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4 reviews, 7 user ratings

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Expendables 3, The
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by Brett Gallman

"Maybe they'll get it right next time."
2 stars

Three films into this “Expendables” experiment, you’d expect there to be a scientific law (or at least a law of averages) dictating that they have to get it right sooner or later. Instead, it looks like chaos governs this franchise, as the first sequel’s incremental improvement has been stunted by the latest installment. It’s sort of like watching a baby take its first steps, stumble, and fall backwards, only the baby here is toting a submachine gun and has a live grenade in its mouth. It’s a dangerous situation.

The good news is that it doesn’t completely blow up in its face, though there’s some collateral damage otherwise in part three, which simultaneously doubles down on its predecessor’s turbo-charged meta-hijinks and pedals back to the original film’s overly sullen, severe demeanor. Its rambunctious prologue provides a glimmer of hope that maybe they’ve cracked the code this time: with Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and company hovering in a helicopter overhead, a train speeds ahead carrying Doc (Wesley Snipes), an old Expendables running mate who’s been imprisoned for eight years. A brief but thrilling jailbreak ensues and the good guys feed a faceless horde of bad guys a steady diet of bullets, knifes, and tripwires, while Doc—who has grown deranged and won’t be satisfied until he kills the prison warden—slaps a cherry on top in the form of an explosion.

This bit might be the best moment in any “Expendables” movie not involving Mickey Rourke weeping over his exploits in Bosnia. There’s a nice mix of outlandish action beats, audience winks (you can guess Doc’s response when he’s asked what he was imprisoned for), and genuine sentiment. When Barney tells his friend it’s good to have him back, you know it’s actually Stallone speaking to Snipes and welcoming him back to the fold like an old classmate who missed a couple of reunions but finally dropped by for this one. Since its inception, that’s what “The Expendables” has felt like: a glorified high school football team getting back together for one more game (and another, and another…), where the recycled one-liners are old jokes and war stories are actual war stories.

A fair amount of old tales are swapped in “The Expendables 3,” which mines the group’s backstory for its main conflict. After bailing out Doc, the team has a layover in a war-torn nation where they’ve been charged with assassinating a mysterious weapons dealer. Everyone’s surprised when it’s revealed to be Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), Barney’s Expendables co-founder. Long thought to be dead after turning rogue years ago, he’s resurfaced as a charismatic warlord. Looking to send a message, he wounds Caesar (Terry Crews, whose trip to the hospital here allows him to exit this film as quickly as Jet Li parachuted out of the second one) and shakes Barney into an existential crisis. With their imminent mortality knocking, he breaks up the old crew and recruits younger, fresher meat for a suicide mission.

Considering the premise and Stallone’s penchant for nostalgia-gazing, the arc is predictable but dopily heartfelt. When one of the recruits (Ronda Rousey, who I kind of love now) insists that it’s “not 1985 anymore,” you can rest assured “The Expendables 3” is ultimately going to be a big, sweaty display of machismo and Old Spice, with the old guard (how Statham, Crews, and Randy Couture are in this bunch eludes me) bailing out the youngsters and proving their worth despite sporting about a quarter of a millennium’s worth of years between them. It’s basically an even more bone-headed riff on “Rocky Balboa” and “Rambo,” and it’s admirable that Stallone continues to lay bare the anxieties of hyper-masculinity withering with age. In this case, he’s mostly just pumping rounds into the notion and having fun with it—I’m actually pretty surprised they didn’t wheel in Danny Glover to declare he’s too old for this shit before winking and firing a bazooka.

There’s a little bit of that going on, naturally. While part three isn’t nearly the meta-orgy its predecessor is, it features a fair amount of nods to the stars’ previous exploits and goofball humor, some of which land pretty well (basically, anything involving Dolph Lundgren, who continues to be unfairly sidelined here). Other instances miss the mark so wildly that it actually adds to the charm like bad Dad Jokes: you want to roll your eyes, but you respect the effort, a sentiment that also summarizes “The Expendables” series in a nutshell.

Part three is more of the same in this respect: with this assemblage of star-power, a certain sense of awe in inherent, even when the production is forced to mix and match parts like a kid switching out his action figures in a toybox. Both Snipes and Antonio Banderas (in the role of a motormouth merc—think Deadpool by way of Puss in Boots) make for fantastic additions because both seem sincerely happy to be there. If “The Expendables” is a reunion, these are the type of guys who hit the dance floor with no shame.

Meanwhile, Harrison Ford (subbing for the too-expensive-for-this-shit Bruce Willis) is the bored, grumpy asshole standing by the door, constantly peeking at his watch. His introductory scene is a marvel of complete disinterest, so much so that I’m almost convinced Ford is goofing on his own late-career persona. (That’s the underlying beauty of anything meta—just about anything can be written off, including a soul-crushing, brazenly bored performance like this). I would even argue that Wesley Snipes’s prison beard gives a more invested performance than Ford.

More committed is Gibson; we might not get Murtaugh, but we get good old, crazy, wild-eyed Riggs as the bad guy. Essentially just repurposing his villainous turn from “Machete Kills,” Gibson brings the right balance of actual menace and dickheaded smarm to Stonebanks: one scene has him cockily dismissing a piece of artwork yet still buying it for $3 million bucks, while another has him ruthlessly torturing the Junior Expendables. (Speaking of weird meta-moments: at one point, Stonebanks insists you don't want to see him when he's angry, a line that unfortunately reminds audiences that Gibson plays a convincing bad guy because he is a bad guy.)

Since his performance feels a little familiar, it’s not as revelatory or fun as Van Damme’s in the previous film, but it’s functional. The deck is truly stacked against him, though—with the exception of Robert Davi (who wanders in for all of one scene), Gibson lacks any noteworthy villains to hang around with or even order around. At least Eric Roberts and Van Damme could count Steve Austin and Scott Adkins in their company.

Speaking of stacking the deck: the film’s most sustained meta-arc involving the old guys proving their mettle to the young guns is an inevitability because the newbies practically shrink in the presence of the mega-star wattage engulfing them. Despite her woodenness, Rousey acquits herself the best—she’s just a great presence, if only because you’re absolutely convinced she could break everyone’s arm. Meanwhile, her male co-stars are practically interchangeable. When the film shifts to focus on this bunch, it’s a drag and leaves you anxiously awaiting the return of the real Expendables—they’re a bunch you didn’t realize you liked all that much until they’re set against the younger set. “The Expendables 3” might seek to reinforce that age is only a mindset, it’s also a reminder that we don’t have many candidates to take up the action star mantle. We might need Stallone to keep cooking up “Expendables” sequels even as he and his co-stars start turning into dust because their fading glory is still brighter than whatever’s currently waiting in the wings.

Not that “The Expendables” are particularly good action movies themselves, and the fact that I’m just now addressing this aspect of a film featuring some of the greatest action stars ever is a pretty good indicator that part three isn’t a marked improvement. Relative newcomer Patrick Hughes takes over behind the camera and stages an enormous amount of carnage with ample scope and scale, yet is often let down by the frenetic editing, inconsistent camerawork, and the PG-13 rating.

His work fares a bit better than his predecessors, particularly the over-the-top climax, which is swarming with insane motorcycle stunts, helicopter dogfights, and gunplay but has to contend with a general choppiness and a lack of inventiveness—there’s still a lot of shots of guys shooting guns off-screen, and the hand-to-hand combat is at its most lackluster here, save for Rousey’s opportunity to break out her patented armbar. For whatever reason, Jet Li is here for an extended cameo to simply wield firearms rather than engage in martial arts, and Statham only has a quick brawl.

The uninspiring action would be more tolerable if the film carried itself more like the last sequel, which planted its tongue just firmly enough into its cheek to skate by on its cornball wiles. Without agreeing with it, I could at least hear the argument that it veered a little too far into camp territory, so this is an attempt at course-correcting a little bit by having us endure another dark night of Barney Ross’s soul in the vein of the original film. By sidelining so much of the original crew, you miss the camaraderie and bullshitting these guys can do together. Even though these guys are known for their action chops, the second movie actually found some effectiveness in just allowing them to hangout and be themselves. As a result, “The Expendables 2” was a close approximation of peak Cannon: totally stupid, thoroughly silly, yet completely earnest all at once.

By contrast, “The Expendables 3” is just a little too self-serious and not quite as fun. Again, you really want it to be: this cast and concept are hard to root against and perhaps deserve an equal amount of talent in the director’s chair. This is not to slight Hughes (between this and “Red Hill,” he shows a lot of promise)—it’s just that you can’t help but wonder what an old master like John Woo or John McTiernan could pull off.

For now, this will have to do: somehow, this long-awaited dream project has become an obligatory exercise in mediocrity. After clamoring for Stallone and Schwarzenegger to share the screen with other action stars for decades, I’m left hoping someone is able to truly deliver on this promise before it’s too late because it’s not like we have many other options. That’s the underlying theme of “The Expendables 3” after all: you might as well enjoy these old guys since no one's there to grab the torch.

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originally posted: 08/16/14 17:18:47
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell i did not like the first one 1 stars
3/16/15 mr.mike "Average" is a compliment. 3 stars
11/05/14 meep Rather boring, have lost interest in this series 2 stars
9/04/14 Charles Tatum Best of the series 4 stars
8/17/14 Sugarfoot If you liked the first two (which I did) there is no reason you won't like part 3. 3 stars
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  15-Aug-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 25-Nov-2014


  DVD: 25-Nov-2014

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