REVIEW: The Expendables 3 (2014)

Is it time to put these old dogs out of their misery?

The Expendables 3 is one of the greatest manifestations of ego in cinema history. Its nominal star, the 68-year-old Sylvester Stallone, has somehow rekindled his 90’s penchant for arrogance and – ironically for a series of infamous Tweets by Sly – pure greediness. Here’s a distractingly PG-13 entry in an R-rated series where Stallone’s Barney Ross pushes most of the “beloved” Expendables off-screen for a huge chunk of the running time and never once, not even for a second, gets setback by the near-endless barrage of gunfire, artillery shells and fucking tanks. This is the Stallone Show circa Cliffhanger. You know the beginning, you know the middle, and you know, because it’s an Expendables film, it’ll all end in a bar over a few drinks with someone making an awful joke. Oh, and a knife-throwing contest.

Should we really go over the plot? It was probably cooked-up in an afternoon by Stallone and his credited co-writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt. After an opening bit of derring-do that fails to top the gonzo pleasures of The Expendables 2‘s prologue, the team save imprisoned former member “Doc” (Wesley Snipes) before setting out on another fearless mission. This brings them to the attention of fellow would-be Expendable Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), who has taken up an interest in fine art and weapons of mass destruction. He leaves Hale Ceasar (Terry Crews) mortally wounded – but not dead, of course, heaven forbid they remove a star for potential sequels – which doesn’t go over too well with ol’ Barney.

The result is the steroid-abusing Mr. Ross pushing all his friends aside – including franchise-regulars Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and Randy Courture – to bring in a fresh team of young no-talents. If it wasn’t for the wonders of IMDb, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that their names are Smilee (Kellan Lutz), Luna (Ronda Rousey) and Mars (Victor Ortiz). The only impression they leave is one of mild irritation, and that’s before they’re inevitably kidnapped by Stonebanks. Wow, that’s quite a crack-squad they’re pushing on us!

It doesn’t help that The Expendables 3 is just a plain mediocre sequel on all levels. In the frankly capable hands of director Patrick Hughes (the great Red Hill), the film is never dull. I can say that. It has more panache than the terribly-shot first film, and it has a much wittier script than the better-lensed part two, but three instalments into this franchise, it still isn’t much higher in quality than a mid-budget DTV film. This is a flick that boasts Stallone, Statham, Lundgren, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Harrison friggin’ Ford, and yet it still has the whiff of being constructed by budget-conscious commitee (Sly’s vision, of course).

Who are these people? I still don’t feel like I know these characters. Everything is built on archetypes in the Expendables universe, and now the novelty of the big ensemble has worn off, you’re left wondering what they do all day when they’re not spouting one-liners and killing untold hundreds of people in bloodless firefights. Do they watch movies? Go the gym? Get drunk? Fool around? I don’t know, but I do know Statham’s Christmas is really good with a knife, Crews’ Ceasar loves firing big guns, and Lundgren’s Gunner is mentally unstable. It’s the same old song and dance. If these characters had arcs, they were probably blown to smithereens by C4.

Is the action good? Well, yeah, the fun stuff just about works if being thoroughly competent. The extended final act, which sees both old and new teams working together to escape Stonebanks’ private army, is pumped-up and impossibly badass. It is indeed exciting to see the largely practical stuntwork go to town and for the stars to really let-loose with their abilities, but it would be wrong to recommend a 126-minute film for a solid twenty.

If there’s a reason to see this one on the inevitably-drunken Saturday night, it would be the newcomers. Gibson, Snipes and Antonio Banderas, whilst playing one-note characters, are hugely entertaining and raise the movie’s spirits whenever they’re onscreen. Gibson, in particular, is a delightfully amoral antagonist and his genuine acting chops are all too evident when staring across from Stallone’s sagging, dog-sucking-a-lemon features. He absolutely steals the film and is the main reason why there’s two stars below.

(As for Harrison Ford and the inexplicable Kelsey Grammer, well, they were there.)

How do we sum up the Expendables series now this is assuredly the last with the original cast? It was a beautiful idea at its conception, but the result has been three thoroughly inconsistent ventures that never do full justice to the star wattage afforded them. They’re not unwatchable or awful… or A Good Day to Die Hard, but you can’t help but ask yourself: is this the best these people could do? As last hoorahs go, it’s really more of a whimper. A loud, explosive whimper.

Dave James

Editor-in-Chief at Film freak, music minion, professional procrastinator, podcaster, video-maker, all around talented git.

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