Three weeks ago, after “The Expendables 3” leaked online in a pristine copy, David Pierce of The Verge wrote about torrenting the film, why it was justified, and why he was still going to see it in on the big screen. Criticwire didn’t much go for his rationalization that those torrenting were the film’s “most fervent fans” who are “most likely to go see it in theaters” anyway. Well, Pierce saw the film in theaters, and his verdict: don’t see it in theaters.
“The Expendables 3” should have been a perfect movie for theaters. It should have been big and wild, a throwback to the age when we’d all crowd into theaters for the latest Jet Li or Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle. I wanted to cheer, to laugh, to be alternately disgusted and excited by the gratuitous violence. Instead, I think I liked it more on the small screen, without the attachment or expectations that build up as the curtain recedes after 20 minutes of rollicking trailers. This is a perfect plane movie, and not much else.
Pierce goes on to say that the PG-13-ification of the film damaged it, and noted that, according to the numbers done by The New York Times, had everybody who torrented the film paid for it, it still would have only made $4 million more. Clearly moviegoers are getting tired of the franchise, and the thought of seeing a tamer version of two earlier movies probably didn’t help any.
I haven’t seen “The Expendables 3” – I moderately enjoyed the first and was mostly bored by the second, so a third go probably wasn’t going to do much for me, even as someone with a soft spot for dumb 80s action movies. I expect that most of Pierce’s evaluations of what’s wrong with the film, while not terribly well-articulated, are correct. That said, it takes a lot of gall to steal a movie, write about why stealing it was OK, then write about why people shouldn’t pay for it (saying “I was wrong, it’s not good” doesn’t mitigate it).
In grad school, one of my professors told me about New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley’s policy regarding smaller shows. If he’s reviewing something by a major theater, they can take whatever he dishes out; it’s important to let people know whether or not the expensive ticket is worth the price. But if it’s a small show that’s only going to play for a week or so, he’ll only review it if he likes it. If he doesn’t have anything nice to say, there’s nothing he can write that isn’t just going to hurt a small theater that’s trying to get by.
This isn’t the same situation, but perhaps a rewrite is in order: if you’ve justified stealing a film (already a poor choice) with “I’m going to pay for it anyway, and so are most of the torrenters,” you’ve essentially given up the right to write about why people shouldn’t pay for it. In most cases, a big budget action movie (even one that’s been a high-profile piracy victim) should have to deal with whatever bad reviews it gets. But this isn’t an issue about the film’s quality anymore. Pierce’s actions and further writing about “The Expendables 3” can only harm a film that he’s already effectively encouraged people to illegally download, something that he practically argues for (implicitly, anyway) in that line about it being “a perfect plane movie.”
“The Expendables 3” might be a lousy movie, and it might have failed at the box office even had it not leaked weeks before its U.S. premiere. I’m all for encouraging people to save their $10+ and wait for a rental. But that doesn’t mean it’s OK say you liked it better when you stole it.