‘The Expendables 3’ lands more punches than it misses

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The Expendables 3
Directed by Patrick Hughes
Written by Sylvester Stallone, Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt

 

Family themes are getting a good workout in action movies lately.  From the ragtag team of outlaws in Guardians of the Galaxy to the Pizza Hut dream-team in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, filmmakers need us to know that blood is thicker than water when the shit hits the fan.  That trend continues with Stallone’s latest testosterone booster shot, The Expendables 3.  The old dudes deliver the goods, but the new crew of young, demographically-balanced knuckleheads is utterly forgettable.  Luckily, terrific stunt work and a couple of surprising performances make this a worthwhile mission for fans of ‘80s action shtick.

Things open promisingly enough, with two fantastic action set pieces.  The first involves the remaining Expendables (Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and Randy Couture) busting their buddy (Wesley Snipes) out of a maximum-security train.  Fists, blades and one-liners streak the screen at an electrifying pace.  Next, we get the introduction of our main villain, Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), as the Expendables bust up his weapons deal, destroying most of a major seaport in the process.  A good old-fashioned car chase highlights this extended sequence, with the entire crew actually switching cars mid-chase.  It’s a bravura example of what can be accomplished with some first-rate stunt work and imaginative action choreography.

Sadly, it will be another 45 minutes before the action picks up again.  In between, we get lots of ruminating about people being too old for this shit, which prompts Stallone to replace his geriatric crew with a new crew of young Expendables (Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Ronda Rousey and Kellan Lutz).  Apparently, they don’t make suicidal maniacs like they used to, as this crew is painfully dull and nondescript.  The second act isn’t a total waste, however, as we meet the film’s two best characters, Gibson’s Stonebanks and Antonio Banderas as the chattiest outlaw since Butch Cassidy.expendables cast

Director, Patrick Hughes, has crafted a passably-entertaining love letter to Gen X’ers who cut their teeth on some fine ‘80s cheese.  The nostalgia factor is high and the action is outlandish, which is exactly what fans of this genre want.  That’s what makes Stallone’s decision (he co-wrote the script) to introduce a new crew of Millennial hard-asses so puzzling.  Surely he understands we have no interest in these characters.  Worse still, the script splits up the older Expendables for nearly half of the film’s running time, effectively eliminating a huge chunk of their delightfully awkward banter.  Unless this was a decision dictated by budgetary concerns, it makes no sense on a story level and greatly reduces the fun of watching these geezers kick butt.

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What pushes The Expendables 3 into marginally-watchable territory are the performances of Gibson and Banderas.  Gibson is largely playing the same egomaniacal supervillain he portrayed in last year’s adorable mess, Machete Kills, but this time he’s a bit less psychotic and a lot more pragmatic.  In fact, there is a nihilistic logic to his character that rings frighteningly true for such lightweight material.  If Gibson surprises with his earnest villainy, Banderas really shocks with his motor-mouthed mercenary.  “Oh, this is an interesting place!” he joyfully observes as the crew trudges through some bombed-out forest battleground.  He’s like the schoolboy who’s constantly begging to be on your team… he could be the bestest dodge ball player you ever seen, if you only gave him the chance!  His infectious spirit elevates the performances around him, which is more than you can say for a listless Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

There’s no denying that The Expendables 3 is irretrievably dumb.  People jump out of impenetrable tanks just so they can sprint into buildings rigged with explosives.  Some actors have accents so thick they would make an interpreter cry.  There are enough wrinkles, hairpieces and bloodshot eyes to make the Grim Reaper salivate with glee.  But there is still some fun to be had if you’re a fan of this genre and you appreciate the lasting contributions of these action icons.  Now if they could only get Steven Seagal to play the villain in The Expendables 4

— J.R. Kinnard

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