Ever wondered how Barney got his Expendables start? Me too, but you’re not going to find out in Patrick Hughes’ “The Expendables 3,” even though the film seems to want to hint at the group’s origins. Instead, it’s just content to continue the artillery assault began in the experimental 2010 first movie. Remember when no one thought this could possibly work? Well it has for two movies now. The third opens this Friday and like the previous two, ups the ante in terms of brawn and cast, though this time saddled with a PG-13 rating. The film offers up a plentiful body count (50 or so in the first 20 minutes, or thereabouts) and caps off with an expectantly ridiculous third act set piece at a soon-to-be-demolished property.
Putting aside the fact that it eschews the previous two films’ gleeful evisceration of the human body by bullets, knives, and other assorted weaponry in favor of a potential wider audience, “The Expendables 3” is (mostly) more of the same. This time around, things get serious when one of the Expendables is taken out by merchant of death/bad guy Conrad Stonebanks (an impressively bulked up Mel Gibson), who we learn was an Expendable too back in the day. Barney is soon tasked by the CIA (a gimpy Harrison Ford, stepping in for Bruce Willis) to take out Stonebanks. After unceremoniously disbanding his team, Barney goes hunting for new blood to replace the old crew. This is where I kept wondering why everyone is so desperate to join Barney’s Expendables. Is the pay really that good? I don’t recall a dollar amount ever being mentioned, and it doesn’t exactly look like everyone is getting rich off this gig, Barney included. I guess they just really like killing people?
“The Expendables 3” plays out a bit like “The Dirty Dozen” in the early goings, with Barney going around the world recruiting with the assist of mercenary talent scout Kelsey Grammer. The new faces come in the form of UFC fighter Ronda Rousey, “Twilight’s” Kellan Lutz, boxer Victor Ortiz, and Glen Powell as a genius hacker (because every action movie these days needs a cool hacker to disable alarm systems and stupid shit like that). Antonio Banderas plays a colorful newcomer who really really really wants to be a member of Barney’s gang. Banderas has a blast in the role and is easily the movie’s most fleshed out new recruit. I don’t even remember the names of Rousey, Lutz, Ortiz, and Powell’s characters. My only recollection of them goes like this: “the guy from ‘Twilight,'” “the hot UFC chick,” “the boxing Latino guy,” and the plain white guy.
Whether purposefully or not, the script for “The Expendables 3” seems to acknowledge that its cast is over-the-hill. Of course, these kids may be pretty and lacking the grizzled lines of Statham, Couture, Lundgren, and a newly freed Wesley Snipes, but it doesn’t mean they’re better at the job. So when Barney’s new mission to take out Stonebanks goes predictably awry and the juniors are captured, it’s up to the old guard to save the day. They do this by kicking in doors, a tactic that, amusingly, is mocked earlier in the film by the whippersnappers. Of course, by the time everyone gets together for the finale–a huge action set piece that notches a body count in the high 100s, give or take–it’s all about the pyrotechnics.
Most of the franchise’s cast returns, even if they don’t have very much to do. Jet Li shows up in time to be the butt of a few short jokes, and different actors deliver what amount to meta fan service for their respective bases. The film opens with the rescue of Snipes, who when queried about why he’s been locked up in prison for 8 years wearing some kind of Hannibal Lecter get-up, glibly blames it on “tax evasion.” “The Expendables” has always been a series that seems to “get” its appeal, though its oh-so-obvious catering to a PG-13 rating may rankle longtime fans, the same people who made this experiment a success in the first place. I’ll be perfectly honest with you–I didn’t really care about the lack of the red stuff. Hard to be when you’re watching a movie where the good guys hit everything they aim at (sometimes multiple hits!), while the sea of bad guys can’t hit the broadside of a barn from three feet away.
Patrick Hughes, coming off the 2010 Aussie western thriller “Red Hill,” juggles everything with enough skill that I’d love to see him doing something more challenging. His action sequences (even if they don’t make a lick of sense, not to mention being even remotely credible) are easy enough to follow and serve the cast well. By the finale, they’ve pulled out the tanks, solders on motorcycles (?), and enough parkour to shatter your eardrums and melt your eyeballs. Let’s face it, at this point I fail to see why you would even watch “The Expendables 3” if you weren’t already a huge follower of the franchise. It is what it is, and for what it is–over-the-top action, action hero fan service, simple screenwriting 101–the film mostly delivers.
Patrick Hughes (director) / Sylvester Stallone, Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt (screenplay)
CAST: Sylvester Stallone … Barney Ross
Jason Statham … Lee Christmas
Harrison Ford … Drummer
Arnold Schwarzenegger … Trench
Mel Gibson … Stonebanks
Wesley Snipes … Doc
Dolph Lundgren … Gunner
Randy Couture … Toll Road
Terry Crews … Caesar
Kelsey Grammer … Bonaparte