The Expendables 312A
It's all too easy to dismiss Sylvester Stallone as simply a washed-up eighties action hero. He is without question a savvy actor with an even savvier business head. OK, maybe he hires those savvy business types, but he knows what the public want from him. They want him to be Rocky and Rambo. Perhaps his acting nirvana will come with Rocky Vs Rambo, which would certainly make his fans cream themselves, possibly to death. Clearly a ridiculous notion, but never put it past Hollywood for having one or two of those.
And if further proof of his savviness were needed, he brought us The Expendables. Why have one washed-up eighties action hero when you can have not only a whole team of them, but - more importantly - a whole new franchise built around them? Nothing short of genius.
The first film was the perfect introduction to the franchise. Its sequel, sadly, relied far too much on in-jokes that just weren't funny. How many times did we need to hear Arnie say, "I'll be back"? It was clearly trying too hard to be all things to everyone.
This third instalment then, is akin to a halfway house between the first two.
In an almost an identikit opening to their last adventure, Barney (Stallone) and his fellow Expendables are attempting to rescue someone, this time from a heavily guarded moving train. Despite being outnumbered and on a helicopter, they managed to do just that. Welcome aboard Doc Death (Wesley Snipes).
He thinks he's off to dust himself down and get some cool threads on, but Barney has other ideas. He's got to make a stop first; there are some bombs in Mogadishu that need dealing with, so Doc agrees to tag along.
When they get there, Barney is taken aback by who is running the operation: a dead man or so he thought by the name of Stonebanks (Mel Gibson). He and Barney go way back, with Stonebanks actually being an original Expendable; their relationship went sour after a job that went bad however, and since then Stonebanks has seemingly gone over to the dark side.
With bad blood still between the pair, Barney wants his old nemesis dead. Unfortunately Stonebanks deals the stronger first hand, knocking his team for six.
After this defeat, Barney decides that there's only one way to bring Stonebanks down, and that's to retire his current team in favour of injecting some youth into proceedings. Ladies and gents, welcome to The Expendables 2.0.
Make no mistake: at the heart of this franchise, casting is king. The story and plot, clearly, are minor details. There is some good and not so good news on this front. The not so good are the new recruits; Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Ronda Rousey and Kellan Lutz are certainly not the kind of names to draw a big crowd (Lutz proved this himself, starring in the recent truly dreadful The Legend of Hercules. It's understandable that they are there purely as a plot device, but they do take the sheen off of the really big names, of which there are a fair few.
This brings us to the good. Mel Gibson shines magnificently as the baddie; he's certainly an improvement on JCVD from the last film, but that wouldn't be difficult. Gibson has a particular string to his bow that many of the other regular cast members not only dont have, but may never have, and that's this: the ability to act. You want dark and edgy, Gibson delivers.
Despite Gibson's impressive gravitas however, even he is upstaged and by none other than Antonio Banderas. Banderas is a riot from the off, delivering a welcome quirkiness that has been sorely missing from the series. It's unexpected, but a pure joy to witness.
And finally there's Wesley Snipes. He may only just have been released from prison for tax evasion, but it's good to have him back. His character possibly doesn't feature in it as much as he should, but it is good to see him in the mix and back on the big screen where he belongs.
Another noteworthy addition is Harrison Ford. Ford replaces the quite frankly greedy Bruce Willis, who was allegedly offered $3 million for four days shooting, but demanded $4 million. Stallone, quite rightly, decided to freeze him out and bring in an even bigger gun. So it appears that at least some of the cast really are expendable. Ford doesn't have much to do, but breezes in and out like he owns the joint.
What could easily have been a bone of contention is the film's rating. The first film was rated 18, the sequel was rated 15 and this third one is the lowest yet 12A which is presumably to aid those young enough who know who the new recruits actually are to pay their bucks to see them. Again, another savvy business move.
The film's direction is certainly stronger than the last instalment too. Australian Patrick Hughes brushes aside his inexperience (with having only directed one other feature, that being his impressive debut Red Hill) to deliver a visually impressive ride. Sure, the film's plot is borderline invisible, and its 12A rating means that there's hardly any ketchup on display, but he keeps the pace going and allows the big guns their fifteen minutes or so of fame again.
Definitely an improvement on the previous title, but it's difficult not to come out of it thinking that there was an even bigger film in there that could have been let out. Certainly if it wasn't for Gibson and Banderas, the film could have been all too expendable. As it is, for those two alone, it's worth joining the team of geriatric stars one more time.