A film review by Craig J. Koban August 22, 2014 


2014, PG-13, 110 mins.


Sylvester Stallone as Barney Ross  /  Jason Statham as Lee Christmas  /  Terry Crews as Hale Caesar  /  Randy Couture as Toll Road  /  Antonio Banderas as Galgo  /  Jet Li as Yin Yang  /  Wesley Snipes as Doc  /  Dolph Lundgren as Gunnar Jensen  /  Glen Powell as Thorn  /  Mel Gibson as Conrad Stonebanks  /  Harrison Ford as Max Drummer  /  Arnold Schwarzenegger as Trench  /  Kellan Lutz as John Smilee  /  Kelsey Grammer as Bonaparte  /  Robert Davi as Vata  /  Ronda Rousey as Luna  /  Victor Ortiz as Mars

Directed by Patrick Hughes  /  Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone, Creighton Rothenberger, and Katrin Benedikt

I’m not altogether sure what a third EXPENDABLES film could already show me that the two other previous films in the franchise didn’t already.  

The premise for the overall series – let’s dig up action film royalty from the 1980’s and populate as many of them as possible in one film that pays loving homage to such intellectually vacant, wantonly violent, and innocuously enjoyable films – offers up ample promises, which the first EXPENDABLES film somewhat catered to.  I found that film to be more of a curiosity piece than a fully realized film that I just didn’t give into.  The second film was slicker, livelier, had its tongue more appealingly in its cheek, and was much more perversely inviting.  I found it really hard not to give into its simple pleasures of seeing Regan-era action stars approaching senior citizenship blowing up shit really good and killing many a bad guy. 

THE EXPENDABLES 3 seemed like a pretty unavoidable certainty, I guess, in the large scheme of things for this franchise.  It certainly caters to fan's appetites for big, dumb, noisy, eardrum-piercing action and its affably monosyllabic stars gritting their teeth with testosterone-induced glee.  The film is the first in the series to be rated PG-13, which seems like a real red herring going in (after all, aren’t these films supposed to emulate the hard-R rated bloodletting of the iconic 80’s action classics?), but in essence it's not much of a distraction, seeing as countless murders occur on screen – perhaps a record number for a film not rated R – and the intensity of the mayhem presented remains intact.  No, the real issue with THE EXPENDABLES 3 is that it feels...perfunctory.  There’s more of a decided been-there/done-that feel to the proceedings and very little effort is done by Sylvester Stallone – series creator and co-writer – to really mix things up for a third go-around.  Even with some notable new additions to the cast, there’s not enough – ahem – creative firepower on display here to set this entry successfully apart from the pack. 



The film opens with a fairly spectacular – but somewhat oddly edited – rescue sequence, showing the current Expendables, led by Barney Ross (Stallone), attempting to free an imprisoned former member, Doc (Wesley Snipes, Stallone’s past DEMOLITION MAN co-star).  After successfully springing him (he was in jail for tax evasion, a sly knock at Snipes’ own real life criminal indiscretions), the Expendables team – also made up of Lee Christmas (Jason Stratham), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture), and Caesar (Terry Crews) are given their next mission, courtesy of the CIA: They are to eliminate and capture – not kill – a despotic arms dealer named Stonebanks (Mel Gibson, new to the series), who just happens to be – wait for it  - an ex-Expendables member and friend of Ross’ that he thought was long since dead.   

After a particularly violent altercation with Stonebanks – which leaves one of the Expendables members horribly injured – Barney decides that perhaps it's time to hang up his pistols for good and call it a career, feeling that the team’s relative old age is becoming a detriment (I will give the film points for at least acknowledging what the past film’s only hinted at).  Not wanting to see his friends killed, Barney disbands his team, but secretly searches for a crop of fresh young recruits to start a whole new Expendables team.  Barney has been giving a new CIA contact, Digger (Harrison Ford – yes…that one…also new to the series) that reinforces to Barney that Stonebanks needs to be brought in alive to face a trial for war crimes.   Realizing that his new team may perhaps be a bit too wet behind the ears nab Stonebacks – whose a ruthless and cunning adversary for even a season squad of Expendables – Barney decides that he must, of course, bring his old crew back together – with some notable new players – for one “final mission.”   

One thing that THE EXPENDABLES 3 gets just right is its casting of Gibson as the chief baddie, who seems to be having a field day chewing scenery and spitting out cookie cutter dialogue with a real menacing relish.  No other actor in the film’s ensemble could play loose-cannon madness arguably as well as Gibson, which makes his inclusion here a welcome one and gives the new film a much-needed dosage of wild eyed, unpredictable tension.  Another welcome new player is Antonio Banderas as Galgo, a motormouthed loner that spends much of his time in scenes…not shutting up…but he infuses some ample comic relief in the film when others fail at delivering.  Snipes’ Doc is more of a glorified cameo than anything else and is not given much to really do.  The biggest addition to the cast is arguably the most squandered, as Harrison Ford – who, to be fair, was a very last minute stand-in for Bruce Willis’ departure from the series – is gruff and dull in mournfully large dosages here.  He never once seems to be truly enjoying any of his scenes in the film. 

The real problem is mostly with the young group of new Expendables, and there is not one memorable personality or thoroughly compelling actor here in the bunch.  Real life MMA fighter Ronda Rousey, at the very least, brings some feminine, kick-ass toughness to an otherwise all-male series, but for as fantastic as she is at lethally dealing out beat downs on her adversaries, she’s a mediocre actress and screen presence at best.  What we are then left with is the other members of the cast to pick of the slack, but the script makes the egregious error of giving series regulars like Arnold Schwarzenegger (sporting an unintentionally hilarious and awful hair-dye job) virtually nothing to do throughout.  I did enjoy, though, some of his one-liners – two of which were wink-wink acknowledgements to COMMANDO and PREDATOR – but during the climax he’s teamed up inexplicably with Jet Li (a martial arts dynamo that’s pathetically reduced to shooting guns and throwing out a few lines of dialogue).  Even when Harrison Ford shares a fleeting moment of screen time with Au-nald it should have elicited gleeful excitement; instead, it falls resoundingly flat. 

THE EXPENDABLES 3 was directed by Patrick Hughes (replacing the second film’s helmer Simon West) and he does what he can with the material and watered down rating, but he seems to fall victim to that ever-increasing modern action film style of shooting things with frenetic cuts, shaky cam, and disorienting editing (funny, but for a film that supposed to be riffing on action films of old, these films never seem to appropriate the relative cleanness and clarity of those films’ aesthetic).  When Stallone and Gibson do inevitably go toe-to-toe, the initial exhilaration of such an event gives way to disappointment for how Hughes stages such a would-be-epic donnybrook.  All in all, I just can’t thoroughly recommend THE EXPENDABLES 3.  Die hard series worshippers will probably relish it as much as the first two, but as for the rest of the filmgoing world there’s not much muscular meat on this film’s meager bones to warrant a night out to see it.  

That, and for a film with the likes of Rambo, The Terminator, Mad Max, Indiana Jones, Zorro and The Transporter…it shockingly doesn’t pay off as handsomely as it should have considering the bounty of famous action film pedigree sharing the screen together.   THE EXPENDABLES 3 feels, as a result, more slavishly dutiful to the series formulas and conventions than it does feel brazenly original…and necessary, for that matter.  

  H O M E