Sylvester Stallone and all his brawny pals are back for another run with The Expendables 3, the 2014 follow-up to 2012’s The Expendables 2. The first Expendables picture emerged in 2010 when reunions and action team-ups were big business, but the franchise has managed to live on and looks to continue to do so. That’s not a bad thing.
Unfortunately, The Expendables 3 is a letdown. While the first and second movies allowed for some muscular good times, this is a wishy-washy version of what fans have come to expect. It’s directed by Patrick Hughes and it feels choppy and hollow, with the action sequences losing a lot of their punch. In part, this is due to the unfortunate PG-13 rating producers were angling for.
Stallone is back as Barney Ross, the leader of the Expendables mercenary squad. The picture opens as they break Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) out of a train transfer. He’s a former Expendable and he joins Ross and the group as they track forward to a mission in Somalia. This goes haywire when it’s revealed that the nefarious Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) is alive and well. He even kills one of the team.
Ross meets with the new mission head (Harrison Ford) to get a handle on things, but he decides that he’s getting too old for this shit and doesn’t want to put the Expendables in jeopardy. He ditches them and gets a new group, which includes some young blood. Together with his new team, Ross goes after Stonebanks. Naturally, this doesn’t go as planned.
There are a lot of stars in The Expendables 3, which is kind of its “thing.” Jason Statham is ever-ready as Lee Christmas and he gets into it with Snipes’ character because they’re both knife experts and you can’t have two knife experts in one squad. There’s some funny material between the two, but it fizzles out when Ross makes his decision go younger.
Antonio Banderas has an interesting turn as Galgo, although it’s hard not to hear Puss in Boots when he’s on screen because he’s once again playing a parody of himself. Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, and Terry Crews are all back as members of the original squad, although one of them dies in the early going. Arnold Schwarzenegger is also in the fold, with plenty of lines about a “choppah.”
The new blood includes Kellan Lutz, Victor Ortiz, Glen Powell, and Ronda Rousey. Only Rousey manages to be interesting and this is mostly because she’s treated like such an utter anomaly by the rest of the characters. Ross and Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer) are so utterly fascinated by the fact that she can fight while being a chick that they nearly explode.
For all the action thoroughbreds on tap, The Expendables 3 pretty much has everyone blend together into a shade of grey. That’s a problem because there’s a lot of distinctiveness here. Rousey can rock the house, but the flick fritters it away with so much cutting that it becomes nearly impossible to see what she’s doing. Ditto the larger scale action scenes, which border on unintelligible at times.
The PG-13 rating also means we have to put up with such disappointing crap as Snipes’ character bursting into a scene with huge knives and knifing people to nearly no effect. Oh sure, the bad guys die. Maybe. Despite slashing throats and nearly beheading people, there’s nary a drop of blood to be found. For such a gutsy character, that’s a problem.
The Expendables 3 should be an old school action dynamo, but it winds up fizzling away on the road to wide-release entertainment. It tries to catch as many audience members as possible with its bullets and fights, but everything’s so meatless and jumpy that it barely registers. There is the shell of a good movie here, but what Hughes and Co. put to film just isn’t it.
Hughes is set to direct the American remake of The Raid: Redemption. If he’s to be judged from his work on The Expendables 3, eyebrows should be raised over what’s coming next. The shots are tepid, the pacing is wobbly (how much time really needs to be spent on the recruiting scenes?) and the action is cluttered. It’s a letdown from start to finish, but hopefully this won’t be Barney Ross’ last stand.