The Expendables 3


The Expendables is a movie series built on the gimmick of gathering up aging action stars and jamming them all on screen together. The problem with that is that after you’ve seen it once it starts to lose its punch. So they are left dragging more and more bodies off the street to keep the thrill of seeing all the stars in the same movie. So far, The Expendables has been able to keep bringing in new names. The problem then becomes giving all of these stars things to do together. That is a problem this series has never quite cracked. The bus load of new names added to this one didn’t do anything to alleviate that problem. Still, The Expendables 3 is a largely entertaining film. It is overloaded with characters, repeats a lot of plot points from the last film and is somewhat compromised by its PG-13 rating. But it is also often delightfully, ludicrously fun.

The character overload is a big problem, especially for a movie that sells itself on having all of these people in it. The movie is crowded and no one really gets a chance to shine, other than Stallone who is the one that the film revolves around. The original Expendables crew is shunted off for the bulk of the runtime, Arnold seems to champing at the bit to have more to do, and Jet Li is wasted yet again. That is just the returning stars. Banderas and Snipes bring some fun energy to the film. Banderas’s character’s enthusiasm contrasts with the tough guy characters that the rest of the crew plays, while Snipes’ comes off as more than a little crazy. The other newcomers don’t fare much better. Kelsey Grammar is fun, but he seems largely out of place and his recruiting section is overlong and saps most of the energy out of the middle of movie. After that, he’s gone. Harrison Ford seems engaged, even if all he’s asked to do is be grumpy. The kids that Stallone recruits, a group who barely get names let alone personalities, give a nice contrast to the old cast members, but don’t get enough time to distinguish themselves. Except for Ronda Rousey, who can fake fight as well as she can actually fight or just beat the crap out of a lot of dudes on set. Mel Gibson, who as ever is an entertaining performer regardless of his personal problems, does his best to make Conrad Stonebanks a memorable villain.

The plot is largely inconsequential, just a reason for the team to fight. On a mission Barney finds out their target is actually the thought dead co-founder of The Expendables. So he jettisons his crew and takes on a group of youngsters to go get him. Things go badly. The new kids in peril plot is not unlike the inciting incident from the second film, where the team is out for revenge for the death of the new kid. While the conflict between Barney and the villain is more personal than in the previous movie, the conflict plays out largely the same. Also, this time the movie is rated PG-13 rather than R. While the fight scenes are still entertaining, they are certainly not as visceral as in previous movies.

That contributes to the fun, Saturday morning cartoon vibe that the movie has going on. Banderas and Snipes play essentially cartoon characters and that final glorious fight is just straight up ridiculous. Despite being edited to never show the results of any gun shots or thrown knives, all of the fights in this film are fun. It starts with a crazy assault on a train and just gets more over the top from there. The biggest flaw in the Expendables 3 is that it doesn’t fully commit to being over the top. It flashes the craziness, but still tries to let Stallone have somber moments contemplating his mortality. Not that it isn’t possible to handle both in one movie, but The Expendables 3 doesn’t come close to managing it. The plot is predictable; they didn’t need to belabor it. Just give us viewers the violence we came to see.

The entertaining parts were entertaining enough that it is easy to forgive the less entertaining parts. I can’t say I actually liked the movie all that much, but I did leave the theater with a smile on my face. That is what is really important.


The Amazing Spider-Man Review

This was going to be a review of The Dark Knight Rises, but my attempt to see the midnight opening turned into something of a failure. I’m not crass enough to complain, but I didn’t end up seeing the movie. So instead of The Dark Knight Rises, I guess I’ll finally get around reviewing Amazing Spider-Man. The Amazing Spider-Man does not live up to its name. While it certainly hews closer to the comics than Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, it feels wholly unnecessary with that film in mind. Did anyone need to see Spidey’s origin again, especially with so few changes and even fewer improvements? Its not that the movie is that bad, just that for every good thing it does, it does at least two bafflingly stupid things.

Let’s start with the bright spots. Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May are terrific. Rhys Ifans makes a lackluster villain at least somewhat interesting. Emma Stone is perfect as Gwen Stacy. The only real weakness in the cast was Andrew Garfield as Peter. He doesn’t look like a teenager, for one thing. Also, instead of seeming like a nerdy outcast, Peter comes off as an autistic creeper. He takes pictures of Gwen when she isn’t looking and uses them as computer backgrounds; its strange. He also sort of nods and shakes uncomfortably all the time. I’d rather have the somewhat mopey Tobey Maguire.

There is a satisfying kineticism to the fights and the webslinging. It is really solid stuff. Too bad it is ruined by some awful plotting. The basic story is as good as ever, but everything built around it is done rather poorly. Peter sneaks into Oscorp by taking a name badge with no I.D. check, then breaks into the experimental spider room because it is locked by a simple video game mini-game. Oscorp leaves a potentially deadly weapon just sitting in the middle of a poorly guarded lab. Baffling stupidity like that is the norm for this movie. Anyone of them would be fine, but they build on each other until it becomes kind of unbearable. Which is sad, because it ruins some great character scenes between Peter and Uncle Ben, Gwen and Captain Stacy.

Amazing Spider-Man simply feels unnecessary. Most of the plot did not need a retread, despite the slight improvements it made in some parts. Since it has been a relatively short time since Spider-Man, it is hard not to compare the two movies, and the comparison is not favorable to Amazing Spider-Man. Amazing this movie simply is not, it is borderline dull; a tired exercise in repeating better movies and superhero cliché.


Prometheus Review

In the month or so since it has been released, Ridley’s Scott’s pseudo Alien prequel Prometheus has been discussed to death. Whether it is because they felt the movie did not live up to their expectations from Ridley Scott or whether they found the film genuinely thought provoking, it has been far from difficult to find opinions about Prometheus. As late as I’m getting to this, I’m not sure I have much to add to the discussion. For once, just about everybody is right. Prometheus is a thought provoking film. It is also a complete mess. For me, the good outweighed the bad, but I can understand someone feeling the opposite.

The bad in this movie is pretty bad. Characters do dumb things just to help move the plot along, plotlines appear and disappear seemingly at random, and sometimes Looney Tunes-esque slapstick ruins supposedly dramatic moments. The whole set up is a take on those idiotic ancient aliens “theories.” A lot of this stuff is hard to swallow. The script could have used either one more or one less pass, depending on where these problems came from. Most of the problems stem, though, from the wholly forgivable crime of trying to do too much. I’d rather a movie fail with ambition than succeed without it.

There are several great performances in Prometheus. Noomi Rapace is terrific as the main character, competent and quick thinking. And Fassbender does a great job as the secretive, and secretly more human than he lets on David. Nearly everyone does a great job with the material they are given. And while Prometheus doesn’t do so great a job with its science, it does raise some interesting question about the relationships between parents and their offspring.

Where Prometheus truly shines is in its visuals. It is the most visually stunning film I’ve seen in some time. Often big special effects budgets are spent with the effect of only making the movie look like everything else, or making sickening action scenes. Prometheus is clear and wonderful. The world they are on truly looks like an alien planet. When other parts of the film falter, it never, ever stops looking good.

I guess this turned into a pretty wishy-washy review. Possibly this is because one of the big draws for this movie, its connections to the Alien franchise, mean almost nothing to me. I didn’t like Alien, mostly just because it is a horror movie and I do not like horror movies. I was also not a big fan of Aliens. I didn’t see it until 2005 or so, and it never left much of an impression on me. I’ve never seen any of the other Alien movies. I had no expectations. I do like many Ridley Scott films, though I have a big hole in that I’ve never seen Blade Runner, he is what got me to the cinema. What I saw was the Robin Hood to Alien’s Gladiator. Not strictly a bad movie, but not an especially great one.