The Expendables 3 (2014) – Directed by Patrick Hughes – Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Antonio Banderas, Jet Li, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Kelsey Grammer, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Robert Davi, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
I’m never going to complain too hard about a movie with this many actors that I like doing the things I like to watch them do, but EXPENDABLES 3 is not a very good movie. As an experience, it’s fine, well worth the price of a matinee ticket, but as a movie, it’s not very good. It’s overstuffed with characters; the fun in an EXPENDABLES movie is seeing all of these famous actors together, but this is the third movie and the filmmakers still think they can get away with just starfucking our eyeballs.
It’s not enough.
There are so many people in the movie that, other than Stallone and, oddly, newcomer Ronda Rousey, no one gets enough screen time. This is especially damaging in the cases of Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren, and Randy Couture. These are the guys I’m here to see, so give them to me. When I watch the movie and look at the poster, I can’t help but think Stallone is collecting action stars the way people collect action figures. In fact, what started out as Stallone getting his fellow action heroes together to make an all-star movie has evolved into Stallone getting his fellow action stars together to pay homage at the Altar of Stallone.
It’s not enough.
I don’t know if it’s a matter of Stallone’s ego or Stallone’s commitment or everyone else just doing it for the paycheck, but what once felt like an homage to the 1980’s action genre now feels like an homage to Sly Stallone.
It’s not enough.
There are other problems, too, but they are all rooted in this really being a Stallone movie and not an EXPENDABLES one. The movie opens strong, with a perfectly excellent action sequence in which Barney Ross (Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), and Toll Road (Randy Couture) fly a helicopter at a train to break Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) out of train jail before the train hurtles into a bad guy’s compound. It’s good, ridiculous, tense, and drowning in its own testosterone. This is why I go to see an EXPENDABLES movie: to see Stallone, yes, but also Statham and Lundgren and Couture (the under-the-radar shining light of these films) and now Snipes do things in grown man bodies that kids pretended about their action figures doing.
When Snipes makes his way to the front of the train to fire a goddamn tank gun at the compound, I was … ahem … on board with what I was seeing. This is quickly followed up by a raid on a dock compound in Somalia that is also just what I wanted to see. Everyone gets in on the act, including the already-there Hale Caesar (Terry Crews). I’m not really sure Barney and Company have a plan beyond improvising the way they blow shit up, but I don’t care. And when a massive curveball gets tossed Barney’s way by the sight of Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) being alive, which leads to Stonebanks shooting Caesar right in his Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
The team limps home and Barney decides there’s only one thing to do – kick everyone else out of the clubhouse.
Even Doctor Death knows it’s dumb, asking Barney something like, “You broke me out just to bench me?” One, I like the idea that Doctor Death is upset about not getting to go after Stonebanks, even though he just met Caesar. (He did know Stonebanks, though.) Two, I doubly like the idea that Doctor Death would rather rot in prison than find a nice couch to lay on whilst eating Chinese take-out and doing his taxes.
Ha ha. Taxes. Get it? Because it’s Wesley Snipes and he was in jail for not paying his taxes. Come on, EXPENDABLES 3 is so self-referential they give us one tax evasion joke and two GET TO DA CHOPPA!!! references. Two!
Barney sends the old men out to pasture and goes and gets some new recruits, because obviously when you’re going against a crazy guy who’s got his own army, you want to go with a bunch of people who’ve never worked together before.
Now, the film does try to build around the idea of old men not being able to cut it anymore, and knowing when it’s your time to walk away. Unfortunately, they don’t develop this idea beyond Barney firing the old guys and then watching the new guys get taken prisoner. There’s even some lip service given to Barney being on a suicide mission, which is also something the film could build around, but it doesn’t develop this idea, either.
Maybe it would help if I knew who any of these new people were beyond Ronda Rousey. Whatever movies or shows Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell, and Victor Ortiz have been in (or fights, in Ortiz’s case), either those films or those actors have failed to make an impression on me, and it makes me think the idea of this being a “pass the torch” movie are wrong. Rousey is the only one of the three who I felt like the filmmakers were pushing, in any way. She gets a few one-on-one scenes with Stallone but I find her scenes with Antonio Banderas are more entertaining.
About Rousey – she’s not yet anything special as an actor, but you can see that she’s a star. The camera loves her. And I don’t mean that she’s hot (which she is), but that the camera always seems to find her and she always looks like she’s the most important person in any scene she’s in. I found myself enjoying her fight scenes more than any of the others; maybe because of her background they made a point to give her lots of hand-to-hand combat, which set her scenes apart from all the gunplay in almost everyone else’s scenes. Honestly, every single time I see her on screen a piece of my insides starts getting giddy over the possibility of watching her knock someone the fuck out. Or drop an armbar on someone.
Discussing the film’s acting brings us to Mel Gibson, who is so much better than everyone else in this film at their chosen profession it’s like watching Brock Lesnar show up for a high school wrestling tournament. Well, that’s not entirely true (Kelsey Grammer and Banderas are also legitimately good actors) and not entirely significant (these guys are stars, not actors), but it’s oh-so-obvious. Even in a role that doesn’t require more than a hundredth of what he can do, Gibson delivers a performance way beyond the script, and that’s admirable for a man who has some highly un-admirable traits. I think he might be the only actor in the movie allowed to deliver more than two sentences at a time, just like he might be the only actor (well, other than Grammer) who is allowed to talk like a normal person and not like someone in an action movie. His speech about how the United States government used the Expendables to do their dirty work and then turned their back on him is the acting highlight of the movie.
All of this sounds rather negative, so let me offer a bit on the other side to balance things off. EXPENDABLES 3 is enjoyable. When I was watching it, I was only bored during the “dump the old guys, recruit the new guys” sequence. I just don’t think after two big action sequences with the old guys that Barney’s decision to replace them adds much to the film. Given that the four recruits don’t become the main cast and are, in fact, captured during their first mission, the big recruitment sequence just feels like a heavy anchor to me. Perhaps if the film pushed at the idea that Barney is suicidal following the return of Stonebanks (who was a founding member of the group) and thus recruits people he doesn’t know (and thus, doesn’t care about), we’d have something a bit darker. (Heck, we’d be headed damn near to First Blood territory.) That’s not a ground that EXPENDABLES wants to cover, though. They want to give just enough of a hint at deeper motivations like that to propel us to all the shooting and blowing things up.
And I’m okay with that. The action sequences largely work. Yeah, the film still goes too hard in the direction of washed out grays in crummy eastern European towns, but director Patrick Hughes (who’s been tapped to helm the American remake of The Raid) can put an action scene together. A story, not so much. I really hate how EXPENDABLES 3 is paced, with the two opening, action sequences, then the replacements section, and then finally the “get everyone together for the climax” finale. I hate that they’ve got Antonio Banderas riffing more on Puss in Boots than El Mariachi, but Banderas still gives a good performance. Harrison Ford doesn’t offer much, but at least he’s playing a guy who looks like he’s forgotten to have fun, which is a marked improvement from Bruce Willis playing a guy trying to wish himself elsewhere.
EXPENDABLES 3 is thus sorta enjoyable in what it gives us, but …
It’s not enough.
Or maybe it’s too much. I’m not saying I need the plot and character arcs of an EXPENDABLES movie to rival Hamlet, but I do want to feel like everyone is properly utilized, and that doesn’t happen here. It did happen, more often than not, in the first two EXPENDABLES films, but this time around, I felt like I was watching a Stallone movie and that’s not what I’m paying money to see with this franchise.
THE EXPENDABLES REVIEW BOX