Sunday, August 17, 2014

Summer Cinema: The Expendables 3

After the false fire alarm, a 30 minute delay and the theater's inability to start the 3rd film, my friends and I motored over to The Arclight in Hollywood to catch The Expendables 3.  On the way, two motorists got into some kind of road rage beef and were racing/cutting each other off.  Right next to me.  At one point, I passed one of the cars as they got caught behind a dump truck and hoped they wouldn't try to cut me off because then it would be bad news for both of them as giving the finger and brake checking is for bitches and bitches get stitches, you know?! Cause if we're gonna get into it, let's get into it!  Know what I mean?  Anyway, the theater was about half full for the 8:30PM show and I'm glad we saw it with an audience as having a theater entirely to yourself is cool, but it's also cool to see something with enthusiastic fans.

The Expendables 3 starts off with a rescue mission involving a helicopter, machine guns, an armored train, Wesley Snipes with crazy eyes and like parts I and II, some bad CGI.  Turns out that Snipes' character Doc was an original Expendable along with the faceless Hammer and Woodsman, that the team started with 5 and grew to 22 before Doc was captured after attempting a political assassination.  Now, free and teamed up with Barney Ross, Lee Christmas, Gunnar Jensen, Toll Road and Hale Caeser (Played by franchise staples Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture and Terry Crews) they're off to stop an arms dealer from purchasing some big ass bombs.  Said arms dealer is revealed to be Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), also a former Expendable who went dark and thought killed by Ross.  After Stonebanks shoots one of the team to torment Ross, Barney thinks it's time for the team to go on with their lives before someone punches their ticket.  With the help of crusty mercenary recruiter Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer), he then slaps together a new, young and hungry team for a suicide mission to capture Stonebanks for the C.I.A. but instead of Bruce Willis' Church from I & II we're introduced to Max Drummer (Harrison Ford).  Things go bad on the operation and of course, the old Expendables bail out their buddy Barney and take on Mad Mel's army.

From the opening minutes, Expendables 3 looks brighter and sleeker than the first two installments.  Unlike 2, the picture is crisp and shiny, giving it a modern feel and in general the costumes, visual design, sets, locations and shooting style make for a slick and mostly handsome production.  Of course there's some bad CGI as usual with helicopters, planes and explosions looking REAL fake on the big screen.  Director Patrick Hughes and writers Stallone, Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt (that's a very Hollywood sounding name, isn't it?) attempt to pull things in a darker direction with Barney burning internally to get back at Stonebanks, even at the cost of his own life.  There's lots of quiet close ups for pontificating and moving shots that highlight the vast locations like a Somali port, metropolitan high rises, a grand forest and the rubble filled remains of a European hotel.  Acting wise, new addition Mel Gibson is terrific as the conscienceless art buying, arms dealing Conrad Stonebanks and his van scene opposite Stallone is one of the greatest of any of the 3 films.  He makes it look so effortless and it really shows the difference between an action star and an actor.  Bruce Willis replacement Harrison Ford gets to drop some boring exposition as C.I.A. guy before getting funny towards the end while looking all of his 70 some years.  Antonio Banderas as fast talking Galgo is also a highlight, stealing every scene he is in with excited but not annoying chatter that covers up a bit of sorrow.  Wesley Snipes looks lean and mean but delivers some of his dialogue with hammy, Boogeyman relish.  New kids on the block Kellan Lutz, Rhonda Rousey, Glen Powell and Victor Ortiz don't get much to do but handle their roles just fine.

On the action front, the PG-13 rating does negate some of the brutal impact displayed in the first two flicks so it will be interesting to see the R rated cut with bullet hits, throat slashing and all that good stuff.  For the most part it's a guns and grenades affair with some fast, spin move filled fisticuffs from Stallone, Rousey, Statham and Mel Gibson's stunt double.  But the truck chases, boat crashing, night club brawls, shootouts, collapsing rooftop, tank barrage, motorcycle jumping and helicopter chases all add up to an exciting time.  I enjoyed the flick as it's not as serious as the first or as jokey as the second.  There's still plenty of "what the crap" moments like Arnold squeezing in several of his famous lines and the random use of certain characters (Jet Li, cough, Jet Li).  But in the end the 3rd installment feels very modern and stylish in it's execution.  While Brian Tyler score seems to be mostly recycled from the first two films, instead of using 70's rock tunes, the film is filled with modern tracks.

Unfortunately, The Expendables 3 hit theaters on a wave of critical drubbing, PG-13 backlash and  millions of illegal downloads.  It opened up with a not fantastic $16 million, limping into 4th place after parts I & II opened up # 1 with $34 and $28 million.  The flick did earn an A- Cinemascore which means audiences are enjoying the film.  Mine was great as we applauded each introduction, one liner, big explosion, etc.  After pumping up the international release with appearances in Cannes, United Kingdom, Spain and Germany, global takes are down 45% in some territories so this may indeed be The Expendables' last ride.  Chalk it up to a crowded market, franchise fatigue (3rd movie in 5 years) and not really bringing anything new to the table, The Expendables is a victim of it's own surprise success as they haven't messed much with the formula, keep cramming in more faces and haven't taken much risk.  It's kind of like watching episodes of G.I. Joe, the good guys fight the bad guys, the good guys never die and we get new characters along the way.  Only instead of selling toys, we're selling legacies. 

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