The point (such as it was) of the first two Expendables movies was to feature an all-star cast of action heroes past and present killing bad guys and blowing things up. The films took themselves too seriously overall, but you got the sense Stallone and his gnarled, wrinkly friends understood and embraced the scenario’s inherent camp value. They were in on the joke.
In The Expendables 3, there is no joke. It’s a general-purpose Action Flick with a formulaic plot and no personality, one that just happens to star several famous actors. The killings still number in the hundreds, but they’re edited (sloppily) so no blood is shown, so the movie can get a more lucrative PG-13 rating. (Side note: the MPAA ratings board is an abominable failure.) And remember how much fun it is to see Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Lundgren, and all your other old favorites sharing the screen together? Well, keep remembering, because memories are all you’ve got. Most of them are missing for much of part 3, and even when they’re in the same scene it’s often apparent they were filmed at different times.
The story, chosen at random from Uncle Splodey’s Big Book of Action Movie Plots, has the Expendables in pursuit of a ruthless arms dealer named Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) who severely injured one of their own (that’s right: this time it’s personal). Naturally, Stonebanks turns out to have a history with Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), and indeed was one of the founding members of the Expendables before he went rogue. You will perhaps recognize this situation from other movies (all of them).
Ah, but this simple plot would result in a movie of only 90-100 minutes in length, not the 126 minutes audiences demand from their disposable late-summer air-conditioned naps. To pad out the runtime (and to set up The Expendables: The Next Generation), Barney tells his old crew — played by Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Arnold Schwarzenegger, etc. — to sit this one out while he recruits a cadre of young bucks played by nobodies (specifically, actors Kellan Lutz and Glen Powell and professional fighters Ronda Rousey and Victor Ortiz). These moppets dash around like hotshots for a while before screwing things up and having to be rescued by their elders. “You were stupid enough to get yourself into this mess,” says Statham. “We’re the only ones crazy enough to get you out.” I’m pretty sure that line came from Uncle Splodey’s Big Book, too.
A few famous old-timers are added to the mix as well, including Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas, and Kelsey Grammer. Not one of them is given anything useful to do, though at least Banderas gets to ham it up enjoyably as an excited chatterbox who’s dying to join the Expendables. (For what it’s worth, Snipes’ few minutes of screen time are enough to remind us that we’d totally be up for a new Wesley Snipes movie.) Gibson is likewise a hoot as the villain, and likewise barely given enough screen time to make it count before the tedious, interminable shoot-em-up finale.
Despite the marketing that emphasizes the ensemble, this has always been a Stallone thing (he directed the first one, you’ll recall). That’s never been more apparent than in part 3, where he’s front and center the whole time, usually paired with Statham, sometimes with the boring newcomers, rarely with anyone interesting like Schwarzenegger or Ford. By all appearances Stallone was the only member of the team who wanted to commit full-time to the movie, while everyone else preferred to come and go at will. You get the feeling Expendables 4 will just be Stallone, the new kids, and maybe a cardboard cutout of Schwarzenegger.
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