“The Expendables 3” is the third installment in the action franchise/retirement plan/biennial group vacation for aging action stars that began four years ago with the first film, directed and written by none other than Rambo himself, Sylvester Stallone.
Since then, the cast has grown to include professional fighters like Randy Couture, contemporary action stars such as Jason Statham and Jet Li and actual ‘80s action heroes Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Also making appearances are ‘80s action villain Dolph Lundgren, Old Spice guy Terry Crews, former Marvel superhero Wesley Snipes, and, surprisingly, a few actual actors such as Harrison Ford, Kelsey Grammar and Mel Gibson.
Naturally, the script employs various ridiculous names for the characters, such as “Lee Christmas” (Statham), “Barney Ross” (Stallone), and, my personal favorite, “Conrad Stonebanks” (Gibson). Considering how the extent of each man’s characterization is “which actor plays him,” the names are a borderline formality.
The film begins with what remains of the team – namely Stallone, Statham, Couture, and Lundgren – conspiring to break an older Expendable (Snipes) out of prison. This may or may not have been how the audition process went. When teammate Hale Caesar – there’s another one – played by Terry Crews, is seriously wounded in combat, Stallone decides to disband the team who he feels have gotten too old and are heading for an early, or perhaps overdue, grave.
He then sets out with Kelsey Grammar to recruit a younger, more attractive team played by Kellen Lutz, Glen Powell and Ronda Rousey, to take down former partner-turned war criminal, Stonebanks.
Naturally, the older team is forced to reappear with help from Antonio Banderas, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Harrison Ford. Have I left anyone out?
What follows is over two hours of shooting, stabbing, punching, and exploding while a baker’s dozen of action stars shout one-liners over each other. Of course, the collected cast is the main selling point, so some of the better performances come from unexpected places.
Stallone, who has carried the weight of the ensemble on his muscle-bound shoulders for each film, does the same here, and does an admirable job. Statham is as charismatic as usual, and Snipes is clearly every bit as grateful for a second chance at big-screen carnage as his character is. Showing an equal amount of glee is Mel Gibson, who lights up as the film’s manic villain.
The rest of the performances can be summed up as a group of one-liner spouting heroes vying for their five minutes of attention. Off the top of my head, I can only remember about two lines from Couture. Then, there’s Harrison Ford, who gives his role the same unfortunate lack of energy he has now become famous for. Fortunately, Antonio Banderas supplies enough energy for the entire cast twice over, and is easily the brightest spot in the movie.
To the film’s credit, there is an often-undeniable fun to be had in watching the older stars interact with one another and, surprisingly, the movie shines in the many meta-jokes directed at the actors. One of the most notable jokes is about Ford’s presence in the film – he takes over for Bruce Willis, who was canned after asking for too much money. The jokes do not get too dumb; we are mercifully spared any reference to Schwarzenegger’s more recent controversies, as we are any lame “I’ll be back” lines.
On the one hand, I wish I could recommend the movie to its clearly intended target audience, but even that seems inappropriate. “Expendables 3” isn’t just “not a bad film,” it’s a toothless one. This is especially the case when the film is compared to the excessive gore of the first two. In many ways, the third installment, the first to get a PG-13 rating, is just as violent, but noticeably less bloody than the first two.
Most of the gore is replaced by the quick-cuts and blurry choreography that has now become an industry-standard practice to hide the violence. This is acceptable for movies like “The Winter Soldier” or “Guardians of the Galaxy” where the action is engaging because the audience is invested in the plights of the well-acted characters.
“Expendables,” on the other hand, can’t quite figure out if it wants to be a character-driven movie, with paper-thin characters, or an action-driven movie with uninteresting action scenes – most of which take place in identical, abandoned warehouses.
Believe it or not, there is an audience for these movies – most of who have bought into the idea that it’s OK for a movie like this to fail on any emotional or intellectual level because it’s supposed to be a “dumb action movie.” What these people are forgetting is that the decade the film is trying to emulate, the ‘80s, actually gave us some of the greatest action movies ever made, which hardly comes across here.
“The Expendables 3” is in offensive and far from the dumbest movie this summer, and may even entertain those people who are aware what movie they are paying to see. However, it’s pretty clear the only group this film was meant for was its own cast, who may be having more fun on screen than anyone possibly could in front of it.