone may be the most visible element of the group, but Jason Statham’s not that old. Jet Li’s not that old. Terry Crews, Stone Cold Steve Austin… neither of them are very… holy crap, they’re all pretty much 50 years old. So anyway…

The Expendables 2, on the other hand dived head-first into full parody:

 

That’s not an entirely invalid approach, but coupled with plotting seemingly written more to suit everyone’s shooting schedule and a storyline more clichéd than even I expected and you arrive at something that’s barely tolerable, and while none of that individually is enough to ruin a movie, they can’t all be present in the same movie.

What I will say about The Expendables 3 is that it doesn’t trade in any one of those flaws so heavily that it sh*ts the whole bed. The clichés are still terrible, but this time certain character absences at least feel valid and the “I’ll be back”-style jokes are sharpened up considerably without losing their “wink-wink-nudge-nudge” appeal. It’s just too bad about the action scenes.


Much has been made of the PG-13 rating the producers went for this time, but all that really amounts to is less blood and no full-on dismemberments. Personally, I’m okay with that in theory, but it also robbed the movie of any sense of style. I can do without people being blown apart, but the fact that that Jason Statham knife sequence I mentioned earlier would never make it through to a PG-13 almost seems like all the excuse director Patrick Hughes needed to give up entirely. What’s left just all blends together into the type of sound and fury that usually represents nothing, but in this case signifies resignation. I honestly can’t remember anything that happened action wise, and without that, what’s the point?

And after all of that, maybe the worst thing of all now that I’ve had a chance to think about it over three movies is that every character is fundamentally compromised. No matter what kind of shape he gets himself in, Stallone still reminds me of somebody’s lesbian grandmother because of all the botox (not that there’s anything wrong with lesbian grandmothers… though I also don’t really like when they look like Sylvester Stallone); Statham’s role is limited to Stallone’s closest-ish friend and a shadow of the cool he’s represented in some of his other franchise roles; Jet Li, again, is barely in the movie after being one of the best parts of the first one; Dolph Lundgren, again, comes across like an idiot when he actually had a part in the first one; and we still don’t care about Terry Crews, Randy Couture, or newcomer Wesley Snipes, whose sole purpose in the movie is a lame joke about tax evasion. What happened to our one-man militaries, our transporters, lethal weapons, mariachi desperadoes and Siberian Bulls?

I guess my point is that all of these actors, screen legends, ultimate fighters, former professional athletes and so forth, aren’t just getting too old for this sh*t, they all deserve better. Those old movies may play better through our collective, sometimes crystal-clear, but usually rose-coloured glasses, but the good ones all had heart or at least did a good job of faking it. Sometime between the mid-’90s and today, modern producers really lost the formula, falling prey to today’s flashy, quick-cut shooting styles, boring villains, tired plots, and the fairly obvious realization that most action movie nudity really is gratuitous. The sensibilities are all wrong, the action is indistinct and the stories are meaningless, and worst of all, nobody seems to be learning from these mistakes.

Expendables 3 final score: 5.5


 

On the Edge

  • Between X-Men: Days of Future Past, Transformers: Age of Extinction and Expendables 3, this is the summer of unnecessary but appreciated Kelsey Grammer appearances.

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