If movies were people, The Expendables 3 would have been a bouncer in a nightclub. This film is so besotted with its masculinity that it leaves you unpleasantly nonplussed. And the film’s only notable — and tiresome — virtue is its propensity to break into pointless, little fights, exacerbated by violent showdowns. When you walk into a film like The Expendables 3, you definitely expect inanity on screen. A correct question to ask ourselves in such a case would be: does the film cleverly disguise or play around with its inanity? The Expendables 3 is so inept that it painfully struggles to meet its own indifferent ambition.
There’s also something fundamentally troubling about The Expendables 3: at times it showcases violence devoid of any context, reducing the film to standalone gory set-pieces that shamelessly serves some section of the audience. Consider the opening sequence of the film, where a bunch of Expendables, helmed by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), begins to methodically kill a multitude of prison guards to free a former Expendable member held captive at a military prison. But at this point, there’s almost nothing else that we know about the dozens being gleefully killed on screen. We can’t take a side. Here, and in a few similar violent sequences of the film, the intent of violence is vulgar, even bordering on the pornographic. Sure, not all well-made films in the past have showcased violence via a context, the most notable example being Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, where the violence was every bit repugnant but, let’s be really honest, even writing Patrick Hughes (The Expendables 3‘s filmmaker) and Stanley Kubrick in the same sentence seems like an unforgivable transgression.
So the question remains: how could a film like The Expendables 3, which doesn’t seem to want to be anything but fluffy, could have been enjoyable? I can only furnish a guess, but a film like this could definitely have benefitted from a coherent, compelling plot. Here, the film’s basic plot is so paper-thin, and its contemplations so infantile that there’s nothing to look beyond the repetitive unending violent action sequences. Since the film is absolutely bereft of a plot, it’s clueless about developing compelling conflicts either, and its laboured attempts at constructing anything out of nothing reek of face-saving desperation.
The Expendables‘ universe contains enough asides, which if explored, could have made for a genuinely interesting crowd pleaser. To begin with, the different characters (almost all male) in the film and the often life-threatening situations they find themselves in, begs this question to be asked: why does this bunch insist on sticking together? Their friendship could be a superficial, easy answer, but the male bonhomie in the various Expendables films is hardly examined or underlined. If these guys are friends, then we know this only because the film tells us so; there’s nothing in their portrayals that convinces us of this relationship. In fact, the only genuine relationship in the film is the one between a man and his gun. The other interesting aspect of a star-vehicle like this is the casting: consider this, the film consists of once A-listers of Hollywood, and given their age, they wouldn’t be provided any more chances to play a lead. So a film like The Expendables 3 is a perfect excuse for indulgence that’s also endearingly nostalgic. But almost nothing in the film points towards the fact that the filmmaker — or the actors themselves — are even faintly aware of this promise. No character in The Expendables 3 has any distinguishing personal trait; as a result, you are forced to witness a bunch of similar gun-toting automatons all the time.
Originally published at The Sunday Guardian