Okay, let’s be honest. Before even reading what I write here, chances are that you’ve already decided whether or not you’re going to see The Expendables 3 in theaters. You know you better than I do. You know how you’d react to old time action movie stars going head to head against new MMA stars and such. By now, you’ve already seen two installments of this franchise and you pretty much know what you’re looking to get before the first previews even begin. There’s nothing wrong with it; I happen to be a big fan of the franchise and I love all of the adrenaline drenched action sequences and whatnot. Simply put: it’s fun. Remember fun? Yeah, it’s fun. But I digress. Here’s what I was thinking while watching The Expendables 3. First off, The Expendables 3 has a level of self awareness to it that goes beyond what the previous two movies had. Each of the previous two had a ton of various “winks” directed at the audience throughout; tongue in cheek bits that weren’t even subtle in their delivery. That was fine. The third movie goes beyond that, however, and it just seems dirty somehow. [Sorry y’all, but here comes a spoiler] For example, during the no-holds-barred finale showdown, there’s a part where they’re trying to get away from an exploding building and Arnold Schwarzeneggar yells, “GET TO THE CHOPPAH!!!”. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit: I cheered. Fist in the air type cheer. A yawp, if you will. This was directly followed by a swift re-evaluation, a “did I just do that?” moment of questioning. It was fun, but the moment also felt a little empty. It was a line that only worked if you were fortunate enough to care about it when you heard it for the first time in Predator. See what I mean? Seems somehow dirty.
Again in the interest of full disclosure and for the sake of my second point, I am willing to admit that I have never in my 36 years of existence played any organized sport on any type of team (not counting that one time in 8th grade when I played on a three person intramural bowling team with Mike Virata and Rick Lupinetti). The Expendables 3 makes me feel like I’m in a locker room with a squad of jocks. Or, at least, it’s my closest approximation to what that experience would be like. You have a bunch of action movie stars running around and punching and kicking their way through bad guys. They’re all cracking jokes at each other; lots of knowing chortles are exchanged, fist bumps are executed, there are still some height jokes directed at Jet Li in there, etc. There are times when the movie lets you feel like you’re in the club with them. You can say things like, “Oh that Dolph Lundgren! He’s so damn stoic yet plucky!” and not feel weird because, hey, you’re on the team. From the perspective of a now grown indoor kid, I enjoyed the feeling of being in the mix with the boys and the one lady. It’s mildly intoxicating. I’m totally down with the jokes. It’s cool.
Finally, the one pervasive notion that permeated every scene for me was the sinking feeling that this was really not as fun as those guys made it look. When everyone is in on the joke, the joke stops being as funny or as fun as you once thought it was. The movie, as well as the entire trilogy, is drenched in action yet none of it feels memorable. Honestly, they all just blur together and I can’t really tell one from the other. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a carbohydrate: mostly there for flavor, not much in the way of substance. If this was the point, if the goal was to make a movie that is simply fun and nothing that provokes any critical thought whatsoever, then this franchise is a masterpiece. God damned genius. But, if it’s meant to be the star that everyone hitches their wagons to…at least Wesley Snipes is along for the ride.
Overall, as I said in the beginning, if you’re the type of person who would want to see this in the theater, then that’s just the type of person you are. Be proud of it. Stomp into work on Monday and proudly proclaim “I SAW THE EXPENDABLES 3 THIS WEEKEND AND YOU KNOW WHAT? I FUCKING LOVED IT!” There’s all of the action that you’ve come to love as well as all of the quippy jokes that enthusiasts of 80’s action flicks will adore. How do I know? Because I loved it my damned self. Here’s looking towards The Expendables 4!
The Expendables 3 opens today in Philly area theaters.