Tag Archives: Antonio Banderas

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water is really funny; enough for it to overcome what flaws it has.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

spongebob out of waterBefore we properly get to reviewing, I need to put out a request to all animation studios.  Ahem…  STOP REGIONALLY RE-CASTING CERTAIN ROLES!  See, for some reason, certain animated films have started developing a habit of dubbing over minor roles with British ‘celebrities’ instead of their original voice actors.  Pixar’s Cars re-cast the role of Lightning McQueen’s arsehole manager from Jeremy Piven, because Entourage – have I ever mentioned that I am not a fan of Cars – to Jeremy Clarkson, because… I’m drawing a blank.  Big Hero 6 had YouTubers Dan and Phil – they were the scientists reporting the status of the Krey-Tech experiment in case you wondered why there were random distracting British accents in that scene and, no, I don’t know who they are either.

And now, The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water recasts seemingly its entire seagull cast with British ‘celebrities’, most recognisable of which being Alan Carr.  And I know that that’s the case because the credits list the original VAs for each of them and Carr’s name is not inexplicably listed between people like Rob Paulson, April Stewart, and Billy West – seemingly none of which are actually in this version of the film, and I’d recognise their various voices damn near anywhere.  I’m not going to mark the film down for these problems, there’s no point since I can just import the correct version from America when it hits Blu-Ray, but I do want the animation industry to know this: I AM ONTO YOU.  Stop devaluing the hard work of the minor players by telling them that their work can be replaced when the film goes to other English-speaking countries by stunt-cast mediocre actors who often flub their lines and sound like they did their work on the other end of a poor quality phone line.  So stop it.  That is all.

Anyways…  The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water.  There’s something I need to clear up before I tell you whether it is any good or not, because the marketing has misrepresented this one so badly.  See, despite how the film’s marketing has told it, Sponge Out Of Water spends very, very little time actually out of the ocean.  In fact, I would estimate that the gang spend, at the very most, 20 minutes above the surface, with 10 of those being dedicated to the superhero stuff that has been slapped all over the marketing, and this is all at the end of the film.  You know that section in The Spongebob Squarepants Movie where Spongebob and Patrick are carted off to the surface before promptly being rescued by David Hasselhoff?  The surface elements here are about twice that length, maybe thrice, tops.

Consequently, yes, the plot takes forever to really get going, especially since the film itself makes it really, really obvious as to who (Antonio Banderas, who only occasionally looks like he’s having a miserable time) has really stolen the Krabby Patty formula that Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) and Spongebob (Tom Kenny) have been fingered for and why it is happening.  It’s not much of an issue, because that’s more time spent in Bikini Bottom and I’ll come back to that, but it does highlight how little of the heart that powered the first Spongebob film is in this one.  The first was a very funny film, but it was also a very sincere film powered by characters with genuine love and filmmakers who were similarly invested enough to let that heart take centre-stage when required.  Sponge Out Of Water doesn’t really have that, undercutting what moments of pathos it starts towards with a joke at the expense of that pathos.

As a result, the film probably won’t have the same replay strength as the first one did.  It’s aiming to be a joke machine, which isn’t inherently a bad thing – and the insistent status-quo nature of the Spongebob universe, in terms of events and character traits and character dynamics, does provide some of the film’s best gags – but it does mean that I am picking apart the points where the film doesn’t work a lot sooner than I normally would have.  There’s also the film’s main dynamic, where Spongebob tries to break through to Plankton and teach him the value of teamwork, which does contain some very funny gags, like Plankton’s near-total inability to pronounce the word due to the concept being so alien to him, but treads too closely to the classic show episode “F.U.N.” to impact fully – there’s even a duet between Spongebob and Plankton over the pros and cons of teamwork that is nowhere near as good as “F is for friends that do stuff together, U is for” you know the rest.

This all being said… … …I laughed.  I laughed a lot.  Spongebob Squarepants has been all over the place since the first movie, veering from great (Season 4) to mostly terrible (Season 5 to about Season 7) and more recently settling on pretty entertaining (Season 9), but Sponge Out Of Water finds everyone on near-top form – most likely not co-incidentally, this is the first time since the first movie that the show’s creator, Stephen Hillenburg, has been involved in the creative process.  Jokes come very thick and very fast, trading on physical comedy, character comedy, gross-out comedy, fourth-wall leans, and complete randomness in equal hilarious measure.  I had plenty of big hearty belly laughs – which certainly seemed to make the kids in my screening less self-conscious about how loud they were allowed to laugh – with enough smaller chuckles, giggles and smirks between them to keep the occasional dry spell from being a problem.

But even when I wasn’t laughing, I was still entertained, primarily by the fact that I got to watch a traditionally-animated feature film on the big screen again.  Look, what can I say?  My formative years were shaped by Classic Era Disney VHS tapes, I will always have a soft spot for the medium regardless of how well it’s pulled off.  As for Sponge Out Of Water, it looks like an episode of the TV show, just with the budget allotted to be able to trash the various sets a lot more than usual.  I don’t mean this as an insult, by the way.  Spongebob’s art style and animation quality are so distinctive and ingrained by this point that messing with that would likely cause more harm than good.  You know how the first film looked?  It’s like that.  Pretty much exactly like that and, again, that is not a bad thing.

The film’s best looking moments are, as is probably expected for Spongebob, when it gets weird.  Art shifts are an even more frequent occurrence than one might expect but they all benefit greatly from the extra cash available.  A trip inside Spongebob’s mind is rendered in a semi-Flash day-glow sickening manner, there’s one semi-recurring character whose body is stop-motion and whose cape is CGI with the two never quite gelling which brilliantly amplifies the utterly weird effect of the character’s entire existence, there’s a recurrent suitably trippy art shift that I would not even dream of spoiling for you, and the bonkers final scene is done in clip-art style Flash.  It all looks great, too, because they still adhere close enough to the traditional sequences to feel like they come from the same film.

Oh, yeah, and there’s the live-action sequences.  Because they’re just the last 20 minutes, they suffer the most from joke decay, it really is just every single one of the same jokes that have been repeatedly thrown your way for the past 6 months one after another, barring a few great instances.  That said, although they’re a step down from the prior 60 minutes, they’re still fun.  Mike Mitchell, of the criminally underrated Sky High, handles these sequences and he pulls off the exact level of self-aware staginess required for these segments, whilst the CG looks great with fuzzy toy-style character designs, and the animation gets more than close enough to the half-pose-to-pose-half-squash-and-stretch style of the Paul Tibbitt, a series mainstay, directed animation segments.

So, although it’s nothing particularly brilliant and doesn’t reach the heights of its first cinematic excursion, I still really enjoyed The Spongebob Movie.  It’s a much-needed course-correct for the series as a whole – you’ll find that Spongebob is much less irritating and that most everybody is less of a total jerk, here – and though it fails to follow through on its heart properly, it’s still funny enough and made with enough care and love to succeed.  I don’t know if it will hold up as well on a second viewing, the true test of a comedy for me, but I went in with high expectations and come out rather satisfied.  Of course, if you don’t like Spongebob then you should disregard everything I have said here because this is only really for fans.  But, as a fan, I laughed.  A lot.  Plus the ending fulfilled a need I didn’t even know I had, so there’s that.

Just maybe import the Blu-Ray from America when that time comes, eh?  I mean, I’m sure that April Stewart and Cree Summer are just thrilled to hear that Paramount Pictures believes that STACEY SOLOMON can do their jobs just as well.

Callum Petch will spoil, spoil all the fun.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

Puss In Boots

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Last year, DreamWorks Animation celebrated its 20th anniversary.  To mark the occasion, Callum Petch has been going through their entire animated canon, one film a week for the next 30 weeks, and giving them a full-on retrospective treatment.  Prior entries can be found here, should you desire.


Before we get started this week, and I have to get all mildly irritated at wasted potential, let’s briefly address this week’s news.  As I have touched on multiple times throughout this series, most specifically in the Joseph: King Of Dreams and Bee Movie pieces, DreamWorks Animation today is not in a good spot, like, at all.  Their films have been significantly underperforming, the studio has been losing money, and certain films – most specifically B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations – have been in development hell for years.  Their attempts to find a buyer have failed, primarily because Jeffrey Katzenberg is trying to play what everyone knows is a crap hand like it’s a royal flush, and things look really grim.

Compounding that misery was this week’s onslaught of news.  Following on from a recent string of major misfires, and in an attempt to stop haemorrhaging money, the company is cutting approximately 500 jobs, top execs have left the company, the number of feature films being released each year will now count two maximum with one always being a sequel of some kind, and they are closing PDI – the animation studio that has been with them since Day 1, that they acquired totally in 2000, and which just released major bomb Penguins of Madagascartotally with most of its staff being laid off instead of reassigned.  That loss of 500 jobs equates to almost 20% of the company’s current workforce.

Look, Katzenberg, if for some utterly ridiculous reason you are reading this, you need to change tactics and you need to step back.  As we have seen (sort of) throughout this series, the Western feature-length animation landscape is not what it was back in 2005.  It has new faces, new voices, resurgent faces, and a whole bunch of filmmakers who can deliver top-quality animation for well below $100 million – Despicable Me 2 cost $78 million, whilst The Lego Movie only cost $60 million – and who don’t ram multiple films down the audience’s throat every single year – even when they’re good, like they were for 2014, they still just burn out the general public.

You’re trying to run the company like it’s still 2005 when it really isn’t, and your studio and films are suffering for that.  Katzenberg, you need to find a buyer, first of all.  You need to get off of Wall Street, so that DreamWorks have that safety net of a major company again if everything does go wrong.  Illumination are owned by Universal, Blue Sky by 20th Century Fox, Pixar by Disney; you need to join that group.  Secondly… you need to step down.  I’m sorry, but you do or, at least, step back.  Don’t try and make a power play whilst selling the company, don’t stick around and continue to micromanage, just stop.  You are the company’s own worst enemy at this moment in time, and it needs a new voice leading proceedings.

I know that it’s hard to let go of something you’ve helped build, but there is a point where you just have to admit that you are not the right man for the job anymore.  This is one of those times.  So sell the company, step back, and let somebody else take the reins for once.  Otherwise I am terrified that we won’t be seeing DreamWorks Animation, at least in this recognisable sort of form, for much longer.  OK, on with this week’s entry.


puss in boots23] Puss In Boots (28th October 2011)

Budget: $130 million

Gross: $554,987,477

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%

So, let’s talk about that incest subtext, shall we!

Question: are Jack and Jill brother and sister, or just two non-blood related people of opposing genders?  Not in Puss In Boots, we’ll get to that, I mean in the nursery rhyme.  The rhyme itself has changed over the centuries, but at no point in any of its incarnations does it specify exactly whether the pair are siblings, married or just two people.  A third verse makes reference to Jill having a mother, who whips her for laughing at Jack’s misfortune, but that’s as far as the specificity goes.  As a child, I always saw them as brother and sister.  I mean, the rhyme is so innocent and the nature of their relationship, to me, always seemed like that of siblings rather than friends or lovers or what have you.

Therefore, I grew up holding that belief, as I imagine a good majority of other people did.  Hence why seventeen year-old me ended up sat in the cinema in abject horror as the Jack of Puss In Boots started talking in earnest to the film’s version of Jill about impregnating her with a baby.  Because “our biological clocks are ticking.”  Now, again, the nursery rhyme doesn’t specify, so you get that wiggle room, but neither does the film.  They are mentioned as husband and wife, but they are never openly denied as brother and sister, and this is a problem.

See, the Shrek series up to this point has been pretty darn faithful when it comes to presenting fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters in their universe.  They may gain sassy personalities or have that thing they’re known for doing twisted around for comedy – The Wolf, for example, is a crossdresser who just wishes to lay in other people’s beds and it’s funny because it’s a man dressed as a woman – but they are portrayed with the backstory (or unspoken backstory) that viewers know and accept, unless specifically stated otherwise.  That’s why, even though it is never specifically stated so in the nursery rhyme so they do have that leeway, a good subset of the film’s older audience may be grossed out by the implication.  Especially since DreamWorks still have that poor double-coding stigma attached to them; if they did intentionally start making incest references, would anybody here be surprised?

This also ends up being emblematic of the problems that face Puss In Boots.  The first is how the baby desires are brought up, made a huge deal out of, and then promptly tossed off-screen and out of the film after its interest is lost – which is what ends up happening to Jack and Jill and, to somewhat of an extent, Kitty Softpaws.  The second is because it’s a film that wants to find its own voice and do its own thing, hinting at true greatness constantly, but keeps being dragged down by the worst impulses and traits of the series that it’s spun-off from – having villains who are happily married and have humanising conversations about their domestic life is a great idea.  Marrying it to nursery rhyme characters for no reason, ones with misconceptions surrounding them: not so much.

But let’s hold up for a minute.  You may notice that I mentioned offhandedly a few paragraphs back about how I saw Puss In Boots in the cinema.  That is information that runs contradictory to my constant notes that Kung Fu Panda was the moment that I decided to stop seeing DreamWorks films in the cinema.  Well, Puss In Boots very much turned out to be the exception, brought on by a friend of mine at Sixth Form at the time having gotten free movie tickets she needed to burn and there being nothing else on that week.  I ended up finding it incredibly boring, a nice distillation of all of the things I disliked about DreamWorks in one forgettable, only occasionally enraging package reminder to stop subjecting myself to their output already.

Of course, I was a different critic back then, one who wouldn’t fall headfirst back down the rabbit hole of animation until a good year later and one who, quite honestly, was probably wanting to dislike it.  A second watch has made the stuff that doesn’t work stick out even sharper, but has also revealed the nugget of a genuinely great film fighting against everything that stands in its way to burst out and reveal itself – the film that the critics saw and showered with praisePuss In Boots is a potentially brilliant film that just can’t stop lapsing into bad habits, like an addict on the road to recovery and with that same kind of “dammit, no!  You can be better than this!” feeling attached to it.  Fitting, really, since those are actually the arc words of the film itself.

For example, and as I’ve previously discussed in their respective articles, the Shrek sequels run on pop culture references and a sprinkling of mean-spiritedness.  The characters go through the motions, but their bonds never feel sincere, instead being obviously controlled by the almighty screenwriter from upon high.  In short, there’s no heart.  Puss In Boots, by contrast, is very character-driven.  In addition to those little exchanges between Jack and Jill, the film’s central emotional core pivots on Puss and Humpty Alexander Dumpty.  There’s even an 11 minute stretch of the film dedicated to the flashback that sets up and explains the duo’s dynamic, recognising that hard work like that will pay off down the line.

And, for a good half an hour, it does.  Puss and Humpty swap banter, re-affirm their bond, de-frost in the former’s case, and generally just strike up a good rapport with one another, which is good since most of the movie consists of those two and Kitty Softpaws.  Speaking of, although she really doesn’t get much to do – no surprise for a DreamWorks Animation joint by this point, I know – she still brings a fun dynamic to the cast.  She brings out the really entertaining Casanova side of Puss, and I really like the fact that she’s actually rather soft personality-wise naturally, with her harder and more anger-filled moments coming from genuine reasons to be so rather than just being pissed all the time until the film decides it’s time for her to fall head over heels for Puss.

So the central trio are extremely well-drawn and likeable with good chemistry and a nice sense of heart.  Shame it’s all pissed away when Humpty is revealed to be the villain who had been the mastermind behind everything from the start in an overly-elaborate revenge scheme on both Puss and the town of San Ricardo.  It’s one of those special kind of twists where it’s blindingly obvious and yet incredibly stupid and nonsensical at the same time.  The film telegraphs the twist way too early and obviously – really exaggerated shifty eyes, silent mouthing, clearly fake smiles – in a way that contradicts Zach Galifianakis’ sincere vocal performance, it screws up the character arc majorly – especially since it promptly forgets about it barely 10 minutes later in order to do the redemption finale – and it reduces the reveal flashbacks themselves to a lame gag, undercutting whatever power the twist should have.

It was apparently executive producer Guillermo del Toro – in his first major work on a DreamWorks film since coming aboard as a Creative Consultant for the company in 2010 – who decided that Humpty should redeem himself at the end with the self-sacrifice, which is a smart move, the film has put way too much time and effort into the relationship between Humpty and Puss to just throw it away for third act explosions.  But it also throws into sharp relief just how pointless the betrayal itself is, especially since the film could still have this exact same finale without it!

Look, I’ll fix it for you right now.  Instead of the betrayal, have the trio arrive at San Ricardo looking to give back to the town, only to have them reject and shun Humpty due to the whole “once a bad egg, always a bad egg” type of stigma.  Let that throw Humpty into a fit of jealous rage and cause a falling out between Puss and himself, with Humpty planning on skipping town with the Golden Goose when no-one’s looking.  When its mother shows up, then have Humpty decide to leave San Ricardo to burn, only to experience a moral panic just as he’s about to flee.  Puss then turns up, they talk, he convinces Humpty to help save the town as just because he was bad before, and the town still thinks he is, doesn’t mean he needs to still be, and then the finale progresses as before.  You then get to hit the same beats and tackle the same themes without having that stupid pace-ruining, near-character-derailing betrayal!  It was so easy to avoid!

As, in fact, are a lot of the film’s problems.  As mentioned earlier, this is a film that very much is striving to find its own voice, to set itself apart from its parent series as something different and new.  So the tone is that of a swashbuckling adventure movie with a distinctly Spanish feel and location.  Again, there are times when it works very well, the trip and heist from the giant’s castle is a particular highlight, and the emphasis on drama, and often melodrama, works to the film’s advantage, preventing itself from undercutting everything like Shrek ended up doing – although it still chooses to do so enough times to get annoying; the exit from Puss’ flashback finds Kitty having been sent to sleep by it.

The problem is that it doesn’t manage to commit to that voice for the entire film.  Just when it settles into its groove, engages the more sceptical viewer and threatens to push through into greatness, it falls back on old, bad DreamWorks and Shrek habits.  There’s the aforementioned accidental incest stuff, but then the gross and utterly inexcusable prison rape gag rears its head to piss away any and all good will the film had accumulated thus far.  Later on, in the space of two minutes of one another, we get jokes about Puss being a drug addict – because no action-comedy tells the audience that we’re supposed to believe the character’s protestations that film’s equivalent of marijuana is for “medicinal purposes” – and masturbation.  There’s a Fight Club reference that’s only a decade late to the “That Joke Is No Longer Funny” party.

Puss In Boots is a film that wants to be its own thing, but either can’t break free of or keeps retreating into, for safety, the Shrek formula and the Shrek voice, like it’s worried that the audience won’t turn up unless it hits all of those necessary beats when required – hence why Humpty Dumpty and Jack & Jill are, well, Humpty Dumpty and Jack & Jill.  It’s a film with a Shrek cast member, if nursery rhyme or fairy tale characters don’t show up, people might not turn up!  Despite the fact that the film is set in Spain, and so the world of the film gets all muddied with the world of Shrek.  Yes, the film isn’t supposed to overlap with Shrek, but that leads to the question of why this needs to be Puss In Boots.  Why not just come up with some totally original characters and worlds?  Job’s already half-done.

In fact, flow-breaking side-bar real quick: this is definitely the ugliest-looking of the Shrek-related films that I have seen, almost by design.  It’s a film that has the majority of its side cast as humans and, as we have already discovered in three prior Shrek sequels, humans do not look good or appealing when put through the Shrek art-style, which is what Puss In Boots subscribes to albeit with more dirt and grime.  Therefore, the film attempts to steer into the skid, purposefully adding excess facial hair with large amounts of detail, extending proportions, bending things out of shape and such.  I get what it’s going for, but I really don’t think it works, frequently and accidentally crossing the line from “creepily off-putting” to “just plain ugly to look at”, especially with Jack and Jill.  Animation itself is fine, although boarding is a major step down from prior DreamWorks films, but the design is what lets it down.

Anyways, I get the feeling that the reason why DreamWorks didn’t go the whole hog and come up with original casts and worlds and such is because everybody at the company was still worried and hurting over the failure of The Road To El Dorado from 2000.  Puss In Boots actually, in its best moments, strongly recalls that much better movie.  See for all its faults, The Road To El Dorado never doubted what it wanted to be.  Never tried to awkwardly take turns appeasing kids and adults separately with easy cat jokes for the kids and one night stand gags for the adults.  Never panicked and zigged instead of zagging because it felt its plot was being too predictable.

Puss In Boots, however, is a film caught between two worlds and not confident enough in its own abilities to just leap off into the good one.  And since The Road To El Dorado exists, it ends up coming off as a poorer attempt to turn that into box office gold, this time.  El Dorado just does everything better: the central dynamic is more convincing, the dialogue is better, it doesn’t sacrifice its emotional heft at the altar of “argh, the kids might be bored by this seriousness”, it looks nicer, it’s more fun, and its ultimately tertiary female lead is better – both Kitty and Chel serve the purpose of “headstrong love interests who wander in and out of the film as required” but Chel ends up having the bigger impact on the film’s plot and makes a bigger mark for me.

But, hey, the film continued DreamWorks’ hot streak with the critics and won back a significant portion of the disillusioned Shrek fan-base.  Not so much at the domestic box office, mind.  Continuing a downward spiral that, quite honestly, throws the current box office woes into sharper relief, Puss In Boots’ no. 1 debut was the lowest for a DreamWorks Animation film since Flushed Away$34 million dead.  It would repeat at the top the next week, holding extremely strongly in all fairness, before falling off in the weeks following as Happy Feet Too, The Muppets, and Twilight 4 Part 1 leeched away its screens.  Puss would close at just under $150 million domestic.  That’s not half bad, honestly, but it’s also the lowest for any Shrek-related film yet released, and you just know that DreamWorks, Katzenberg, and shareholders will have wanted and expected more.  Least it still earned a good $400 mil overseas, putting the thing nicely over the profit line, unlike two films that we will come to in due time.

A sequel to this film is supposed to be still coming at some point.  They’ve been promising it for years, but it’s never really gotten further than those promises that it’s coming eventually.  With that creative re-shuffling and the scaling back of their feature film output going on at DreamWorks, it seems less and less likely that it’s ever going to happen, and I honestly find that a shame.  We already know that the Shrek series and I don’t get along and Puss In Boots’ worst moments are when it relapses into that voice.  It’s a film that is always seemingly on the verge of becoming its own thing and being hugely entertaining whilst doing so, but keeps falling back into those old habits.  A sequel could be the confidence boost it needs to push forward on that original voice, but I guess, at this rate, we’ll never find out.

Still, least it’s a better final note for the Shrek series than Shrek Forever After or, god forbid, Shrek The Third!  That’s always a plus!


After putting out their masterpiece in the shape of Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss In Boots marked a return to the kind of fun, lightweight animated movies that, nonetheless, attempt to have their own voice that DreamWorks were known for.  The box office repaid them in kind and the critics seemed to be more accepting of this kind of film than before.  Things were looking a little shaky at the box office, but everything was mostly continuing to be smooth sailing.  Not to mention how having a growing collection of beloved live-action auteurs in their pocket – Roger Deakins and now del Toro – was doing wonders for their storytelling.

Next week, we look at a film that is unexpectedly co-scripted by one such auteur.  The result finally pushed its once-maligned series into critical acceptance and was rewarded with major box office returns.  The auteur is Noah Baumbach, and the film is Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.  Da-da-dada-da-da-AFRO CIRCUS.

A new edition of DreamWorks! A Retrospective will be posted here every Monday at 1PM BST!

Callum Petch owns the money, he controls the witness.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

The Expendables 3: The Indispensables

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

expendables 3 5It’s fair to say that I’m a self-confessed action film nut. Give me a free 90 minutes and any Jean-Claude Van Damme movie and I’ll smile and say “thanks very much”. It may be no surprise to learn then that I am also a Stallone fan; and with that, a fan of the Expendables franchise. Simon West’s light-hearted but immensely fun sequel to the more serious original (which was written by, directed by and starred Sylvester Stallone) is one of my favourite modern popcorn munching action movies.

Thursday saw the release of the third entry into Sylvester Stallone’s modern action franchise, the succinctly named, The Expendables 3. Whilst overall it’s perhaps not as impressive – in terms of critical success and box office success – as either of his Rambo or Rocky films of decades past, they do feature an impressive cast of 80’s and 90’s heroes as long as the protruding big blue veins in his large muscular arms. Amongst whom returning to Stallone’s side as he stops the latest megalomaniac (an incredibly intense Mel Gibson), are familiar faces such as the arse-kicking Jason Statham, knife-sharpening giant Dolph Lundgren and cigar-chomping Arnold Schwarzenegger. Plus, a load of other recognisable members such as Terry Crews, Randy Couture and Jet Li pop up here and there.

Joining them are a bunch of young whippersnappers (Glen Powell, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey and Victor Ortiz) whose careers are only just beginning. Whilst at the other end of the experience scale sees notable newcomers Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Harrison Ford and Kelsey Grammer join the crew. If nothing else, it shows how far the series has come when it can attract stars such as Gibson and Ford, as opposed to the early incarnations with the likes of Steve Austin and Mickey Rourke taking top billing.

However, a review of The Expendables 3 this is not. For that, check out Callum’s review from this weekend! Instead, I’m pitting the original Expendables cast against the latest big name additions. One film each, best of 5, let’s see who’s indispensable to the series and who is expendable.

expendables 3 4


1. Jason Statham vs Wesley Snipes – Crank vs Demolition Man

Often seen throughout this second sequel squaring up to each other with their knife skills (and knife puns) on display, they are arguably the two actors who have the most on-screen chemistry with our chief protagonist, ol’ Sly Stallone. But who has been in  the best action movie? Crank is an exhilarating non-stop self-aware adrenaline-junkie of a movie. The entire cast appear to be pumping energy drinks directly into their bloodstream. None more so of course than The Stath, spending the duration of the movie keeping his adrenaline flowing in every possible way you can think of. But what about Snipes? Demolition Man, released at a transitional time for action movies from the over-the-top kill-em-all era of the 80’s to the smarter, cooler 90’s, is everything Expendables wants to homage. Snipes’ charisma may be mostly responsible for why this movie is still so enjoyable, but let’s face it, it’s no Crank.

Originals 1 – 0 Newcomers

predator2. Arnold Schwarzenegger vs Mel Gibson – Predator vs Mad Max

To many, this won’t even be a debate. Arnie is arguably the greatest action hero we have ever seen. A genre is defined by his mere presence thanks to movies such as Terminator 2, True Lies, Total Recall and indeed the Vietnam jungle survivalist sci-fi horror, Predator. If the debate was “who is better in The Expendables 3“, then sugar-tits himself Mel Gibson would walk that contest. Unfortunately for the fresh-faced post-apocalyptic Australian Max, there is no comparison. Schwarzenegger can quite literally become an elected member of the Republican party and I’ll still turn up in the cinema to see whatever film he’s starring in these days. There’s still so much good will towards him thanks to films such as this all time classic of the genre. The man is a legend. Sorry, Mel.

Originals 2 – 0 Newcomers

3. Dolph Lundgren vs Antonio Banderas – Showdown in Little Tokyo vs Desperado

Yes, yes. OK. I am aware that Rocky IV is Dolph’s most iconic film and quite possibly his best – I won’t even entertain suggestions of Masters of the Universe or The Punisher. But we all know Rocky IV isn’t an action movie, don’t we. Never mind that, Showdown in Little Tokyo is massively underrated. Lundgren is as wooden as he ever was in these early roles of his, but there are some brilliant stunts, one liners and his final showdown lives up to expectations. Is it better than anything in Desperado? Well, no. That would be silly. Banderas is the epitome of cool in the film that really propelled him into the English-speaking public’s conscious. The direction from Robert Rodriguez is excessive, unrelenting and fantastic; Banderas is absolutely perfect as the sexy, dark and mysterious mariachi. Not only does he steal the show in the third act of The Expendables 3, he’s stealing a point for the newcomers.

Originals 2 – 1 Newcomers

4. Randy Couture vs Kelsey Grammer – Hijacked vs Transformers: Age of Extinction

Oh, boy. This is a close one for all the wrong reasons. Whilst you’d think the odds would be stacked against Grammer given the best action films he’s featured in outside of The Expendables 3 are directed by Brett Ratner (X-Men: The Last Stand) and Michael Bay (Trans4mers), it should be a cake-walk for his opposite number. But looking at the best films Couture has starred in, one appalling The Mummy spin-off (The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior) and a straight to video revenge movie where he’s out-shined by a 5 minute Vinnie Jones cameo (Hijacked), it’s not all that straight-forward. At least Grammer was entertaining in some rather average movies. The comeback is on!

Originals 2 – 2 Newcomersindiana jones

5. Sylvester Stallone vs Harrison Ford – First Blood vs Raiders of the Lost Ark

Oh, boy. This is a close one for all the right reasons. Saving the best ’til last was meant to make this challenge easier. Instead what I’m looking at is two of Hollywood’s legends, famed more for what they bring to the screen besides what is traditionally considered “great acting”, both duking it out until the 12th round. They have a swagger, a deserved arrogance, something unquantifiable that makes them both the iconic and charismatic performers we know them as today. Comparing First Blood (the beginning of the Rambo franchise and an action movie with real emotional depth) with Raiders of the Lost Ark (the beginning of the Indiana Jones franchise and an action movie with sophistication and undeniable amusement) is just as tough. Of the two, just edging it for me would probably be First Blood. I make no apologies for this either. As good as Indy is, he’s stilla nerd isn’t he? Rambo is just.. better.

Originals 3 – 2 Newcomers


And that’s the end of that! It seems the newcomers made a valiant effort but it’s the originals that have come out on top. We can only hope that if Jackie Chan, Nic Cage, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Kurt Russell and Vin Diesel turn up in The Expendables 4, things might go a bit differently in the rematch!

Do you agree? Are you outraged by this outcome? Leave a comment below and wind Owen up.

The Expendables III

Not great, not bad, The Expendables III is diverting entertainment for the over-long run-time it lasts for.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

expendables 3There is not a whole lot to say about The Expendables III.  It is a film that does exactly what it says on the tin and nothing more.  You want to see some over-the-hill action movie stars and some up-and-coming would-be action movie stars blow stuff up real good in the cinematic equivalent of being subjected to a straight shot of testosterone for two and a bit hours?  Do you mind that being done in a competent and not exactly stellar fashion?  Congratulations, this is your movie.  It is utterly passable and diverting filmmaking that knows its limitations and, as a result, sticks solely to what it wants to do.  I hesitate to say “its strengths” because, much like the last two, it’s still not great at what it does and is far too long (this one busts through the two hour mark by the time the credits are finished and does it ever feel like it at points), but it is decent fun, although less overtly silly than the last go-around (you decide whether that’s a good thing or not).

Honestly, there’s really not a whole lot to talk about here.  If you’ve seen an Expendables film before, you know exactly what you’re signing up for.  It’s another one of those, it’s a bit more serious than the last one but the overall pros and cons are the same.  Stallone and Statham still have inexplicably amazing buddy chemistry together, so obviously they don’t spend nearly enough time together on screen.  There’s still a perverse joy in seeing these aging action stars, and up-and-comers who often deserve budding action careers (Kellan Lutz is the real surprise standout of the younger cast, especially so given that The Legend Of Hercules is barely six months old), kicking ass and taking names, but the film is still too overstuffed and therefore many people (including, yes, perennial “fill-out-the-numbers” members Randy Couture and Terry Crews) don’t get their big moment, let alone a character to play.  The final action scene, which spans pretty much the entire final half-hour, kicks all kinds of ass but the film seems permanently stuck in third gear for the rest of its run-time.  There is a good sense of fun throughout the production, but it’s still overwhelmingly macho and the equivalent of watching a raging boner projected on a cinema screen for two hours which, depending on how willing you are to turn off your brain, may be off-putting (although, thankfully, it’s a dumb action film in 2014 that doesn’t sneak a whole bunch of disgusting racism and sexism past everyone under the guise of “we’re a big dumb action film, it’s not like anything uncouth that we do or say matters, right?”).

Let’s talk minor differences, then, eh?  First, that 12a rating.  It means there is no blood.  That’s it.  Literally the only things stopping this from being rated a 15 are the complete lack of blood and an excessively shaky camera whenever knives get involved (otherwise known as “Hunger Games-ing it”).  Swears are thrown about frequently, hundreds of people are violently gunned down, bones are broken… you know, the usual, just now with 100% less CGI blood-squirts and only one deployment of the f-word.  This is still not a film that is suitable for anybody under the age of 10 (stop using the cinema as a babysitter, random parents who brought their two young children into the screening with them), don’t panic.  It’s still violent, still brutal, it’s just cagier about the details.  Also, none of this spoils the last extended action sequence; despite taking place across a large space and multiple floors, it’s nearly always clear where everyone is in relation to what and to what they’re engaged in.

Elsewhere, I found the way the film treated the younger Expendables to be really refreshing.  See, the plot kick-starts when a routine mission for Expendables Classic that has them assassinating Mel Gibson (there really is no point remembering these guys’ names, better to just come right out and call them by their actors’) goes south.  Gibson puts Terry Crews in the hospital and causes Sylvester Stallone to have to face the reality that his current crew (also comprising Jason Statham, Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren and a freshly-broken-out-of-jail Wesley Snipes) aren’t getting any younger and soon may end up in the ground.  So he forcibly breaks up Expendables Classic and jets off with Kelsey Grammar to recruit Expendables Modern (Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz and Ronda Rousey in the role of “Michelle Rodriguez Said ‘No’”) to try and take revenge on Gibson who, surprise, has a deep-forged connection to the Expendables crew.  Oh, also, Antonio Banderas shows up as a mercenary cross between Charlie Chaplin and Doug from Up, and Harrison Ford is subbing for Bruce Wills and looking more interested and happy to be here than he has been in years.

What’s refreshing is that this “Damn these new kids, swanning in here trying to claim that our line of work is a young man’s game, now” plotline never actually demonises the new kids.  Yes, they do get captured, necessitating a rescue and eventual team-up (which is not particularly a spoiler as a) all of the damn trailers have revealed this point and b) you saw this coming if you have seen almost quite literally any action film ever before), but that’s simply because Gibson is one step ahead of everyone, in typical movie bad guy fashion.  Otherwise, the kids are shown to be exceedingly competent, their methods are proficient, their technology really useful, they get the job done.  They even hold their own in the big chaotic finale without having to have their butts saved by the older guys.  It’s a surprisingly embracing approach to this kind of plotline, one that’s often used simply to refute the young whippersnappers and remind everyone that the old guys are still relevant dammit (*coughcoughSkyfallcough*)!  I mean, one may immediately want to retract this point due to the fact that none of the youngsters have a real character (Lutz apparently has a problem with authority, Powell is the tech guy who can climb stuff, Rousey is The Girl and derisively says “Men…” after every beatdown, and Ortiz… I’ll get back to you on that one) but I’d counter-argue that nobody in this franchise has a real character so it all shakes out.

Oh, and there’s also a really amazing dreadful one-liner near the end.  Like, holy crap, is it hysterically terrible.  It’s one of the best and worst lines I have ever heard.  You have to hear this line, it is ridiculous.  Not kidding, I burst out laughing at it, 100% unintentionally.  We’re talking Mortal Kombat 4 levels of brilliantly bad, here.

Aaaand… yeah, that’s about it on my thoughts on The Expendables III.  It’s another one.  It drags too long in the middle, its final 30 minutes are the best kind of dumb popcorn fun, it’s lightweight, everyone seems to be having fun, there’s nothing particularly memorable, the dialogue still stinks to high heaven but in an endearing way.  If you’re not sold on this franchise, this won’t change anything; if you are, this is another reliably decent way to spend two hours.  I feel like I should be lauding it to high heaven for at least being a dumb action spectacle this Summer that’s actually good at what it does (heaven knows those keep getting rarer), but it’s still just a bit too forgettable for me to go overboard on the praising.  It’s good at what it does, I had fun whilst it played.  If what it does is what you want, go for it.  If not, skip.  Simple.

Of course, it does feature the image of a man entering the sixth storey of a bombed-out building by jumping a dirt bike up the tail of a destroyed airplane.  Plus, that line.  Holy crap, that line.  So, there’s those.

Callum Petch is about to bloody this track up, everybody get back.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!