The Suicide Squad review

For F*** Magazine

Director: James Gunn
Cast : Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Peter Capaldi, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior, Sean Gunn
Genre: Action/Adventure
Run Time : 132 min
Opens : 5 August 2021
Rating : M18

In 2016, Warner Bros. released the third entry in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU): Suicide Squad. While that film was a commercial success, it did not fare too well with critics and many fans. Five years later, we get a standalone sequel that reuses certain actors/characters from the first film, but otherwise has nothing to do with it, with the hope that second time’s the charm. 

A military coup has occurred on the island nation of Corto Maltese, off the coast of South America. Corto Maltese is home to the Jotunheim research facility, which houses something known only as “Project Starfish”. Fearing that the military regime could unleash Project Starfish against Americans, intelligence agency director Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembles Task Force X to infiltrate Corto Maltese. Led by Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), the squad comprises Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Bloodsport/Robert Du Bois (Idris Elba), Christopher Smith/Peacemaker (John Cena), Nanaue/King Shark (Sylvester Stallone), Cleo Cazo/Ratcatcher II (Daniela Melchior) and Abner Krill/Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian). Their mission is to track down Gaius Grieves/The Thinker (Peter Capaldi), an evil geneticist who oversees Project Starfish. With their idiosyncratic personalities and unorthodox abilities, the team must work together and stay on mission, lest Waller detonate the bomb implanted in each of their necks.

At its best, The Suicide Squad captures the tone of its source material, bringing it to big screen life. Writer-director James Gunn understands the assignment perfectly, crafting something chaotic, violent, funny, entertaining, and even a little heart-warming. Drawing inspiration from 80s military action films like Predator and Commando, The Suicide Squad’s central mission is well defined, which is more than can be said of its predecessor’s plot. The film is cast well, and the characters are all used in interesting ways. While the Marvel Cinematic Universe is much more internally consistent and better managed than the DCEU, it is highly unlikely that a big-budget R-rated movie would be released as part of that franchise – at least until they figure out how to integrate Deadpool into the MCU.

All the chaos and anarchy on display can sometimes feel like eating too much candy. The movie also sometimes comes off as too mean-spirited, trading in shock humour that can fall ever so slightly on the wrong side of bad taste. There’s a sequence in which our heroes unwittingly murder a village of innocent people, and Gunn seems to have it out for birds, with more than one sequence involving violence on birds. While the film handles its large cast better than a lot of other ensemble comic book movies do, there still are times when it feels spread a bit too thin. 

The circumstances surrounding Gunn’s hiring are slightly complicated, but it all worked out for him in the end. Riding high on the two Guardians of the Galaxy films, Gunn was fired from the third after old distasteful jokes of his were unearthed. The competition then scooped him up, offering Gunn any project he wanted. It only makes sense, since the first Suicide Squad movie was obviously a reaction to the success of the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Then, Gunn was re-hired by Marvel, meaning he would make both The Suicide Squad and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Gunn comes from the Troma world, meaning his stock in trade is low-budget, gory horror-comedy. Like Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson before him, Gunn has gone from schlock to blockbusters, but has never really forgotten his roots – Troma boss Lloyd Kaufman makes a cameo in this movie, as he has in several of Gunn’s earlier films. Gunn displays an affection for and understanding of the source material, and works well with his talent, bringing wonderful performances out of the cast.

The premise of the Suicide Squad as re-imagined by comics writer John Ostrander (who makes a cameo in this movie) is that each line-up is comprised of expendable, C-list-or-lower villains. Gunn embraces this, claiming that Polka Dot Man’s inclusion in the film is the result of him Googling “who is the dumbest super villain of all time?”

Robbie continues to be an amazing Harley Quinn, with this movie showcasing her at her most violent. Elba cuts a heroic figure and is an undeniable presence onscreen. He was initially cast to replace Will Smith as Deadshot, but the character was rewritten into Bloodsport should Smith eventually choose to return. Viola Davis as Amanda Waller was arguably the best casting in the first movie, and she remains a force to be reckoned with here, even if most of her scenes are confined to a control room.

Cena portrays both excellent comic timing and brutish physicality as Peacemaker, a character who has decided that the path to peace is to kill everyone, because then there will be nobody to wage war. King Shark is imagined as loveable but intimidating, with Stallone’s voice fitting this design perfectly. Melchior is, unexpectedly, the heart of the film, with Ratcatcher II emerging as the most sympathetic and loveable character. David Dastmalchian, who has portrayed many a creepy character onscreen, is wonderfully unhinged as Polka Dot Man. It’s an A+ lineup of C-list-or-lower characters.

Summary: An ideal marriage of filmmaker and source material, The Suicide Squad is the messy, gory fun that fans have always wanted. This is a great example of what happens when a studio just lets a filmmaker do what they do best. James Gunn takes what he learned making the Guardians of the Galaxy films and ramps up the chaos, violence and anarchy. There are times when The Suicide Squad leaves a bit of a sour taste in one’s mouth, but for the most part, it makes fantastic use of its premise and characters. 

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Creed II review

CREED II

Director : Steven Caple Jr.
Cast : Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu, Phylicia Rashad, Wood Harris, Russell Hornsby
Genre : Sports/Drama
Run Time : 130 mins
Opens : 29 November 2018
Rating : PG13

           As Killmonger in Black Panther, Michael B. Jordan may have lost the throne to Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa, but in this sequel to Creed, he’s trying to hold on to that championship belt.

It is three years after the events of the first film, and Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has enjoyed a string of victories, becoming the newly-crowned WBC World Heavyweight Champion. However, Adonis’ reign is threatened by the formidable Viktor Dragon (Florian Munteanu). There is a personal reason Adonis accepts Viktor’s challenge: Viktor’s father Ivan (Dolph Lundgren) killed Adonis’ father Apollo some 33 years ago.

Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), Adonis’ coach, warns against taking on Viktor, fearful of history repeating itself. In the meantime, Adonis’ girlfriend-turned-fiancé Bianca (Tessa Thompson) has given birth to their daughter Amara. Tony “Little Duke” Evers (Wood Harris), whose father trained Apollo Creed, helps Rocky prepare Adonis to face off against Viktor. Adonis’ mother Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad) must brace herself for the possibility that just as she lost her husband to Ivan, she will lose her son to another Drago. The stage is set for an epic confrontation with everything on the line.

2015’s Creed established both star Michael B. Jordan and director Ryan Coogler as bona fide stars; both went on to further earn this status with this year’s Black Panther. Director Steven Caple Jr., also a young, promising filmmaker, has big shoes to fill. He directs Creed II with an eye for drama, focusing on the relationships between the characters more than the spectacle. While this means that the story has room to breathe and the performers have space to make an impact, it also means that the film is not as propulsive or exciting as some might have hoped.

Creed II emerges as a less personal work than its predecessor, but there’s quite a bit here for long-time Rocky fans to sink their teeth into. A bout between Adonis Creed and the progeny of the icily unyielding Ivan Drago is almost too obvious a sequel plot, but it works. If Creed was built upon formula, then Creed II follows established sports drama tropes even closer, meaning that while there is some satisfaction to be had in the way the story turns out, there are few surprises.

Both Jordan and Stallone anchor this film as they did the previous one, and there is conflict in the relationship between Adonis and Rocky, but there is also great warmth. Adonis has let success get to his head, and rejects the wisdom Rocky has to offer, but cannot go too long without Rocky in his corner. Jordan’s physique continues to be impressive and swoon-worthy, living up to his character’s namesake Greek god. Jordan tempers the intensity he brings to the fight scenes with a playful boyishness, keeping Adonis likeable even when he’s too headstrong for his own good.

Stallone co-wrote the film with Juel Taylor, with Sascha Penn and Luke Cage showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker getting a ‘story by’ credit. Stallone had to be convinced by Coogler to sign off on the first Creed, so now that Stallone has a greater involvement in crafting the sequel, it’s good that the film doesn’t seem like a vanity project, with the movie dedicating just the right amount of screen time to Rocky.

Tessa Thompson’s Bianca did feel a little too much like the designated love interest the first time around, and while the character is mostly there to give Adonis that much more to fight for, she does have agency in the proceedings. Bianca becomes a mother but is also moving forward in her music career. In showing the warmth and support that surrounds Adonis in the form of Rocky, Bianca and Adonis’ mother Mary Anne, the film contrasts this with the stark coldness that Viktor grows up in.

Creed II outshines the first movie when it comes to the villains. Real-life Romanian-born, German-raised boxer Florian ‘Big Nasty’ Munteanu looks every inch the giant bruiser that has us afraid for Adonis’ safety. The harshness that characterises Ivan’s relationship with his son is not overly cartoony and engenders sympathy for both characters even as they threaten our heroes.

Lundgren has some of the film’s best moments, showcasing genuine acting chops and conveying the personal ruin that was the aftermath of Ivan’s humiliating defeat at Rocky’s hands in Rocky IV. The confrontation between Ivan and Rocky in Rocky’s restaurant is one of the film’s standout moments, and Lundgren gets the chance to shade Ivan with the depth he didn’t quite have as the villain of Rocky IV.

Creed II is a solidly built film, sticking closely with the characters rather than getting carried away with overblown spectacle. While it delivers in terms of giving weight to its links to the earlier Rocky films instead of those connections feeling like mere fanservice, the movie demands its audience’s patience, and because it is so predictable, doesn’t quite pay that off. It’s not bad by any means, but we don’t quite see the need for a Creed III after this.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

For F*** Magazine

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2

Director : James Gunn
Cast : Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 2h 16min
Opens : 27 April 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

Pop the tape in the deck and pump up the volume, ‘cos Star-Lord/Peter Quill (Pratt) and company have returned. Our loveable gang of a-holes crosses the cosmos in an adventure that brings Quill face-to-face with his biological father, Ego (Russell) the Living Planet. That’s not the only family reunion taking place: assassin Gamora (Saldana) and Nebula (Gillan), the daughters of Thanos who have long been at each other’s throats, cross swords again. Jolly big guy Drax (Bautista), cantankerous cybernetically-enhanced raccoon Rocket (Cooper) and wee sapling Baby Groot (Diesel) are along for the ride. The team makes a new ally in the form of Mantis (Klementieff), an alien empath raised by Ego. They also make a new enemy: the haughty High Priestess Ayesha (Debicki) of the Sovereigns, who has put a bounty on the Guardians’ heads. In the meantime, Yondu (Rooker) is in danger of being displaced, as Taserface (Sullivan) leads a coup against him within their gang of Ravagers. The fate of the galaxy once against rests on the wildly different-sized shoulders of our ragtag heroes.

Before Guardians of the Galaxy’s release in 2014, several industry watchers were predicting it could be the first high-profile misfire for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Following its rollicking critical and commercial success, director James Gunn was feted as having accomplished the nigh-impossible. Now that the first Guardians film has become a juggernaut and Chris Pratt is an established movie star, that dark horse sheen has worn off. We can imagine Gunn having a mini “now what?” crisis as he was prepping the sequel. He certainly had his work cut out for him, and Vol. 2 retains much of the wacky charm that made the first film as distinctive and enjoyable as it did, while further exploring what makes this colourful cast of characters tick.

Gunn stated in a Facebook post that he dislikes sequels bringing characters back to square one. In Vol. 2, we see arcs progress, and everybody gets their moment in the sun. It’s a precarious balancing act, and at times the push/pull between far-out spectacle and exploring motivations and backstories is palpable. As with several MCU outings before it, there’s the danger of the humour undercutting the drama. However, that’s not as big a problem here, because this is the funniest MCU movie yet. Since there are so many jokes, some don’t land, and the more juvenile innuendos might make parents nervously hope their kids won’t ask for explanations about them later.

In hyping up the film, Pratt promised Vol. 2 would be the “biggest spectacle movie of all time”. As much as Gunn continues to do his own thing, Vol. 2 is noticeably working overtime to top the first one, and this can sometimes be exhausting. The set-pieces are varied and thrilling and the visuals are dazzling, but sometimes there’s a little too much going on – this is most noticeable during the finale. The visual effects work is splendid (apart from one iffy de-aging job), and the environments are consistently mesmerizing. Production designer Scott Chambliss, whose credits include Star Trek (2009), Star Trek Into Darkness and Tomorrowland, has outdone himself with the cosmic-Rococo palace which Ego calls home. Vol. 2 of Quill’s Awesome Mixtape is the right degree of eclectic: the opening credits unfold to ELO’s Mr. Blue Sky, while the lyrics of Looking Glass’ Brandy become a key plot point.

Gunn’s dialogue preserves the voices of each returning character, and the principals reprise their roles with entertaining aplomb. Pratt has the ‘fun action hero’ thing down pat and yes, gets another gratuitous shirtless scene.

Saldana struts about with utmost confidence, and pulls off a potentially ridiculous scene in which Gamora wields a ludicrously oversized cannon. Bautista continues to prove that he is a gifted comedian, showcasing timing sharper than the daggers Drax brandishes.

Cooper gets some of the film’s best lines, delivering them in the vocal approximation of mange. If you thought Diesel was overpaid for saying the same line repeatedly in the first one, he doesn’t even sound like himself here. Anyone could have voiced Baby Groot. Still, that doesn’t detract from how adorable the character is, those limpid eyes and that plaintive expression sure to elicit “aww”s aplenty from the audience.

Russell is a big get, and if there’s anyone who should play the father of a daring spacefaring scoundrel, it should be Snake Plissken/Jack Burton himself. He’s enjoying himself, and to Gunn’s credit, this doesn’t become an endless string of references to the iconic entries in Russell’s filmography. Like Star Wars before it, Guardians trades in mythical archetypes. This is the tale of a god, the mortal he fell in love with, and the progeny they bore: think Zeus, Danaë and Perseus. The ‘team-up with long-lost dad’ device has been employed in everything from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade to Aladdin and the King of Thieves. Therefore, even given its fantastical trappings, Vol. 2’s take on things is fairly predictable.

Debicki, looking like she’s escaped the clutches of Goldfinger, is yet another underwhelming MCU villain – but it seems like this was intentional this time around. Rooker gets some surprisingly emotional notes to play amidst a pirate drama in which Yondu gets displaced by mutinying Ravagers. We gain more insight into the rivalry between Gamora and Gillan’s steely, formidable Nebula, and the soap opera-ness is a safe distance from being too cheesy.

Klementieff’s Mantis is a naïf to the nth degree, and jokes are had at her expense while we’re meant to empathize with her. The character’s convoluted backstory in the comics has been handily distilled, and she makes for an interesting addition to the team. Sean Gunn, brother of James, gets an increased part that, if one is being cynical, can be chalked up to nepotism. It’s hard to stay cynical while watching something like Vol. 2, though.

Keep your eyes peeled for several cameos beyond the standard Stan Lee moment, and take a quick glance around the hall to see the cognoscenti nodding in approval when an obscure Marvel character pops onscreen. Five (count ‘em) stinger scenes are spread throughout the end credits. Vol. 2 might not have the same bold, devil-may-care freshness that its predecessor had, but there’s no shortage of vim and verve. The cutest little tree creature you’ve ever seen doesn’t hurt, either.

Summary: While there’s a bit of a struggle in balancing the spectacle with the character beats, Vol. 2 possesses most of the offbeat charm, visual splendour and knee-slapping humour as its forebear.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Creed

For F*** Magazine

CREED

Director : Ryan Coogler
Cast : Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashād, Tony Bellew, Graham McTavish, Wood Harris
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 133 mins
Opens : 26 November 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

            Michael B. Jordan was the teammate of a rock creature in Fantastic Four, and now he’s under the tutelage of the actual Rocky in this spin-off. Jordan plays Adonis Creed, the illegitimate son of the late legendary boxing champ Apollo Creed. After bouncing around juvenile detention halls and group homes as a kid, Adonis was taken in by Apollo’s widow Mary Anne (Rashād). Adonis dreams of being a professional fighter, but wants to make his own name and not get stuck in his father’s shadow. He moves out to Philadelphia to train under Rocky Balboa (Stallone), Apollo’s rival-turned-friend. Adonis strikes up a relationship with his neighbour, singer-songwriter Bianca (Thompson). Adonis agrees to take on British fighter “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Bellew), the undefeated title holder. As the pressure mounts and doubts begin to cloud Adonis’ mind, Rocky’s health starts to fail. Adonis has to step into the ring, fighting in the name of his mother, his mentor, his girlfriend, his father and most importantly, himself.

            The theme of legacy is one that permeates Creed both in the plot of the film and behind the scenes. Creed is directed by Ryan Coogler, who co-wrote the screenplay with Aaron Covington. Coogler conceived the idea for the spinoff when he was in film school and pitched it to Stallone, who, understandably protective of Rocky, was initially hesitant to sign off on the movie. Coogler’s father suffered a neuromuscular disorder, and dealing with his father’s mortality sowed the seeds of Creed. After Coogler’s feature film debut Fruitvale Station became a film festival darling, Stallone reconsidered and lent the film his support. Spin-offs to successful franchises can often feel like cynical cash grabs, so just as Adonis has to prove he can stand on his own, Coogler has to prove that there is a point to continuing the Rocky series, which most assumed had come to its natural conclusion with 2006’s Rocky Balboa.

            The first Rocky film is a modern classic, possibly the purest example of contemporary American myth. It’s an honest, straightforward film about a hardworking blue-collar hero with a dream. While some of the later films traded heavily in kitsch, the series as a whole is still a beloved pop culture staple. A strong affection for the movies is palpable in Creed, but Coogler is mostly able to steer things away from feeling slavish to what has gone before. This is very much in the Rocky spirit and it’s not a desecration of any childhood memories, far from it. At the same time, Creed sticks closely to the established sports drama formula, offering practically zero surprises. For the most part, Coogler is able to turn this into a strength and it reads as honouring the legacy instead of lazy storytelling, but the predictable nature of the plot and the characters might make one question if this was an absolutely necessary endeavour.

            Jordan has proven that he’s got what it takes to be an A-list leading man, displaying astonishing athletic prowess and unwavering intensity. The character has to be cocky without being obnoxious; Jordan crosses the line on several occasions but he remains generally easy to root for. In sports, entertainment and other arenas, we’ve seen many children of well-known personalities attempting to strike out on their own to varying degrees of success. There’s always a huge amount of baggage when trying to outrun the looming shadow of a figure such as Apollo Creed, which is something Jordan sells.

As is typical of the genre, Thompson’s Bianca is little more than the designated love interest. There’s the meet cute, they bond over Philly cheesesteaks, a minor misunderstanding or two, a falling out, the whole works. The romantic subplot is the most formulaic element in a movie that is almost entirely formula. Real-life cruiserweight boxer Bellew is an adequately unpleasant bully, albeit far less colourful and memorable than the best opponents in the series.


            Stallone is now the same age that Burgess Meredith, who played Rocky’s corner man Mickey, was when the first Rocky film was released. It makes sense to have Rocky assume the position of a mentor. Of course, there’s the dance of “I just don’t do that stuff no more” before Rocky relents and takes Adonis under his wing, which perhaps mirrors the process behind the scenes between Coogler and Stallone. While it is cool to see Stallone kicking ass and taking names in the Expendables films and late-period efforts like Bullet to the Head, it is just as satisfying seeing him act more his age and taking on a more emotional, less physical role. The scene where Rocky chokes up when talking about his late wife Adrian is pretty moving. This is a different ball game from Bruce Willis sleepwalking through the umpteenth Die Hard, in that Stallone does look like he’s in this for a purpose.

            Filmgoers have become wary of belated sequels/spinoffs to beloved properties after having been burned by everything from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to the recent Terminator Genisys. Even Schwarzenegger’s involvement couldn’t save that last one. Director Coogler comes at Creed from the right angle, spinning a viable if very familiar story with which to bring Rocky back, this time as a supporting character. True, it’s still something of a hard sell, but Creed packs in impactful emotional beats and rousing, inspirational moments and has enough of a driving force behind it.



Summary:Rocky fans won’t be disappointed with how director Ryan Coogler has figured out a way to bring the character back. Creed isn’t particularly ground-breaking, but is earnest and well-made enough to be worthy of ascending those famous steps.

RATING: 3.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

The Expendables 3

THE EXPENDABLES 3

Director : Patrick Hughes
Cast : Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Antonio Banderas, Jet Li, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Kelsey Grammer, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Robert Davi, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Genre : Action/Thriller
Opens : 14 August 2014
Rating : PG13 (Violence & Some Coarse Language)
Running time: 126 mins

 “If you’re looking to get the job done/ Be it murder or rescuing ladies/ You cannot do better than old guys/ Who were popular back in the 80s…” so go the lyrics to comedians Jon and Al Kaplan’s musical spoof of The Expendables. Those grizzled guys are back with some young blood to add to the crew. Barney Ross (Stallone), Gunner Jensen (Lundgren), Lee Christmas (Stallone), Toll Road (Couture) and Hail Caesar (Crews) break old team-member Doctor Death (Snipes) out of prison. In the ensuing mission, they encounter Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), a former Expendable-turned weapons and dealer and war criminal, hitherto thought of as dead. Barney brings in a younger bunch of mercenaries (Lutz, Rousey, Powell, Ortiz), with Spanish Armed Forces veteran Galgo (Banderas) insistent on joining. He is also assisted by Trench (Schwarzenegger), Yin Yang (Li) and Major Max Drummer (Ford), going up against the army Stonebanks has in his pocket.

This entire film series exists as a loving ode to 80s action films, featuring those who starred in said films proving they’ve still got the right stuff. As such, there was something of an outcry over this movie’s PG-13 rating – as the Kaplans put it later on in their song, “PG-13 is for pussies”. This reviewer wasn’t too bothered by that – while bloodless, the body count in this one is still very high. Also, the one f-bomb is given to just the right actor. No, this movie’s problems lie elsewhere. Succeeding Stallone and Simon West at the helm is Australian director Patrick Hughes, known for his neo-Western Red Hill. His direction here is mostly rote and journeyman-like; while competent, the action sequences lack flair or drive. There is a curious dearth of urgency or intensity in this action-thriller, even when an actual ticking bomb is introduced. It’s not like there isn’t a lot of shooting, punching or stuff blowing up, but the film often feels like it’s spinning its wheels, going nowhere fast.

            Why do action film junkies go to the Expendables movies? To relive the glory days of their cinematic heroes. As such, anytime the “Young Expendables” are onscreen, this reviewer was counting the minutes to when the actual Expendables – you know, the guys we came to see – would return. Even without Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell and Victor Ortiz, the roster is already pretty crowded. There’s no time for us to get to know anyone and in place of characterisation, there’s bickering, mutual ribbing and general macho bro-ey-ness. We’re not expecting Chekhov or Mamet but just give us something to hang on to! The action sequences are fine, they aren’t infested with shaky-cam as most contemporaneous action sequences tend to be, but the sub-par visual effects work is carried over from the last two films. If it’s meant to evoke the cheap look of 80s action movies, then that’s the wrong nostalgia bone to tickle.

            The film is at its best when it goes for nostalgia in the right way, with its stars winking and nodding at the audience via references to their past work. Snipes’ character loves blades and jokes about being jailed for tax evasion. Schwarzenegger gets to say “get to the choppa!” Kelsey Grammer’s character makes a crack about ex-wives. However, in-jokes alone do not a good movie make. In spite of the humour, this go-round just seems a whole lot less fun. Indeed, Stallone often looks as though he’s grimacing through a heavy, dead-serious thriller. Nothing in this one matches Chuck Norris spouting his own “Chuck Norris fact” in the second film. Also, Harrison Ford does not say “get off my plane”. That’s a missed opportunity right there.

Mel Gibson is apparently paying penance for his myriad indiscretions by appearing in genre schlock like this and last year’s Machete Kills. He does go crazy-eyed Mad Mel but fails to be as memorable a baddie as Jean-Claude Van Damme was. Somewhere between the writing and direction, the potential for Conrad Stonebanks to be a spectacular bad guy is lost. Jet Li doesn’t bust a single kung fu move. What’s up with that? And yes, Ronda Rousey is a badass UFC champion, but this film is yet another example of “The Smurfette principle”, with one lone woman among a bunch of guys. Where are Linda Hamilton, Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Yeoh?

      
      A good chunk of the film seems to exist as a rather petty raised middle finger to Bruce Willis, with whom Stallone had a falling out with over the former’s salary. It’s a good thing then that Harrison Ford is an upgrade and seeing him chew Stallone out earlier in the film is as exciting as the biggest action scenes are. “I haven’t had so much fun in years,” he says. We almost believe him. Antonio Banderas as the talkative comic relief – that’s an odd choice, but he’s still fairly entertaining. The Expendables 3 never amounts to more than the sum of its parts and even when Kellan Lutz’s stunt double jumps a motorcycle off the tail of a crashed helicopter, it falls short of effectively harkening back to the 80s action films it wants to homage.

Summary: There’s less vim and vigour in this third go-round for Stallone and co. and worse, they have to jostle for screen time with those meddling kids.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong