Stallone Month: The Expendables 3

90 million bucks. That’s how much it costs to make a shitshow of a movie. A bad film can be made for far less than that, of course, but an unofficial motto of The Expendables films has been ‘go big or go home.’ Those 90 million dollars are about all that’s big about this film, though. Sure, The Expendables 3 looks like a big Hollywood action flick, but pay close attention and one will realize that just about everything in this movie is ersatz — an imitation.

From 2014, The Expendables 3 was directed by Patrick Hughes, from a screenplay by Sylvester Stallone, Creighton Rothenberger, and Katrin Benedikt. Sly returns, of course, as Barney Ross, the leader of a company of mercenaries comprising a group of badasses with names such as Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), Caesar (Terry Crews), and Toll Road (Randy Couture).

Another member is added to the group in this film. Wesley Snipes, in a bit of inspired casting, is Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes has always had good comedic timing, which is useful in the scenes where Barney and company banter). Doc was a member of Barney’s team from years past, but was captured and held in a foreign black site. The opening action scene shows his rescue. It’s also where a viewer may begin to suspect that not all is right in Expendables land.

This introduction is heavy on the CGI. So were the previous films, sure, but this scene has Star Wars prequel-amounts of green screen filming. On top of that, the CGI is very much below par, managing to take a step backwards from the barely acceptable CGI used in previous entries in the series. There’s rarely a moment when the stars inhabit the shot in which they appear. Then, a viewer might notice something else is off.

The producers of The Expendables 3 decided to chase a wider audience, with a PG-13 rating rather than an R. The result is hordes of bad guys getting shot to shit without a trace of blood. There’s even a sequence where a number of baddies encounter a steel cable at a high rate of speed and there are no dismemberments. The Expendables 2 lived and died on its dismemberments and we don’t get a single flying torso in this one. I feel cheated.

The gory violence in the previous entries was ridiculous, but it felt integral to the style of the films. Gratuitous or not, these are big guys playing with big guns, and flying bits of metal do awful things to the human body. The Expendables had been a film series that tested the idea that serious violence belonged only in serious movies, and to hell with Saving Private Ryan. Taking a step back for this sequel, in an obvious attempt to chase more box office, ended up neutering the film.

Of the two biggest problems with this film — the overuse of CGI and the toned-down violence, it’s the CGI that did the most damage. Detailing so much heavy lifting to the CGI results in action sequences where the viewer is yanked back and forth between real shots and fake. Suspension of disbelief is destroyed. It no longer matters that there are grandiose moments in the action sequences. No longer a metaphor, the cartoonish action really is cartoonish. In fact, I’ve seen more realistic physics in cartoons.

There is a plot to this film. After rescuing Doctor Death, the team is off to stop an arms deal, and we meet this film’s main bad guy. He’s Conrad Stonebanks, played by Mel Gibson. Stonebanks was a founding member of Barney’s company, but there was a bad falling out, and now Barney wants Stonebanks dead. That’s the plot. Stonebanks exists, and he must die.

To carry out the plot, Barney recruits new members in an excruciating sequence where we are introduced to their particular talents. Only one of the new crew is worth mentioning. That’s Ronda Rousey as Luna. Rousey was right in the middle of her fifteen minutes when this film was released. Her fight choreography was as expected. So was her acting.

There’s lots of gunplay and explosions, and a not-unsatisfying final battle in a war-torn hotel, but overall the experience was wearying. The previous entries in this series were hardly great cinema, but they worked. They were a testosterone-fueled romp of action flick excess. Everything worked in concert together to massage that animal part of the brain lurking deep in our craniums. The Expendables 3 just looks too bad for the formula to still produce results. We were promised another Expendables flick, but what we got was a scaled-up episode of The A-Team. Alien: Resurrection is a better movie than The Expendables 3.