This weekend, The Expendables 3 crashed and burned, collecting a dismal $16.2 million, by far the weakest opening in the series. This franchise has been something of an institution, giving fans a chance to see some of the members of the Action Hero Hall Of Fame in one place. But the novelty of this seems to have worn off: the second film was considerably weaker than the first domestically, and this new film might not even cross $50 million stateside. And while the movies have never been a critical darling, this one garnered the weakest reviews yet.
You could say some of that comes from the PG-13 rating, which kept away older action diehards. Or that the movie's giant piracy leak damaged the final tallies. But the fans just didn't show up to a film that added Wesley Snipes, Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford to the ever-growing roster of characters, three legends with serious box office pedigree. The formula seemed simple at the beginning, but it's clear from audience dissatisfaction that it's not working. Time to change it up, and drastically. Here are five ways to fix The Expendables.
Shorten The RosterJust how many Expendables are there? The cast for this new film was so massive that they needed two whole Expendables teams. There were so many Expendables that you couldn't even fit them on one poster. Audiences know these movies are overstuffed because of the first film, which promised the involvement of Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the ads, only for them to pop up in a single dialogue scene that played like a lazy Marvel Easter Egg.
The point of these films is to highlight the best and the brightest in action history. So, yes, you might want to add a Randy Couture or a Ronda Rousey in there to spice it up, and give a boost to an as-yet-underdeveloped action star. And it's very cool that, despite no real action credits to his name, the Expendables franchise turned Terry Crews into a heavyweight of sorts, even if it meant he was suddenly too big to show up in the entire middle portion of The Expendables 3. But Jackie Chan nailed it – what's the point in joining all these actors when they barely have any screentime and maybe one or two lines? They were famous for being stars – they're the main course, not ingredients you splice into a great meal. A good five or six will do, specifically genuine action legends.
Kill Some GuysThe series is called The Expendables. Why is it that not only does everybody survive, but team members actively risk their lives for each other, like the way the squad randomly breaks buddy Wesley Snipes out of prison in the new movie? They're expendable, they have just about no use to the rest of the world. If they're dragging down a mission, cut them loose. Particularly the older dudes: when Stallone's Barney Ross misses a deadline at the end of The Expendables 3, the team should have realized this was a 67 year old man, and got the hell out of Dodge to save their own skin. Barney would understand.
So if you do this whole thing again, kill some guys. Raise the stakes: it's already a miracle that these older guys can still stand up straight, let alone participate in acrobatics. Having them become basically invincible as they run through a hail of gunfire is approaching parody territory. The next film needs to open with the Expendables on a suicide mission that is actually very much a suicide mission. And you don't even need major casualties: through three movies, the audiences couldn't name one interesting fact about Randy Couture's Toll Road. But having him take a slug to the head would be a reminder that some missions shouldn't feature a bunch of cinematic legends laughing their asses off as they fire millions of rounds into faceless enemies. And speaking of which...
No More GunsThese guys are action legends because they can kick ass. Anyone can grab a gun and randomly fire it at a bunch of shooting gallery goons. But these guys were intimidating because of their fists and feet, and sometimes their quick wits. Yeah, guns were a part of the equation, but guns didn't make them stars. There is nothing more boring than the supposedly "heroic" moments of The Expendables 2 where Simon West framed some of the greatest action legends of all time standing side by side in the same shot, firing round after round into armies of stuntmen.
One of the biggest cinematic crimes in The Expendables 3 was the fact that Jet Li showed up at the very last minute and was called upon just to fire a gun. Which of these is a Jet Li movie, Firearm Of Legend or Fist Of Legend? Jet needed to throw down with people. Wesley Snipes needed to use his roundhouse kicks. Victor Ortiz is a boxer, he should be punching guys out. These guys have giant muscles, and they aren't going to use them? Maybe someone should remind Stallone that Rocky didn't get in the ring and fire twenty shots at Apollo Creed. Hell, even Rambo used exploding arrows. A little diversity in hurting people never hurt anyone.
Hire John HyamsOn the surface, hiring Patrick Hughes for The Expendables 3 wasn't a terrible idea. Stallone wanted a different vibe for this go-round, so the fact that Hughes represented "new blood" was a cool concept. Except that Hughes went on to direct a movie that's almost exactly like the first two films, and maybe even less competent. And one that was PG-13! The action gods wept! This didn't work, and it's clear from watching the movie that Stallone was seeking a collaborator, not a filmmaker who would enforce his will on the movie.
Which is why John Hyams, or someone like Hyams, needed the work. Hyams has been working steadily in the direct-to-DVD realm for awhile, but he exceeded all expectations with Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning with Expendables 2 cast mates Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren and Scott Adkins. The film is hypnotic, suspenseful, brutal, and it deals with the ugly ramifications of a cycle of violence, while ALSO featuring some of the most incredible fight sequences you've ever seen. But maybe Hyams is busy: what about John Woo, who turned Chow Yun-Fat immortal in The Killer and Hard Boiled and has been around the block a few times? What about Walter Hill, who directed badass ensembles in classics like Southern Comfort and Extreme Prejudice, not to mention The Warriors? Why not Gareth Evans, who basically reinvented modern action movie cinema with The Raid? Why not anyone with any sort of vision?
Find A New Location That Isn't Eastern EuropeOkay, we get it, you guys want to save up on location shooting. The first film shot in Rio and Louisiana, though both looked interchangeable. The bulk of the second and third films, meanwhile, were shot in Bulgaria, with the third film's climax in the you've-gotta-be-kidding-me made-up country of Azmenistan. In addition to being super-affordable locations where studio Millennium shoots nearly all their action films, these far-off places offer indistinct towns and cities for the characters to blow up, destroy and completely annihilate from the map with little to no consequence. What happens to the viewer is an endless flurry of gray surroundings, chunks of buildings coming off like legos, armies of extras being mowed down, and entire provinces being turned to rubble from the sheer immensity of the violence. They're essentially action movie playsets, featuring old action movie standbys like shipping docks and abandoned warehouses. Just because every action movie used these locations doesn't mean they represent some sort of fond memory.
You don't need get your ass to Mars to make a great action movie today, but you do need diversity of locations. Why not take a cue from Predator and set the action in the deep jungle? Why not have the crew forced to do battle in the city, banging the concrete and dodging bullets? If you want to go full-on adventure, how about some sort of hidden temple, or a monastery. Churches, even libraries might be fun. An abandoned video store, to emphasize how these guys were the titans of the VHS era? A haunted house, to mix genres a bit? There's no end to the options. It's all a part of making a movie that looks and feels nothing like the first three. Audiences today are too smart for "Azmenistan". Give them somewhere real.