Lionsgate via Everett Collection
Even if you haven’t seen The Expendables or The Expendables 2, you’ll feel pretty confident in what sort of film you’ve signed on to watch by the end of the very first scene in Stallone and co’s latest on-in-years ensemble. Expendables 3 opens with an action sequence that lacks any visual coherence, falls short of its intended adrenaline, and hangs its sense of humor on a single meta joke about one cast member’s life outside the franchise. But then, almost instantly, you’ll be thrown for a loop. A very weird loop, in fact.
The second scene in the movie — a segue between the first high-intensity set piece and the next — is a long (and I mean long) silent shot of a helicopter landing outside of what, if memory serves, is Sylvester Stallone’s character’s HQ. It might not sound like a particularly big deal, but it takes form as a jarring, almost laughable dagger to the movie’s would-be momentum.
It’s the first of many instances of peculiarity so obtrusive it’s emotionally rewarding, and often (intentionally or otherwise… I really have no idea in most of these cases) quite funny. Between the running theme of characters staring motionlessly and wordlessly into the camera, a sullen montage documenting the empty lives of the Expendables when they’re not expendabling, and the bizarre reoccurrence of the word “s**tstorm,” you’ll discover a rare, inimitable identity in The Expendables 3: one that amounts to a better time than you might anticipate, and certainly more interesting one.
Of course, there are plenty of missed marks throughout the film. As established from minute one, the action is flagrantly uncoordinated, and a lot of the scripted comedy — the hypermasculine chiding and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s callback lines — will provoke hearty groans. But sweeping past the excess of the prerequisite bro jokes and ‘80s movie quotes, we get to the real fun. We get to the odd, often uncomfortable (and delightfully so) hiccups in pacing. We get to Mel Gibson spouting Biblical passages and tirades against big government. Best of all, we get to Antonio Banderas, prancing around the wide shot like a romantic bandit. Off to the side of the top-heavy bulk, these elements make up the real victory of Expendables 3: the fun is in the weird.