By Will Ashton
Before delving into my opinion on The Expendables 3, I feel I should address the elephant in the room. Just for the record, I did not pirate this movie. Normally, that should be self-explanatory, but since the film’s infamous leak, I feel I should point-blank note that I saw this movie in a theater, with an audience and some loud speakers.
With that out of the way, I should also address the other, not-quite-as-big-but-definitely-noteworthy question about this movie: yes, in multiple ways is this movie crippled by its PG-13 rating.
Continuing on actor/producer/co-writer Sylvester Stallone’s mild vanity project to bring back the stars of his day, while still primarily keeping the attention of the films on himself for the most part, The Expendables 3 is the supposed last entry in the series that is supposed to be the biggest and toughest entry of the series, or so one would think. But, by trying to produce a half-baked message of ageism, while also trying to introduce a new age of viewers with non-starting younger stars and a lighter rating, this series has become a lot like (most) of its stars: tired, limp-wristed and disoriented.
After rescuing a captured former member of the gang, Doc (Wesley Snipes), from a freight train for tax evasion (wink, wink), the group of larger muscled stars of yester-year are preparing to cause more explosions and fire more guns, until they discover a rouge member of their former years, Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) is not only alive and well—despite being dead, as the team thought—but out with a vengeance.
After he critically injuries one of the Expendables, group leader Barney Ross (Stallone) feels that he is putting his mens’ lives in risk one too many times. So, instead of inviting them all back for their next rendezvous, he decides to recruit a number of new members to the gang (Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell, Ronda Rousey and Victor Ortiz) to bring down Stonebanks for good. But, of course, the original Expendables don’t take too kindly to getting the boot, and find themselves still in action, one way or another.
The Expendables series has always been at least a little confused with what it should be, but The Expendables 3 downright seems to be suffering from an identity crisis. With an all-too-serious first movie and an all-too-jokey second, this third movie tries to get the best of both those movies, while also taking heart to bringing in younger, more believable action stars these days into the action. But, by trying to please everyone, this sequel ultimately pleases nobody. For the violence is too tame, the new stars mostly lack charisma, and the plot is still too underwritten.
Despite its numerous flaws, I still found the last movie to be something of a mild, guilty pleasure. This was because, unlike the first movie, the action was tighter and bet shot, the choreography was better focused, the set pieces were stronger and, more importantly, the movie had the sense of humor about itself that it needed from the beginning. While still as poorly written as the first, it was a step in the right direction that was hopefully going to only get better with this new movie.
But, alas, this sequel remains a step back. Which is something of a shame, because this series does seem to take its criticism seriously and there are things to recommend in this new movie—primarily, the inclusion of some of its new stars. By and far, the best thing about this movie is Gibson as the villain. Who, unlike his cartoonish antagonist turn in Machete Kills, actually balances himself well between being menacing and scene chewing. He makes his role lively without ever eliminating his sense of threat, and is definitely the best villain the series has yet (or ever, if this is truly the last installment).
Likewise, in a performance more jovial than most of his on-screen appearances, Snipes has just the right level of charisma and action presence to stand out and then some. Also, in an all-too-short appearance, the always-likeable Kelsey Grammer is a warm, amusing presence, getting some of the film’s best lines while also giving some levity to the moments where the films drags the most.
Also, while none of the new kids in town have the charisma to stand up to their peers—or even be remembered—Rousey is definitely the best of the youngster bunch. Not merely for being a woman, but because she has the presence and toughest to make her appearance worth it. Like Gina Carano, she may not have the acting chops, but she knows how to support herself in a convincing action sequence.
While Antonio Banderas starts out as a likable supporting character, his goofy over-the-top performance not only quickly grows tiresome, but also never fits in with the rest of the movie. As the running time—which, for the record, is an overcooked 126 minutes—persists, he transitions from being a bright spot to the Jar Jar Binks of this action sequel.
The sound editing is pretty good, the stunts are fairly impressive and the set pieces are fine enough, but there is such a lack of energy either behind or in front of the camera that it doesn’t really matter. Perhaps this is why Banderas becomes too much, because he is too relied on to make the movie’s comedy spark—to faltering effects. There is no denying that the movie has some sense of self-awareness about itself, making cracks about Snipes jail time, Bruce Willis’ abrupt cut from the film and, as always, Stallone’s mumbling voice. But for the most part, even these jokes feel stumbled-footed and tiredly passive.
While the jokiness was way overdone last time, at least its sense of humor was constant, and it still proved what the fans wanted: R-rated action and a sense of fun. The Expendables 3, while more tightly written and controlled than the other films, is so all-over-the-place in figuring out whom to please that it can’t put its finger down on picking one target audience. So it sacrifices the blood, cuts the stars that the audience WANTS to see in half and offers nothing new. No blood, no guts, then no glory.