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When mercenary leader Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) faces off with an old enemy named Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), he realizes he must fight old blood with new blood, bringing in a new era of Expendables who are younger and faster. The latest mission becomes a clash of classic old-school style versus high-tech expertise when The Expendables find themselves in their most personal battle yet. (From Lionsgate’s official synopsis)

 Expendables 3, The
The Expendables series began life as a brilliant concept – bring the action stars of yesteryear together in one place for epic adventure – but, as box office receipts dwindle, they only seem to prove how good producer Avi Lerner is at closing a deal with actors of a certain age. Everyone involved with the series seems to think the concept is enough, because, three films later, the franchise still hasn’t managed to define any of the characters beyond their choice of weapons, nor have the many writers and directors involved managed to concoct an even remotely interesting scenario for the characters to exist within. The buck starts and ends with Stallone calling his buddies and Lerner paying them just enough to shoot a one day cameo. For proof of the series’ complete creative bankruptcy, one need look no further than the official poster art for the third film in the series – the imaginatively named Expendables 3. Instead of using an evocative image that hints at an intriguing plot point or action sequence, the poster (which has been recycled for Blu-ray and DVD cover art) features a image of every major cast member lined-up, in costume, before a white background, with big grins on their faces, like they’re taking a class photo at a Sears portrait studio. Above their heads is an impossibly long list of names. This sums up everything the filmmakers think is important about the movie. They’re betting that filmgoers won’t care that they skipped nonessentials, like plot, characters, or even particularly interesting action sequences.

Sylvester Stallone is again credited as story writer, probably because co-screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt (co-writers of Olympus has Fallen) just recycled the script from the first film. And the second film, for that matter. I’m sure there are distinctions between the plots in these movies, but I’ll be damned if I can think of any, outside of the inclusion of even more cast members, naturally. The big gag this time is that Barney (Stallone’s character) dumps most of his team for new blood, which means that everyone’s favourite elderly action stars have even less screen-time than they did in the last two movies. The newcomer good guys include Wesley Snipes as a loose-cannon replacement for Dolph Lundgren (who is underutilized again), Ronda Rousey as the group’s token girl (she actually has plenty presence, even though she’s clearly an amateur actor), a sleepwalking Harrison Ford, a dozy Kelsey Grammer, three indiscernible younger tough guys, and a scene-stealing Antonio Banderas, who may be the only actor in the entire film actually enjoying himself. Mel Gibson appears as a villain who we are assured, ad nauseum, is a really bad guy, even if he spends most of his time running away from a fight and looking clinically depressed (definitely a downgrade from Van Damme). Otherwise, it’s business as usual. The banter is stiff, the in-jokes are stupid (Wesley Snipes’ character jokes that he was put away for tax evasion), and there’s no emotional impact, because, even after two movies, there’s no time to care about any of these characters.

 Expendables 3, The
In better news, Expendables 3 is probably the best-made of the three movies. As the concept wears thin the sheer filmmaking has improved. It’s also exciting that Stallone chose Patrick Hughes as his director, not necessarily because Hughes is a great director, but because he’s a new talent and, if anything, these films should be give up-and-coming artists a chance at the big time. In a perfect world, the series would continue with even more modest budgets propelled by a machine of young, hungry filmmakers, sort of like Roger Corman’s company from the ‘60s to the ‘80s. Hughes is an Australian director whose only other feature-length credit is a solid western/revenge/horror hybrid called Red Hill, that verified he was adept with action and could shoot a handsome movie on the cheap. He brings the genuine rawness to the franchise that was missing in Stallone and Simon West-directed entries. He’s not particularly good with special effects (digital augmentations are obvious and sometimes really ugly, due in no small part to the rushed schedule and low effects budget), but he crafts some interesting compositions (perhaps a few too many Dutch angles for my liking), keeps the camera steady, and doesn’t over-cut the action sequences. Unfortunately, this is still an Expendables movie, so every set-piece is overblown with noisy explosions until the audience is numb and unable to take pleasure in a handful of truly cool moments.

It’s time to break down and admit that these movies were never going to be stylistic throwbacks to an age when these actors were relevant – though the cast has expanded enough that I’m not sure exactly what era people were hoping Stallone and company were going to recreate. Anyone still convinced that any of the Expendables films have anything in common visually with their favourite ‘80s and ‘90s B-action movies is overlooking how strictly all three have stuck to modern filmmaking conventions. I suppose I should probably be upset that Expendables 3 is rated PG-13, but I actually find the rating more honest than the weak R ratings the last two films carried. I don’t think it’s any secret that these films have been hedging their bets on the rating since the beginning, shooting for a PG-13, then adding digital blood at the last minute to score an undeserved R. Would the concept be more enjoyable if it included the graphic gunplay and brutal fisticuffs of the movies that supposedly inspired it? Probably – it’d certainly up the threat level during the tedious scenes where characters threaten to torture each other – but it isn’t going to happen. If they’re going to make a generic action movie with geriatric action stars they might as well be forthright about it. For this review, I watched the extended cut. I’m not sure if there’s any violence here that wasn’t included in the theatrical cut, but what I saw seems like a hard PG-13.

 Expendables 3, The

Video


Expendables 3 was shot using various Red brand digital cameras and is presented here in 1080p, 2.40:1 HD video. The previous two Expendables movies were shot on 35mm and both adopted a distinctly gritty and grainy look. For their film, Hughes and cinematographer Peter Menzies, Jr. have definitely embraced the Red system’s smooth gradations and uncanny sense of clarity, which sets this film apart from the franchise’s general ‘look.’ Details and patterns are complex throughout the film, but the softness of the digital footage can deaden the edge clarity and contrast levels, usually in darker interior shots. There are some very sharp exceptions during the more expansive wide shots, particularly the super high-contrast daylight sequences, where blue skies are bleached white and shadows are squeezed to utter blackness. Some of the swifter camera moves and digitally augmented motion blur looks particularly smudgy, but I assume this is an issue with the material, not the transfer. Expendables 3 might be a little softer than the other movies in the series, but its digital colour timing does sort of match the temperature changes seen on the last film – Hughes and Menzies have just pushed things a little further. Most scenes are caked with crushed blacks, consistent tans, and eerily unnatural blue hues (the new orange and teal, it seems), then highlighted by punchy highlights, usually reds and golds. The nicest shots press things far enough to match the crazy neons of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive and Only God Forgives. A handful of establishing shots have minor banding, edge enhancement, and aliasing effects, but the bulk of the transfer is clean.

 Expendables 3, The

Audio


The Expendables 2[/h] Blu-ray came fitted with the industry’s only 11.1 channel DTS Neo:X sound mix. Lionsgate appears committed to keeping this franchise as an early adopter, because this Expendables 3 Blu-ray includes Neo:X’s replacement format, Dolby Atmos, presented here in a Dolby TrueHD compatible mix. The film, which was mixed specifically for the Atmos system, is a typically boisterous and explosive affair. The action scenes are cranked to super high volume levels and layered in thick gobs of noise that flip and smack their way through all the channels (five of them, in most cases). The directional movement sometimes makes no sense (a gun firing in the center frame is often heard in other channels), but the constant momentum should be enough to keep most audiophiles happy. The dialogue-heavy scenes are pretty busy as well, though not as embellished in terms of directional movement. Returning composer Brian Tyler’s music is more of the same blustery brass and drums. It’s accompanied by obnoxious pop/techno/rock throughout the montage sequences and character introductions. In fact, the music really doesn’t let up and hums its way through all but a handful of dialogue sequences.

 Expendables 3, The

Extras


  • The Expendables 3 Documentary (52:00, HD) – An extended look behind-the-scenes that mixes amusing on-set footage with incredibly fluffy cast & crew interviews. Subject matter includes Patrick Hughes as a director, 2nd unit action, the new cast members, stunt coordination and training, Jason Statham’s near-death experience (the brakes on the truck went out and he rode it slowly into the water), shooting on locations and soundstages, press conferences, and release parties.
  • New Blood: Stacked and Jacked (16:10, HD) – More EPK interviews and footage with the new cast members.
  • The Total Action Package (6:40, HD) – Even more behind-the-scenes footage and fluffy interviews.
  • Christmas Runs the Gauntlet[I] extended scene (2:50, HD)
  • Gag reel (5:40, HD)
  • Trailers for other Lionsgate releases


 Expendables 3, The

Overall


For what it’s worth, [I]Expendables 3
is the best Expendables movie. That’s it. It’s still a boring experience that follows the franchise formula to a tee – numbing action sequence/audience-pleasing cameo appearance/really boring conversations full of tired platitudes/repeat. Lionsgate’s Blu-ray is mostly notable for its Dolby Atmos soundtrack, but features a decent, slightly bandy HD transfer, and a decent collection of extras that are slightly too focused on selling the film.

 Expendables 3, The
Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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