'The Expendables 3'
‘The Expendables’ – a franchise created to revive the ’80s action movie style and provide a few fading stars from that era with pensions – has somehow made it to a third chapter. If you’ve seen the previous movies or a trailer for this one, you’ll know exactly what to expect. This series is about fulfilling expectations, not subverting them. Once again, Stallone gives the people exactly what he thinks they want, and he’s mostly right.
The film opens mid-action scene as Stallone and a depleted crop of Expendables (only Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews and Randy Couture, but don’t worry, there will be more soon) break into a prison train to bust out none other than Wesley Snipes, who cracks a bad-taste tax evasion joke before revealing that he was once one of the original Expendables and is thrilled to be back on the team. He proves it by kicking all sorts of butt in a second mission in which Stallone spots Mel Gibson, who then shoots Terry Crews (an awkward choice given Gibson’s less than stellar recent race relations).
Stallone is so shaken by seeing Gibson and by the big screw-up that when Harrison Ford assigns him to take Gibson down for realz, he disbands the Expendables to get a younger team. This is really just an excuse for Stallone and Kelsey Grammer (yeah, don’t ask) to watch a bunch of young folk beat people up before going after Gibson, where somehow the tables get turned and Stallone is forced to re-form the original Expendables (along with a pretty hilarious Antonio Banderas and the inevitable return of Arnold Schwarzenegger) because no one could have possibly seen that coming!
So yeah, this sure is an ‘Expendables’ movie! As per usual, plot is not the primary concern. The new team/old team dynamic is really just an excuse to squeeze in a few more aging jokes and cameos. It also means that, aside from Stallone, even the original crop of Expendables essentially make cameo roles in this threequel, which was probably a good way to keep salaries down and schedules in check.
Once again, Stallone is awesomely intelligible as the leader of this lovable gang of mercenaries while everyone else pops up to do exactly what you’d expect from them. (Hell, Arnold even says, “Get to da choppa!” since it’s getting pathetic for him to keep saying “I’ll be back”). As far as the new cast goes, Wesley Snipes proves why he’s a genuine action star with some strong physical moves and acting chops. Harrison Ford genuinely seems to have fun barking out orders and pretending to fly a choppa. Kelsey Grammer’s inexplicable presence is justified by a few decent bits of dialogue (even though you can’t help but wonder how low his name was on the list of options for the role). Antonio Banderas has an absolute blast and almost steals away the movie as the world’s first emotionally needy mercenary, and Mel Gibson proves that it’s OK to acknowledge that he’s still a solid screen presence just as long as he’s playing a villain. It’s dumb. It’s fun. It’s exactly what you think it is.
The other new Expendables are director Patrick Hughes (‘Red Hill’) along with writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt (‘Olympus Has Fallen’), and thankfully they slot in just as well as the cast. Hughes takes full advantage of the budget only two successful precursors can provide by staging some massive and impressive action sequences. He uses a bit too much CGI to fill in the gaps for a retro-style action flick, but delivers the goods overall. The new screenwriters (along with Stallone) do a decent job of juggling so many characters and explosions while also striking a tone somewhere between the first two films. ‘Expendables 3’ is not nearly as goofy and outrageous as Simon West’s ‘Expendables 2’ was, but also nowhere near as needlessly somber and serious as Stallone’s original. The second chapter remains by far the best entry in this trilogy, but the latest can claim a comfortable second place.
It’s deeply odd to be able to rank an ‘Expendables’ trilogy at all. This stunt-casting action franchise never should have worked, yet somehow Stallone managed to deliver one far better than anyone could or should have expected. His ode to old dudes drinking beer and shooting stuff has not only managed to stick around for far longer than predicted, but actually deserved the success as well. With the right sense of nostalgia, camp value and low expectations, there’s plenty to enjoy about ‘Expendables 3’, and also plenty of reasons why Sly and co. should quit while they’re ahead. This was a creaky franchise from the start, and the narrative wheel-spinning of adding young members just to put them in peril is a little tiresome to watch.
It’s probably best for the Expendables to retire before an entire sequel feels that awkward rather than just a second act, even if it would be nice to see a fourth movie with Nic Cage and Dwayne Johnson. Well, maybe one more after that with Nic Cage and the Rock and maybe Jackie Chan or Vin Diesel. Or maybe the Expendables could fight the ‘Fast and Furious’ gang or ‘The Avengers’.
No, no, quit when you’re ahead.