The Expendables could’ve been a good series had it been advertised differently. First touted as a return to form for aging 80s action stars as they wax nostalgic about their glory days, The Expendables turned out to be a greyish blob that somehow muddied up the colorful personalities which inhabited it.
Then the same thing happened in the sequel. The actors got a bit more room to play, but as the cast ballooned, the little joy to be had was smothered by more generic shooty bang bang. With the advertising for The Expendables 3 copying Fast & Furious 6‘s font, Stallone making a big deal about dropping Bruce Willis from the cast, and adding a bunch of relative nobodies to the roster, the third film looked to follow in the same pattern.
This better be the last one.
The Expendables 3
Director: Patrick Hughes
Release Date: August 15, 2014
During a routine mission into some nondescript country, Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his Expendables run into Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), a cofounder of The Expendables who has gone rogue and now runs a small militia in “Azmenistan.” After the mission ends in failure, Ross disbands the group and hires a batch of younger mercenaries (including Kellan Lutz and Ronda Rousey) for a revenge mission. After some shenanigans, it’s up to Ross and the older crew to save the younger crew and stop Stonebanks once and for all.
The Expendables 3 has the most promise in the franchise at the outset. Banking on the back story once considered to be stifling, the film probably would’ve had more effect had the seeds been planted sooner. The Expendables‘ concept is inherently great as it allows the films to replace, recast, and add actors whenever it chooses (by focusing the story on a team of ever changing members) so the fact there’s a member we’ve never heard of makes sense, but it’s executed in such a haphazard fashion as they just kind of stumble on him. That seems to be the major current running through the film. It’s full of decisions that seem like a good idea in theory, but are marred by awful follow through.
For example at one point, The Expendables 3 is quite awesome. It presents this “old blood vs. new blood” theme that works as both a nostalgic fix (as that’s one of the major staples of 80s action) and fun plot, but it’s abandoned about fifteen minutes after it’s picked up. Instead this awesome idea bloats the screen time of the already pushing its luck film beyond understandable limits. The “new” crew full of relative nobodies (sorry, Rousey) is a complete waste of time as there’s an incredibly long montage (featuring Kelsey Grammer for some reason) that introduces that crew as if we’d care about them, then pushes them to the side for the majority of the film when shenaningans lead to their capture.
The only newbies who get attention, Rousey and Kellan Lutz, only serve to befuddle the audience. Rousey’s character is a blatant attempt to make up for the lack of strong women in the series, but is shown fighting in heels and is the only one who gets direct abuse from her captor. And someone in Hollywood is still trying to make Kellan Lutz a thing. It’s even worse when he starts riding a dirt bike through tanks and you realize he’s been wearing biking gear this whole time. It’s sort of an unintentionally funny moment that almost cycles around to being entertaining. It’s funny how the most nostalgic thing about this film happens when it’s trying to distance itself from it. And it plain sucks that the newbies get so much attention when the new additions to the older crew are brilliant.
Wesley Snipes, Mel Gibson, and Antonio Banderas? Fantastic. Wesley Snipes has the same swagger that’s really been lacking in actin films lately. With a suave darkness, his scenes are very enjoyable even if they’re criminally in short supply. Gibson has a great turn as a villain, and while he’s not as cheesily great as he was in Machete Kills, he really colors the film when on. And Banderas gets a lovely turn as the comic relief, but only gets to use his Desperado flair once. While his jokes actually land, it’s sort of a toss up as I selfishly wanted him to be more of a badass. Speaking of comic relief, the comedy actually kind of maybe works here and there. When it’s intelligible through the majority of the cast’s thick accents, a lot of the jokes work. Sure, some are forced, but I’ll take what little works.
You may have noticed that I’ve really only talked about the cast and general plot for this review and are wondering why I’ve seemingly skipped over everything else. Well, the rest of the film is really, really bad. So bad in fact, I just want to focus on the few bright spots. The film borders on boring at times, the needless back story building is still here, and while the practical effects are okay, the CG is just far too funky for a film with a budget like this. You just have to assume the bulk of the film’s money was used paying actors and the rest of the film had to be shot in some styrofoam building somewhere. And for those wondering about the film’s PG-13 rating, don’t worry the violence is still here and is in fact helped by the lack of the terrible looking CG blood from the first R film.
If you’re wondering whether you’ll like The Expendables 3, let me tell you a bit more about myself. I love Sylvester Stallone’s filmography so much, I once wrote a 15 page thesis on Rocky‘s montages. I grew up with these types of films, and while I got a few knowing chuckles out of hearing Schwarzenegger playfully yell “Get to the choppa!” I don’t think it’s worth sitting through the rest of this. If I could gauge how tired everyone seems to be (and Harrison Ford? Yeesh.), I’m sure you can too. There’s no hiding it anymore.
Everyone involved needs to stop lying to themselves. Stallone can’t do this again.
Matthew Razak: The Expendables 3 is easily the best film in the series. Now you might be of the opinion that that isn’t saying much, but for me the films have always been a solid throwback to action films of yesterday. Solid, but not great. They always seemed a little flat, with the first film suffering from only one truly big action sequence and the second a bit over stuffed. This one, however, is all action and almost entirely fun. Easily the best scripted with some fun humor and awesome throwback one-liners it all builds (as much as a mostly plotless movie can) to a fantastic, all out action sequence that smartly weaves everyone’s skill into one violent explosion of action. It took three films, but Stallone finally nailed it. 78 – Good