“The Expendables 3” is surprisingly watchable. Considering the picture was preceded by two lackluster installments, I’d say that’s the highest praise a movie called “The Expendables 3” can get.
The problem with the overall concept of the “Expendables” franchise—started back in 2010—is that you can’t gather the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, Jason Statham and practically every other 80’s/90’s action star—as well as a few from the 2000’s—and expect a good movie to just materialize around them. To no one’s surprise, without a good script and good direction it’s not all that fun to watch a bunch of aging action figures try to fight bad guys and tiredly spout cliché dialogue to one another.
All of this is to say that “The Expendables 3” is better than both its predecessors but that still doesn’t make it great, or even that good. And the main reason why it does somewhat work is because of the new additions to the cast that pop in and out of the movie. A common game to play during an “Expendables” picture is “Guess That Actor.” It takes your mind off the boring, laborious attempts at plot.
But more on that later.
The main theme running through the entire “Expendables” franchise is that the old guys still got it. In this one however, Expendables leader Barney (Stallone) thinks that his current team—made up of Statham, Lundgren, retired UFC fighter Randy Couture—is too old to take on ex Expendable and current villain Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson). So, he recruits a newer, younger team. O.K., really Stallone? After two movies you’re going to cut your team loose for your most crucial and personal mission? He acts like he’s doing them a favor but really, what else are they going to do? They’ve spent their whole lives either being soldiers or mercenaries and now they’re supposed to take up arts and crafts or something? And what makes you so qualified to keep fighting, Stallone? You’re just as old if not older than your teammates. And while we’re here, I could maybe understand not wanting to work with Lundgren—my god does he look bad—but why would you not want to work with Statham? He’s not even fifty yet and he can still kick ass!
I’m getting worked up, but this is the main problem with “The Expendables 3.” The whole “In with the new, out with the old” plot is just one big, tedious contrivance. The whippersnappers will get captured and then Stallone will need to get the old team back together. To make things worse, director Patrick Hughes and writers Creighton Rothenberger, Stallone, and Katrin Benedikt try to add so much weight to it, as if you’ve come to know and love these characters, as if there’s so much depth to them. I didn’t care about any of them before and I don’t this time. There’s a lengthy montage showing the recently expelled Expendables looking sad, in bars or hotel rooms. And why should I care about Barney’s personal vendetta against this Conrad Stonebanks, who we’ve never met? As the main character of the franchise, the ageing “Rocky” and “Rambo” star is easily the most boring member of the team. In fact all of the core members of the team are bores to watch. And to make things even worse we’re subjected to a fifteen to twenty minute sequence in which the young recruits are hastily introduced. Great, four more people for me to not care about. In short, the middle section of “The Expendables 3” is a long, talky slog. Prolonging what we know is coming the minute the movie begins.
But then there are those new cast members; some like Kelsey Grammer—yep, you read that right—are amusing to watch but once they leave you completely forget about them. Then there are the great ones, like Wesley Snipes. Oh, is Snipes grand. From the minute he comes on screen he embraces the campy spirit of the franchise that a majority of the actors don’t. His pronunciation of the phrase: “dang-a-lang,” and his arrogant confidence are fantastic to watch. He’s not just there to collect a paycheck. Antonio Banderas also excels as a chatty, annoying older mercenary, while Gibson—playing his second cartoony villain in a row—chews plenty of scenery. And then there’s Harrison Ford. Yes, you read that right. In some scenes he looks tired and not happy to be there—almost like a PA is holding his script off screen so he can read it—but at the end during the massive climactic battle in a ruined city he manages to have some fun.
I have other issues with the movie. The screenplay is still full of tired cliché dialogue and even on the third outing the cast just doesn’t have the banter-y chemistry they should have. (For great action movie chemistry, watch David Ayers “Sabotage” from earlier this year.) And finally an issue I’ve had with the entire franchise is the precious-ness the filmmakers have towards their action stars. I hate to sound like a thirteen year old boy who’s seen too many violent action movies and had one too many caffeinated beverages but I would have liked to see at least a few deaths of major Expendables characters. I know they’re not very developed but it would have raised the stakes a little bit and added some more surprise. I mean, there’s like a million of them and even the good guys have to die.
Oh well, I’ve gone on too long; “The Expendables 3” isn’t the horrible experience you expect it to be; the new additions to the cast—sans the whippersnappers-- are to thank for that. And the action’s cool too, I guess. It’s up to you to decide if that’s a recommendation or not.