The “Expendables” franchise in a nutshell: Sylvester Stallone has gathered the biggest action stars from the past 30 years, thrown in a few old jokes and sprinkled it all with excessive violence and gunplay. The results have been mixed, with the first film being fun but taking itself way too seriously, while the sequel was a little more self-relevant but was still sloppy.
With “The Expendables 3”, Stallone and his team have clearly taken notes because, while not a masterpiece or even particularly good film, the third time is the charm for this group for the steroid and Botox mercenaries.
Directed by Australian newcomer Patrick Hughes, “Expendables 3” follows Barney Ross (Stallone) as he tries to find new, younger blood in order to bring down an arms dealer, and former Expendables member, played by Mel Gibson. Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas and Arnold Schwarzenegger are among the many costars.
First things first, the jokes are much more prevalent than in past films. Stallone brought onboard Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, writers of “Olympus Has Fallen”, to co-write the script with him, and it results in the same irrelevant, intentionally awful jokes that not only made “Olympus” so much fun, but the action films from the 80’s. Harrison Ford, filling in for Bruce Willis who was fired after demanding $1 million a day, has the most fun of the newcomers, and unlike Willis looks like he actually gives a darn about being there. He has smile on his face the entire film, and has one funny running gag where he tells Jason Statham to “stop mumbling” whenever he speaks in his British accent.
Also, unlike the first two films, we know and actually empathize with the villain. Gibson’s weapons dealing character is given an actual backstory and there is one scene where he is talking to Stallone about why he does what he does and feels genuine.
Of all the newcomers, two stand out for reasons they may not like, the first being the lone female Expendable, played by UFC fighter Ronda Rousey. Her acting has a lot of opportunity for improvement (nice way of saying she’s not very good), and on more than one occasion she clichély says “men” when a group of the guys do something stupid. The other “standout” is Antonio Banderas, who, I swear to God, pulls a Jar Jar Binks. He is just over-the-top, quickly saying unfunny lines and never stopping the talking.
When news broke that this film was PG-13 instead of R, most people freaked out. We saw what happened when an R-rated franchise goes PG-13 earlier with RoboCop, so many people were nervous that this one. However the 4th Die Hard was rated PG-13, and that is arguably featured the best action of the series. And “Expendables 3” luckily falls closer to the Die Hard side of things.
Director Patrick Hughes stages some fantastic action sequences, and right from the start of the film you know you’re in for a thrill ride as it opens up on a train during a hostage rescue. Yes, there are the obligatory close-ups and shaky cams that accompany PG-13 films, but it never distracts you (this was shot as R but was cut to PG-13, because money).
At this point you know whether you like these films or not. I personally found the mix of new age tech versus old school fist fights an entertaining step in a new direction for the franchise, and is the best film in the series (take that statement for what it’s worth). There’s a part in the film when Ford turns to Stallone and says “that’s some of the most fun I’ve had in years”. I wouldn’t be lying if I said “Expendables 3” is some of the most fun I’ve had all summer.
Critics Rating: 7/10