Released: 2 July 2019
Director: John Herzfeld
Distributor: Lionsgate/Universal Pictures
Budget: $70.6 million
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Dave Bautista, Max Zhang, Harry Shum Jr, Devon Sawa, and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson
Ray Breslin’s (Stallone) past comes back to haunt him when Lester Clark Jr (Sawa), the son of his former business associate, abducts a number of people, including his girlfriend, and holds them hostage within the “Devil’s Station”, a sadistic supermax prison, leading Ray and his friend, Trent DeRosa (Bautista), to concoct a desperate rescue attempt.
Escape Plan 2 (Miller, 2018) may have been a critical and commercial failure but, during filming, Stallone announced a third entry in the franchise that had started as as a decent excuse to bring him together with his action rival, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and had descended into a mediocre and disappointing straight-to-DVD franchise. Also titled Escape Plan: The Extractors, the third film dropped many of the new cast members from its predecessor and received a very limited theatrical release outside of the United States. Because of this limited release, Escape Plan 3 outperformed its predecessor, making just over $30 million at the box office but falling quite far from the almost $140 million of the first film. It did, at least, receive noticeably more positive reviews than the second film.
The first thing to note about Escape Plan 3 is that, despite the sequel spending most of its runtime focusing on Breslin’s protégé’s Shu Ren (Huang Xiaoming) and Lucas Graves (Jesse Metcalfe), neither of these characters make an appearance in the third film, which instead introduces even more new characters. This time around, Daya Zhang (Malese Jow), daughter of Wu Zhang (Russell Wong), is kidnapped by Lester Clark Jr as part of an elaborate revenge plot against Ray. Wu Zhang is the head of Zhang Innovations, the company responsible for the construction of the Tomb; you’d think that this would be the catalyst for bring Ray into the fold considering he swore to track down those responsible for such prisons at the end of the last film but, instead, he is only drawn into the plot when Daya’s bodyguard, Bao Yung (Shum, Jr), delivers him Lester’s video threat.
Lester Clark Jr is, of course, the son of Lester Clark (Vincent D’Onofrio), Ray’s former partner who betrayed him and had him locked up in the Tomb; his plan for revenge involves taking a bunch of hostages, including Daya and Ray’s girlfriend, Abigail Ross (Jaime King), hostage inside another supermax prison, the “Devil’s Station”, and demanding a $700 million random. A ruthless, callous mercenary, Lester surrounds himself with imposing goons (including one of my favourite actors and stunt men, the great Daniel Bernhardt) but is perfectly happy to execute his hostages, including Abigail, to make his point and to make his revenge all the sweeter.
All this amounts to a far more personal story this time around for Ray and for his new associates, who get a lead on Lester’s location from DeRosa; in the last film, this took DeRosa about a day and he had to go bust a few heads to get the information Ray needed but, this time, DeRosa simply guesses that Lester’s at the Devil’s Station and that’s it, they’re off without any fuss or muss. Lester alone would be enough to make things personal for Ray but, when Abigail is kidnapped and, later, killed, Ray launches into a vendetta alongside DeRosa, Shen Lo (Zhang), Daya’s former bodyguard and lover, and Yung. It’s personal for these latter two as well; Shen because of his feelings from Daya and Yung because he feels (and is constantly told) that he failed Daya by not being able to keep her safe. Unlike the Tomb and especially unlike Hades, the Devil’s Station is much more of a traditional prison; located in Latvia, the facility is a rundown, desolate hellhole designed to be an intimidating and demoralising maze. There’s no fancy high-tech hazards this time around, they’re not adrift in the sea, and there’s no complex system to hack into; instead, it’s just good, old fashioned iron bars, ruthless inmates, and the foreboding presence of Lester and his callous minions.
Thankfully, Escape Plan 3 is much more coherent than its predecessor; with my senses no longer bombarded by erratic shaky cam and frantic editing, the film (and, more importantly, the action scenes) is much easier on the eyes and the pace is much improved as a result. It also helps considerably that the film isn’t bathed in constant near darkness, with many scenes within the Devil’s Station taking on a disconcerting yellow hue.
Unlike the last two films, which understandably involved breaking out of prisons, Escape Plan 3 is much more of a rescue movie; Ray and his team have to break into the Devil’s Station to rescue the hostages and confront Lester, meaning the film automatically stands out from its predecessors by putting Ray and his abilities in a much different situation. This necessitates the need for a team, meaning a much bigger role for Bautista this time around; if you’re a fan of 50 Cent and got excited when you saw his character, Hush, on the poster and the actor’s name share top billing then you’re in for a disappointment, though, as, while Hush does contribute more to the film and the team this time around, he’s still relegated to tech support. To be fair, though, the actual “team” aspect of the film isn’t as emphasised as you might expect either as they quickly split up to infiltrate the facility and Breslin largely disappears for a noticeable chunk of the movie.
Unfortunately, given the low-tech approach of the Devil’s Station, the actual infiltration involves a lot of wandering around in poorly-lit sewer tunnels; thankfully, what the film lacks in visual presentation, it more than makes up for with some brutal action and kills. Driven to unbridled rage by Abigail’s death, Breslin’s normally composed demeanour cracks, leading to a vicious showdown with Lester. Devon Sawa, who I only really know for his role in Final Destination (Wong, 2000) and for appearing in the music video for Eminem’s “Stan”, actually makes for a fairly decent antagonist; a damaged and violent individual, Lester’s blind devotion to revenge against Breslin and those whom he feel used and betrayed his father makes for a volatile and unhinged villain. This isn’t some slick, corporate asshole in a suit; this is a ruthless mercenary who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty or to twist the knife in any way he can and his inevitable contribution with Breslin is easily the highlight of the film. Rather than some slick, overly choreographed affair, this fight is a brutal, hard-hitting brawl that brings Breslin back into the fray with a bang and allows him to extract a measure of revenge.
Escape Plan 3 is a definite improvement over the second film and it’s telling that the film goes out of its way to connect more with the first movie than reference the second. Still, as gritty and visceral as the film can be, and as interesting as it is to see a more personal story being told with Breslin and to place him in a different situation (breaking in instead of out), Escape Plan 3 still can’t compare with the first movie. It’s not even about Arnold Schwarzenegger at this point (though his continued absence from the franchise is a bitter pill to swallow), it’s just that the sequels can barely pull together a coherent and engaging film. While Stallone’s role is noticeably bigger this time around, he’s still more of a supporting character; Bautista is similarly criminally underutilised, meaning Escape Plan 3 ends up being about a bunch of new characters who aren’t anywhere near as interesting to look at or follow. If more of the actors from the second film had returned then, maybe, it would have allowed for a bit more investment in their fates but, still, Escape Plan 3 fails to really be anything more than a mediocre action/thriller that is noticeably better than the second…but that’s not exactly a high bar to clear.
Could Be Better
What did you think to Escape Plan 3? Did you find it more enjoyable than the second film or did you, perhaps, think it was just as bad, if not worse? What do you think to the trilogy overall? Do you think the films would have been better if Schwarzenegger had returned or would they still have failed to impress upon you? What do you think to Bautista as an actor and do you think he is deserving of bigger, more varied roles? No matter what you think, feel free to leave a comment below and be sure to check back in for more Stallone content later in the year!