After storming Hollywood’s gates, Sylvester Stallone’s Expendables franchise has become more event than movie, as his third film cobbles together a script with blockbuster appeal being the only intent. The more characters Sly can dream up, the more opportunities he has to include A-list action names, making The Expendables 3 a bit of a genre fan’s wet dream – if it were the 1980s.
Collectively, there’s a catalog of asskickery including Predator, Indiana Jones, Rambo, Blade, Desperado, Crank and SO many other well-known brofests of sleeve-ripping proportion, but a question of expiration dates comes into play when looking at such an undeniably awesome cast of old-schoolers. Fortunately, Stallone agrees that the times are a-changing, so he enlists a team of fresh young talents who don’t respect past methodologies such as running and gunning, brute machismo, and self-punishment – until these young whippersnappers find themselves in trouble and it’s up to our favorite golden oldies to save the day.
If you can’t beat ’em, call someone who can, for a third time. Play it again, Sam!
The Expendables 3 evolves into a self-aware dissection of the modern day action scene as Barney Ross (Stallone) finds himself unable to ask his blood-brothers-in-battle, the so-called Expendables, to sacrifice their lives anymore. He’s hung too many dogtags, haunted by memories of those he trusted most, so he assembles a crack team of fresh talents to help carry out his final mission – taking down a former Expendable known as Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) who turned dark. When things go wrong and his rookies become hostages, Ross must turn to his still-eager team of veterans to show the young blood how it’s done – and somehow escape the trap Stonebanks has set for them. Saddle up, because it’s time for one last Expendable rodeo (for now).
At this point, the Expendables are modern-day superheroes. No matter how many henchman stand in their way, from a room full of terrorists to an entire Eastern European army, you always know these wily mainstays will uncover some unfathomable way to safety. When you sign up for such a movie, you’re only engaging to watch Stallone and his buddies relive their glory days of franchises past, laughing in death’s face while keeping pace with middle-aged superstars like Jason Statham and Randy Couture. Go ahead, if you want an extra bit of fun during your screening of The Expendables 3, sneak a flask in and drink every time an actor references one of their most famous roles (“LET’S GET TO THE CHOPPA!”). Stallone’s script is so tongue-in-cheek that its tongue practically rips through the proverbial cheek and slaps you in the face, forgoing subtlety for aggressive nostalgia.
If you’ve seen The Expendables and The Expendables 2, then you can probably describe The Expendables 3 before seeing a single minute of it. Being the third film in a trilogy full of explosions, bloodshed and veiny triceps, director Patrick Hughes steps in to take some of the weight off of Stallone’s ox-like shoulders, while still keeping the franchise creator’s mentality front-and-center.
The Expendables 3 is every bit bombastic, rugged and excitable as you’d expect, blowing up an entire prison complex in the very first minutes, but a PG-13 accreditation blandly eliminates true ridiculousness before taking form. Movies like Rambo and Predator achieved greatness through relentless violence paired with properly attributed bodily reactions – blood, truths, and craziness. The Expendables begs to be an R-rated exploitation film housing the greatest names in action, but instead becomes content with the same types of bloodless violence worthy of mainstream audiences and mass-marketing appeal. While it surely becomes accessible to the most eyes, for true action fans, there’s an epic opportunity hastily wasted – and Hughes doesn’t really do anything remarkable despite capture Stallone’s larger-than-life ideas with passable intensity.
For as predictable and expected this trilogy completer ends up being, the cast of superstuds comes together in an infectiously enjoyable manner, exuding nothing but fun throughout every motorcycle stunt, tank hijack and neck-breaking fight. Wesley Snipes alone looks like a reinvigorated version of his early self, even finding time to sneak in a joke about being arrested for tax evasion, and Antonio Banderas shows the same heightened level of energetic excitement while joining Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Lundgren, Li, and the whole crew.
Even Harrison Ford and Kelsey Grammer, who play smaller bit roles, love every minute of being part of such an astounding ensemble cast. Go ahead, try to repress feelings of gleeful giddiness while Dolph Lundgren drives a tank and blows the crap out of an entire militia, smiling goofily and chuckling like a battle-loving oaf. Every hokey grunt-laugh between Stallone and Statham, every height joke between Schwarzenegger and Li, every demented glare from Snipes, every shot of Terry Crews (in Old Spice mode) causing massive havoc while holding a minigun Jesse Ventura style – The Expendables 3 lets a bunch of friends play “War” like kindergarteners pretending to be special ops agents.
These old geezers can’t have all the fun though, right? That’s where Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Victor Ortiz, and Glen Powell come into play as Stallone’s rookies. While nothing will make me feel better about Lutz’s turn as Hercules earlier this year, I’ll give the pretty-boy some credit after watching him zip around on a motorcycle, dispatching tanks in an attempt to save Stallone’s ass. Rousey injects a bit of feminism into the overly brotacular collection of dudes, and of course gives the opportunity for a few slightly sexual jokes, but her addition is again a welcome one. Ortiz and Powell aren’t really expanded on that much, besides their soldier/hacker archetypes, but their inclusion at least brings change as far as Expendables action is concerned. It’s a generational battle every step of the way, as Stallone’s boys look down on the techy developments of their newbie recruits, but it’s all in good fun – and they make for a strong mix of warriors during the final escape scene.
The Expendables 3 is Stallone’s way of addressing current action normalities, filled with gadgets, gizmos and artistry, while bringing back the bullet-spraying swagger of 80s heroes. Rousey herself scoffs at Stallone’s first plan, commenting how it’d be a “great plan if it’s 1985,” just in case you couldn’t already predict Barney Ross’ heavily influenced thought process. Lutz’s crew represents the new face of action, where everything is sleek, stylized, and clean, whereas Stallone’s buddies harken back to the good old days when each action character had their own catch phrases, cleverly spouted after each slain villain. You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but dammit if they know how to have a lot more fun than blockbusters of today, and while The Expendables 3 doesn’t exactly usher in a new era of balanced action classics, it puts some pep back in the step of so many famous faces.
Harrison Ford flies a helicopter while Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jet Li rain bullets down on heavy artillery, beaming smiles and laughing heartily. Your argument is invalid.
Much like Bandaras’ character Galgo, if you’re an Expendables fanboy, then The Expendables 3 won’t fail to entertain beyond your wildest, gun-fueled fantasies. On the flip side, if watching Stallone repeatedly wink at his audience while destroying buildings, blowing up sets and using blades bigger than Wesley Snipes’ head, Hughes’ watered down Expendables offering won’t achieve anything but surface thrills and blatant “homages” – nothing spectacularly groundbreaking. By reverting to a PG-13 rating, immediate reactions of cash-grab potential do rear their ugly heads, but with such a veteran cast of trained professionals playing off one another, blasting their way through another zany adventure, there’s still enough gas left in this action franchise’s tank to cross the finish line in a fury of safe yet wild action sequences. It’s a bit like the MLB All-Star game – the charade may feel inconsequential, but sometimes watching the best flaunt their stuff on the same field becomes enough.
The Expendables 3 gives so many aging stars a chance to be badasses once again, and using Mel Gibson as the most extreme example, this opportunity is not wasted. Flashy, compressed, and perfectly bite-sized for wide release audiences, Lionsgate has a potential box-office hit on their hands, which will probably help with all the marketing money spent writing the cast list on every poster. The gimmick isn’t wasted, and levels of grand action are achieved, but true genre fans will be wishing for an R-rated version with the same bite as Stallone’s two previous films.
Anyone up for an Expendables 4 directed by John McTiernan?
The Expendables 3 runs entirely on this action supergroup's infectious energy, because without the likes of Gibson and Arnie, the hollow core of Stallone's story would be a lot harder to swallow.