New Mixes With Old in The Expendables 3
The Expendables 3
Review by Daniel Rester
Many will say that the Expendables series, like its main stars, is running on fumes. I disagree in a way. I think I’m against the grain on this one, but stay with me.
Sly Stallone started the Expendables with a big band of old dudes blazing guns and spraying blood. The second film brought this a level further, including more veteran action stars, more carnage, and more nostalgic jokes. With the first two films I thought the idea was better than the execution, though they were pretty fun throwbacks for what they were.
The Expendables 3 now finds the balls snipped down to a PG-13 rating and younger actors joining the crew. This means less old guys and no blood, though hundreds of people still get killed (what is with the MPAA sometimes?). Some fans will exit just because of these changes while others will scratch their heads at how three of these things were even made. Despite all of this, I surprisingly found myself the most entertained by this third installment.
This go-round finds Barney (Stallone), Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunnar (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture), and Caesar (Terry Crews) as the final members in The Expendables. The first four kick the film off by breaking one of Barney’s old friend’s, Dr. Death (Wesley Snipes), out of a prison-bound train. The six men soon find themselves up against an arms dealer named Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), a man with close past connections to Barney. After some big things go down, Barney calls his old team off and brings in some new blood to take on the villain.
The young team includes a computer hacker named Thorn (Glen Powell), a gun expert named Mars (Victor Ortiz), a kickass female bar bouncer named Luna (Ronda Rousey), and a fighter who’s good with motorcycles named Smilee (Kellan Lutz). Barney and this crew try to take down Stonebanks but find themselves in trouble. This leads to the new gang and old gang teaming up to put down the bad guy.
Thrown in the mix are Harrison Ford and Antonio Banderas, the first as Drummer and the second as Galgo. Drummer has replaced Church (Bruce Willis in the previous films) in giving out missions to Barney and Galgo is a chatterbox who desperately wants to work with Barney. We also get Arnold Schwarzenegger (as Trench) and Jet Li (as Yin Yang) returning briefly while Kelsey Grammar pops up as a team wrangler named Bonaparte.
Now that we have all of the actors and bad character names out of the way, let’s get to the meat of this thing. How about the bad first? First of all the cast is too big. Ford and Schwarzenegger really didn’t need to be in here, though they have a bit of fun; Li really didn’t need to be in it since he basically says two lines of dialogue. Grammar is pleasant to see, and he and Stallone have a nice back-and-forth for a few scenes. But again, there isn’t enough there for him to be needed in the film. Banderas is best in this collection of smaller roles, though he is more annoying than badass at times.
The young cast members don’t add much either in terms of acting. Powell and Lutz are pretty good while Ortiz is fairly forgettable and Rousey fumbles in effective dialogue delivery. Speaking of the dialogue, it is often atrocious, though that is kinda expected. A lot of the words are flat and embarrassing, and a few of the movie throwback lines (especially the “get to the choppa!” ones from Schwarzenegger) are more forced than amusing.
The story here is also fairly straightforward, with the last third going on too long and becoming very repetitive with its action. The action scenes are also edited in a choppy manner some of the time. This might be because the film had to make certain cuts in order to avoid an R-rating; it should have just gone with the R, though it’s amazing it isn’t R anyways. We have learned to turn off our brains for the action in these films, but other non-action moments are even dumber this time around. One particular scene even has the good guys planning their moves while the bad guy is clearly watching them through a camera. Script mistake? It’s one of many.
Other critics will shred this movie for the same things that I pointed out, and they definitely are flaws. However I’m a bit more forgiving because the film entertained me in a throw-popcorn-at-your-face kind of way and it succeeded on a few levels I didn’t expect it to. So, let’s get to how in the hell I can give this a positive score.
A lot of the action, though poorly edited in individual scenes, is well-staged by director Patrick Hughes (who is set to direct the remake of The Raid: Redemption (2012)). Unlike in something like the Transformers sequels, Hughes actually manages to separate the characters during the mayhem and still make it relatively clear as to where everyone is. Though the kills aren’t very memorable, Hughes keeps the kill count ridiculously high and the excitement on level as he echoes the action films of the 80s and 90s. This old-school style blended with the new guys using high-tech gear is pretty sweet.
Gibson also elevates things as the villain. The actor actually gives a fairly strong performance here – and outshines everyone else on the screen. Say what you will about Gibson’s personal life but the man still knows how to bring intensity as an actor. He has a smooth bad-guy walk and piercing eyes in this, and he brings believable ferocity to one key exchange of dialogue. Gibson easily makes Stonebanks the best villain of the series so far. Stallone, Snipes, and Statham also handle their performances pretty well for what they are doing.
The past relationship between Barney and Stonebanks also adds some dramatic juice when the good guys go to take down the baddies. We actually get to learn some things about these men and a few of the others this time around, with Hughes fitting in some unexpected (though small) character development. What a concept.
The young actors are not too good in this, but by having the characters we actually get more out of the older ones. Bringing in this new group and the PG-13 rating is an interesting thing in comparison to the older action stars and their usual blood-fests. This go-round seems to be less about just reliving the glory days and more about also reflecting on them in some weird way — with Barney’s looks and dialogue often showing this. The more mature guys are still bad-asses, but it seems like this movie is more accepting of doing a tribute while also passing the torch to a new generation of action actors. It doesn’t feel like it’s so forcefully hanging on to the past anymore. This film isn’t deep in any way, but I did enjoy this touch to the material.
With the over-the-top action, a welcoming love-to-hate-him villain in Gibson, and surprising material and character touches in small moments, The Expendables 3 is an entertaining action ride. Yes, it’s silly and beefy and repetitive and flawed and all of those things. But finally it’s pretty damn fun in a guilty pleasure way.
Score: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B).
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence including intense sustained gun battles and fight scenes, and for language).
Runtime: 2 hours and 6 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: August 15th, 2014.