Aug 19, 2014

The Fall of a Franchise

I had to come out of retirement for one last post to review EX3, armed not with optimism, but with a burning necessity to voice my disappointment. Not that it matters anymore, but alas, EX3 strays far from its predecessors in such a disastrous fashion, prompting me to purge my frustration through words.

Where do I begin this lamentable tale? EX3 is such a convoluted cinematic travesty that writing a concise review becomes a daunting task. Nevertheless, let's dissect this catastrophe.

Sylvester Stallone: a name that once resonated as the embodiment of action heroism, now stands shadowed by accusations of selling out, an ego-driven caricature of his former self. Outside his die-hard devotees of the StalloneZone, the true enthusiasts of the gritty 80s action films are left grappling with a sense of betrayal. Their unconditional support of the EX-franchise, which offered a lifeline to their aging icon, met with the heart-wrenching realization that he had forsaken them in favor of appealing to a new generation. What debt he owed to this new generation remains an enigma...

However, it would be naive to lay all of EX3's faults solely at Stallone's feet. The strings of decision-making in this production were manipulated by various entities, with the greedy Lerner family and the looming studios playing significant roles. The big studio executives must answer to shareholders, and they won't allow Stallone to determine their entire fortune. Yet, it should be acknowledged that Stallone's influence and his ability to steer the ship were compromised by his frantic desire to remain relevant in the 21st century.

And I'm saying that based on a pattern that is hard to ignore, one echoing throughout the legend's career – a cycle of ego-driven decisions and complacency that blinds him once he’s at the summit. The fame gained after Rocky and Rambo, the revival following Cliffhanger and Demolition Man – all were marred by the same affliction. And now, history cruelly repeats itself following the birth of the Expendables saga.

Although Sly is known for rising from the ashes, he might be too old for another comeback. I hope this EX3 debacle will bring his senses back, guiding his final Rambo project, if it ever gets made, to embody the values that placed him among the pantheon of action legends. An EX4 would be a redundant proposition if he's not allowed or able to return it to its essence and what it was always meant to be.

PG-13: An abbreviation that now tastes bitter on the tongues of hardcore fans. The attempt to blame piracy, a convenient alibi, cannot shield EX3 from the fallout. Yes, the illicit leak may have affected the box office figures – a decrease of approximately 20%, according to researchers, which would have resulted in the movie's opening of about $20M. This is still a mediocre result, considering the high expectations, expenses, and the pedigree of the cast members.

The true culprits: Franchise fatigue, terrible quality, bad reviews, and, most importantly, alienation of true fans. Unfortunately, history repeats itself, and studios either don't learn or don't care to learn from past mistakes. Lionsgate's strategic gambit to capitalize on Fast & Furious' summer absence faltered, and Stallone's and Lerner's bid to broaden the audience's horizons for personal ego and financial gains was a miscalculated plunge. Whatever the reason behind the PG decision, the verdict is unanimous: the movie paid for it, from both marketing and quality perspectives. Let’s pray that if EX4 should grace our screens, its architects learn from this debacle. Yet, it would be naive to expect history to change its course as long as the same architects remain in charge.

The film itself: It's a package of poor editing, average CGI, lackluster acting, and a story worthy of the garbage bin. Li and Schwarzenegger's relegation to mere shadows of their former selves is an affront of the highest order, deserving a trial at the Hague of cinema. Banderas' caricature-like presence is a cruel joke. It's almost as if these icons were treated with disregard, their cinematic legacies shackled. Arnold's contentment, his participation in such a denigration, baffles my mind. The “veteran” Expendables marginalized and overshadowed. The Sly/Mel fight is a shame, worse than Sly/JCVD in EX2. Badness upon badness, a cascade of cinematic disaster. WTF?

The New Blood: I'm speechless. What a laughable charade was this? Seriously? Lutz is probably the worst actor seen in recent years. He has no presence and charisma. Who dares to disrespect our icons? At least in EX2, one could develop some sympathy for Hemsworth. He was respectful towards the older EXs and died quickly to make room for the real heroes. Rousey was passable thanks to her fighting skills and has some okay fight scenes, but she should remain mute. The boxer boy, spare me the indignity, what was that? Actually, if I had to force myself to like one of them, I'd pick the hacker guy; he was okay.

This was Stallone's biggest mistake in his entire career – to write this ill-conceived roster of characters and then choose a bunch of useless wannabes to play them. Sly, please read this and all the other millions of articles, posts, tweets on the internet; open your eyes and let go of your ego. You should try to stay relevant to your fans who made you. Relevance beckons not the kids ignorant of your legacy, but the devotees who sculpted your success. If by any chance you are given the opportunity to make EX4, exterminate the new blood blasphemy in the opening act or design a narrative that banishes them from the sequel. Do your best to get Chan and give him a proper role. Make it a good R like you did with your Rambo 4. Bring on a few good villains, lobby for the money, and give it to The Rock; he wants to play ball. Do the Right Thing!

Thus, a franchise falls, a symphony of hardcore action from the 80s devolving into a discordant song. Witnessed by Generation X, the epitaph of an era.

Overall Rating: 1/5