THE EXPENDABLES 3 Movie Review – Whoever Wins, Moviegoers Lose
When is a trilogy not a trilogy? When it’s just the third film in a potentially endless series or franchise like the Sylvester Stallone-produced The Expendables. Created by Stallone to exploit the market in nostalgia for fading, aging action heroes (Stallone included), The Expendables proved to be a modestly successful enterprise both for the ‘80s action stars (with one or two exceptions like Jet Li and Jason Statham) and indulgent moviegoers eager to enjoy retrograde, reactionary, Reagan-era action heroics one more time. Unfortunately, that “one more time” became an excuse for Stallone to move forward with turning The Expendables into a viable series/franchise, first with The Expendables 2 (released in 2012) and now The Expendables 3, like its predecessors an excuse—a weak, undermotivated excuse—for Stallone and an ever growing supporting cast to do what they did best three decades ago, defeating a seemingly endless supply of generic villains and their generic henchmen with the best American-made firepower money could buy (CG visual effects, alas, excepted).
While the core group of Expendables remains more or less the same—Stallone as Barney Ross, a “good” mercenary usually on loan to the U.S. government to take out and take down Central American dictators and French-accented arms dealers, Statham as Lee Christmas, Ross’ second-in-command and resident knife expert, Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), a borderline sociopath with a facial scar, Toll Road (Randy Couture), team muscle (or something), and Caesar (Terry Crews), the Expendables’ hypertrophied weapons expert with a fetish for ultra-destructive machine guns—The Expendables 3 brings back Arnold Schwarzenegger as one of Ross’ government contacts, while replacing an MIA Bruce Willis (he wanted a bigger paycheck the third time around) with an obviously slumming Harrison Ford as Ross’ CIA employer, Drummer, and adding a recently freed (from a U.S. penitentiary) Wesley Snipes as an old comrade and medic, Doc, introduced during The Expendables 3’s prologue, a prison escape from a vaguely Communist, Eastern European country, and the paragon/epitome of ‘80s non-action heroics, Kelsey Grammar, as an old business associate of Ross’ and his chief recruiter for newer, younger (i.e., demographic-friendly) Expendables when Ross’ old partner-turned-illegal arms dealer and Bond-villain in training, Colin Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), targets the Expendables in retaliation for an ambush in Somalia.
Taking its cues from its predecessors, The Expendables 3 uses the semblance of a plot as an excuse for periodic firefights and close-quarters combat, competently directed by Patrick Hughes (Red Hill), stepping in for The Expendable 2’s Simon West (Con Air), who in turned stepped in for Stallone. With the stakes practically nonexistent—the central characters (minus one) walk away unscathed from practically every action scene—and an excruciatingly long, flabby middle section wherein Ross and Bonaparte hop around North America to recruit the Expendables’ next generation, Thorn (Glen Powell), the resident, obligatory genius-level hacker, mountain climber, and all-around adrenaline junkie, Mars (Victor Ortiz), a newbie weapons expert (because weapons experts are in short supply, at least where the Expendables seem to be conceded), Luna (Ronda Rousey), a nightclub bouncer and mixed martial arts expert, Smilee (Kellan Lutz), an ex-Navy Seal working out his PTSD in non-sanctioned fight clubs south of the border, and Galgo (Antonio Banderas), the fast-talking, occasionally incomprehensible comic relief, The Expendables 3 stops feeling like a nostalgic lark and more like a never-ending endurance contest.
While it might seem odd that a series supposedly built around the old-school chemistry of its aging leads would spend the better part of an hour introducing an entirely new (and new-school) team and send them on a mission before merging the two teams (as opposed to say, something more organic), the decision was obviously the result of the desire to bring in younger moviegoers uninterested in the Expendables’ core group. The extra-filmic rationale doesn’t make it any less satisfying dramatically, of course. Add to that cringe-inducing one liners (including two “chopper” references because one just wasn’t enough), underwritten, undermotivated characters, lackluster, forgettable performances, and neutered, bloodess set pieces (the direct result of a PG-13 rating, a first for the series), and The Expendables 3 feels like a gimmick that’s run its course (probably because it has). Maybe it’s finally time for that all-female Expendables version that’s been rumored for several years. It certainly can’t be worse than The Expendables 3 or any subsequent sequel for that matter.