Cannes report: The Expendables 3 special presentation

While the original Expendables may not have been at all satisfying, failing to provide anything like a compelling plot, interesting characters or well executed action, it was still a very intriguing experiment in action nostalgia, and Sylvester Stallone had clearly poured a lot of passion into the project.

Stalline comes across very well in the accompanying, feature-length documentary Inferno: The Making of The Expendables, in fact, appearing to be both incredibly earnest and enthusiastic. At the same time, though, Inferno does create a pretty clear sense that making The Expendables must have felt a lot like pulling teeth.

This morning, I sat down to watch a sixteen minute promo for The Expendables 3, comprised again of behind the scenes footage. What was obvious this time, at least in the manner that this material was presented today, is quite how much fun everyone was having on set this time. It remains to be seen if this will translate into a more fun action romp than the two previous, surprisingly dull, episodes.

The clip reel was built from snippets of a very large number of action scenes, as well as the usual kind of EPK interview material. I attempted to keep track of the number of locations in which the action was taking place, hoping to make a rough estimate of the minimum number of separate sequences, but I soon lost count.

There was certainly a lot of vehicular action on display, involving helicopters, tanks, trucks and motorbikes, some of which were positively flying through the air. There was also footage of a truck stunt going very, very wrong. Disastrously, the brakes went out on the truck, sending the vehicle, Jason Statham and couple of RED Epic cameras off a pier and deep underwater. Statham was, thankfully, okay and we were told that he quickly dried off, got changed and was soon ready to shoot again. The clip is clearly intended to demonstrate how involved the stars are with the movie’s real action, which was backed up by talk about how stunt doubles were unnecessary.

There was some hand-to-hand fighting on show too, most of it from sometime mixed martial artist, Ronda Rousey. Unsurprisingly, she looked very convincing as she took out a variety of men out in reasonably inventive fashion. Clips of her filming a fight sequence were intercut with footage of the scene in pre-vis and also rehearsal, revealing the process by which her action was constructed.

The stunt work and action all seems very ambitious and practical, with even the most impossible feats achieved by wire-work over CGI, but it would be hard to make any kind of judgment about its all-round quality. Most of what I saw was presented in brief snippets and, seeing as the first two films suffered from some rather dismal editing, I shall remain weary until I see finished Expendables 3 footage in a finalised cut.

Those who enjoyed or disliked the quippy dialogue of the first two films will be pleased or disappointed, respectively, to know that this bantering tone still appears to be very much part of the franchise. In any case, the low rumble of the actors’ voices often made these jokey lines rather hard for me to catch.

Much was made in the reel of Dan Bradley’s involvement as second unit director. He was shown to be working alongside director Patrick Hughes for a good deal of the production, and it appears there was deliberate decision made to pair the older, experience second unit director the younger principal director. Bradley worked on films in the Bourne and Spider-Man franchises and also shot second unit of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, so I should imagine he’s a pretty safe pair of hands.

Overall, I was impressed by the scale of the practical action that was staged for this film, and with Hughes behind the camera, I’m optimistic that some of the incredibly hard work expended on staging the stunts will be ultimately well served on screen.