In one of the most outlandish promotional efforts seen at the Cannes Film Festival, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford and Dolph Lundgren joined Stallone and a host of younger new stars – and unlikely recruits including Kelsey Grammer – to publicise the third instalment and astonish hundreds of passers-by with their dramatic arrival.
From his tank-top vantage point, the Expendables star photographed the crowds and the police’s frantic attempts to stop the public being crushed before giving an account of their complex shoot in Bulgaria.
The film boasts helicopters – Ford shows his real-life skills as a pilot – tanks and explosions as Stallone’s Barney Ross battles it out with a ruthless arms dealer, played by Gibson, who was originally one of the Expendables gang.
Stallone, the 67-year-old Rocky and Rambo star, said his veteran cast members were “like very adult children” as he spoke of the energy deployed to keep it “fresh”. But he acknowledged the toll of filming. “We’re children with arthritis.”
There were many injuries despite precautions and some cast feared Jason Statham had died when the brakes on a truck he was driving failed and he plunged into water.
Stallone said: “Everyone gets hurt. I take terrible pride in taking the bumps and bruises and I think it shows.”
Schwarzenegger, 66, said: “All of a sudden it was a competition of who has bigger muscles, who has the bigger gun, who is killing people in a more efficient way, who is killing more people.” They would end up comparing death rates.
But the men sidestepped a question on what the film said about masculinity and left it to the sole female cast member, Ronda Rousey. She suggested the appeal lay in its real gun-shooting men.
“I think it’s just that fantasy ideal of what a man really is and can be,” she said. “I get sick of seeing guys walking around in skinny jeans and on their iPhones.”