Review: 'The Expendables 3' is the Most Brainless Fun of the Series
by Jeremy Kirk
August 16, 2014
The Expendables 3 is so adorable you'd want to pinch its little cheeks if the average age of the crew weren't higher than 50. Once again lead by Sylvester Stallone's Barney Ross it's a new mission, a new team, and a new attitude, or so the tagline for this latest film implies. That new attitude must have something to do with entertainment, since The Expendables 3, for its been-there-done-that narrative and paint-by-numbers action set-pieces, ends up as the most enjoyable. It's lighter than the previous two, and though the self-indulgence among the cast is at an all-time high, the genuine fun being had bleeds through.
Synopsis, shynopsis. You know the drill. The Expendables are the team of good guys traveling the world in their twin-engine Albatross taking on bad guys and solving the worlds problems a few hundred bullets at a time. This time, however, the group is facing its toughest challenge yet, Conrad Stonebanks, a founding member of The Expendables played by real-world villain Mel Gibson, who Ross believed long-dead. After one of his own is injured Ross must form a new team, one who he feels is truly expendable, to take on this most sadistic antagonist yet.
And yet, not really. The characters can explain away how Stonebanks is the most dangerous villain they've faced yet, and their nerves can show on their faces as much as their acting talents can muster. There's nothing in The Expendables 3 that shows this villain to be anything more than just another baddie for the goodies to take out. This may be putting the cart before the horse just a bit, but it is a prime example of how little suspense finds its way into these films. The drama between good and evil isn't what's important. You know what's important? Explosions. Lots of fantastic, cool-looking explosions, and The Expendables 3 delivers those in abundance.
Fortunately for all of us, the man behind the execution of those explosions and the rest of the action this time around is director Patrick Hughes, whom surprised festival audiences a few years ago with the gritty, post-modern western Red Hill. There's an inventiveness to the action this time around that's not been seen in the series before, surprises and cleverness in the stunts that bring an honest wow factor to it all. From the prison-escape sequence aboard a racing train in the opening minutes to the obligatory shoot-out in a war-torn building (Hughes is the director on board to remake The Raid for American audiences), the action in The Expendables 3 keeps the pace moving and the story developments to an all-time low. Who needs those, anyway?
This review has gone on long enough without mentioning the 87 (give or take a few) members who now make up the cast. Each new Expendables movie drops a few members and picks a few up, the faces on the poster this time around offering up the most potential we've seen. It's a good thing most of the new members justify their positions. Chief among these is Antonio Banderas, who scores the high marks here as the new comic relief member who will not shut up, and he's hysterical nearly every time he opens his mouth. He does have a genuine dramatic moment late in the film that develops his character more than most of the members, and Banderas nails this scene, as well. It's a performance that tells us why we know more about his character from one scene than we do Jason Statham's Lee Christmas from three, full films. He's good with knives. That's all I've got.
It would take a novel to give the same analysis for everybody in The Expendables 3, the team is getting so unruly after three movies without really cashing in on the meaning of that name. Other notable newcomers include Kelsey Grammer as a recruiter for Ross' new team, Rhonda Rousey as one of those bad-ass new members, and Wesley Snipes as the one-time Expendable the crew breaks free in that opening sequence. Yes, he makes a "tax evasion" crack. Harrison Ford steps in for Bruce Willis as the tough-nosed CIA agent feeding Ross information, and he gets in on some of the action with comical results, both intentional and unintentional. Gibson plays his archetype well, even getting a face-to-face, verbal confrontation against Stallone. That scene is key to his character, even accomplishing some sense of justification for his character's actions, and Gibson, bug-eyed and gravelly-voiced, appears to be having the time of his life.
The same can be said for much of the cast. Though it often slips into the type of self-indulgent actor hang-out that makes it feel like Grown-Ups-for-action-junkies, the enjoyment everyone seems to be having adds to the energy of its action. Even returning members like Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Jet Li, and Randy Couture are having their respective times-of-their-lives despite given absolutely nothing to do but the "action thing." Arnold Schwarzenegger is back. He gets not one but two lines about "da choppuh" that are as cringe-inducing as you would expect.
Thankfully there's much less of that this time around, and, despite giving the franchise its first PG-13 rating, The Expendables 3 raises the action bar so well that it can't help but be the most fun of the series. It's action porn with minimal story and even less development of its characters. You wouldn't expect much story in an Expendables movie, and you would never be disappointed. What you would expect are your favorite action stars blowing away bad guys bloodlessly and walking away from gigantic explosions, preferably in slow motion. It's impossible to say this latest entry disappoints. As has become common in the franchise The Expendables 3 doesn't try for much, and it succeeds.
Jeremy's Rating: 6.5 out of 10
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