The Expendables 3 – Can I bring my friends please?

Ever go away with your best mates, the ones you’ve known forever, spend way too much money and have the absolute time of your life? I have; and so has Sly Stallone, only he got Lionsgate to foot the bill.

The trailer for ‘The Expendables 3’ was released this week, boasting the prestigious entourage of Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Randy Couture and Terry Crews, alongside brand new heavyweights Wesley Snipes, Kelsey Grammer, Antonio Banderas, Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford. It sounds ridiculous but they managed to fit all the names on the poster. This isn’t even the bulk of the Expendables saga; the previous films boasted both Jean Claude Van Damme and Bruce Willis, the latter of which reportedly demanded $1 million per day to appear in the sequel. No doubt there’ll be an in-joke in ‘3’ about how they couldn’t afford John McClane.

‘The Expendables’ series is incredibly fun, even for those who haven’t seen all the preposterous yet highly viewable 80’s flicks in which its stars rose to fame. Chuck Norris telling a Chuck Norris joke in #2 (“I got bit by a cobra. Five days later, the cobra died”) was a definite highlight. Some of the fun comes from seeing the characters unapologetically blow everything up, some from nostalgia for a more self-indulgent era of cinema – yet much of the attraction comes from seeing a bunch of good mates having a genuinely good time.

80’s action stars are notorious for their narrow yet well-defined acting range in the sense that they are often relegated to playing one character, usually themselves, or at least a version of themselves which engages in wholesale slaughter. ‘The Expendables’ is no departure from this formula and the characters the actors play on-screen are no far cry from their previous incarnations or even themselves; you can imagine Stallone, Statham and Schwarzenegger chatting in much the same way they do in the movies, only without the M-16s.

The series, as much as they are quality action films, are a great way for a bunch of good mates to have a paid holiday, this time in Sofia where filming took place over two months. This doesn’t detract from the movie and can lead to a cleaner production if the actors are getting along on set which often translates into genuine charisma on-screen. Feuds lead to tension and can even detract from the quality of performances and the final product. Michael Bay famously fired Megan Fox after various on-set disputes throughout the filming of Transformers 2. Of course the pair’s falling out can’t be blamed for an appallingly weak sequel, but it can’t have helped.

There are a number of films not unlike the Expendables series. The Ocean’s trilogy, and in particular Ocean’s 13, were a great excuse for friends George Clooney, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt to hang out in Vegas, then in St Petersburg, Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Monte Carlo, Lake Como and Sicily, with a return to Vegas for the third outing, because they hadn’t had enough the first time. Damon even acknowledged in interviews that he had no idea what character he was playing and believed that Linus Caldwell had changed over the course of each film to suit the plot’s machinations. But of course it didn’t really matter, because they were there to have fun, as was the audience.

‘This is the End’ was a great opportunity for BFFs James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride to hang out in LA together and make some cash. Not to say it was a bad movie at all, the sight of a deranged sex-crazed Michael Cera was pure entertainment. The crew have had many outings together and went so far as to play themselves in the post-apocalyptic comedy. ‘This is the End’ even featured the film within a film home-made sequel to ‘Pineapple Express.’ Very meta I know, but any slackness on character development didn’t matter, because they were playing themselves, loving it, and the audience ate it up.  Check out the trailer for Rogen and Franco’s latest ‘The Interview,’ set in North Korea. In the two-minute clip the pair literally profess their love for each other.

There are innumerable examples of this tendency in films including almost every Happy Madison production and arguably many of the recent reboots/sequels, notably the abysmal ‘Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ and the not-so-highly anticipated ‘Dumb and Dumber 2.’

I like to have fun in the movies, and it helps when an amazing cast not only jells but translates this energy into a film where they bring the audience along for a really good time. We can expect ‘The Expendables 3’ to be filled with casual references, homages and witty off-set allusions.

A fourth ‘Expendables’ is already in pre-production and both Pierce Brosnan and Hulk Hogan are in on the action. Jackie Chan and Steven Seagal both had to pull out of ‘3’ and would surely be welcomed back by the cast and audience alike for the fourth outing. With ‘3’ still yet to be released, ‘4’ is looking like the biggest yet. They might have to save Russell Crowe and Nic Cage for ‘Expendables 5,’ though it could really depend on where they want to spend their summer.