The Expendables shouldn’t be too hard a concept to get right. The posters have always seemed to promise the greatest action movie ever but no-one’s honestly going to have realistic expectations of that. All it needs to be is a decent eighties throwback action movie showcasing a group of ageing action stars all working together for the first time. Somehow the tedious first film failed to leave even the slightest impression on me, but was successful enough to warrant a sequel. That film, The Expendables 2, was actually a considerable improvement, with some welcome new cast members, cameos bumped to supporting turns, and better overall action. It suffered with its need to cram in attempts at meta-humour but, as I said a while back in my Schwarzenegger article, if the third film can improve as much on the second as the second did on the first, we might be some way close to a great action movie.
Well The Expendables 3 is here now and I can probably say that it is better than the last one, but only by a little bit. The key members of Sylvester Stallone’s team of mercenaries are back from last time; Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren, and new director Patrick Hughes brings us in with a well-staged set piece involving the group breaking into a moving military prison train via a helicopter. Their reason is to break out a former expendable played by Wesley Snipes. Snipes has of course, spent the last decade either appearing in straight-to DVD rubbish or in prison. This film gives him a decent chance to demonstrate why he was so popular in the first place, which he ably does in his first few scenes. Though in reply to being asked why he was in prison, he states “tax evasion”, worryingly suggesting that this is going to be another bout of groan inducing self-aware jokes, but thankfully it’s only that and one “get to the choppa!” by Arnold.
As happened in the last film with Jet Li, one of the team is barely there and makes a swift exit after the opening. Unfortunately it isn’t Randy Couture, but Terry Crews who gets taken out. Presumably this is because of his busy TV schedule; otherwise it would look worryingly like the film has a ‘one black guy at a time’ rule. However the rest of the team don’t last that long either, as after a disastrous mission, Stallone decides that the team are past-it and sets out to recruit a new younger one. He doesn’t consider himself too old mind you, and indeed this feels much more like a solo Stallone film and less of an ensemble piece than the previous films. His new young team are the expected mixture of inexperienced actors and former sportsmen (including a lone woman), none of whom can act particularly well. They’re not too effective in the story either, as after a mildly entertaining heist operation; they’re all taken captive meaning Stallone’s going to have to hatch a new plan to rescue them.
The fun moments in The Expendables 3 don’t really ever come from either of the 2 central teams, aside from Snipes’ early scenes, but he’s soon side-lined. Instead they’re nearly all courtesy of the veteran guest stars. A surprisingly cast Kelsey Grammer gets a good extended montage assisting Stallone in recruiting new members, and gets probably the funniest individual moment. Arnie and Jet Li have a few brief scenes but are important to the climax, not to mention having one of the more interesting reveals in any recent action movie. Mel Gibson is great as the chief villain, a former Expendable who shares a history with Stallone, here he’s essentially a more grounded version of the ludicrous Bond-type bad guy he played in Machete Kills but has a good time with it. The best is probably Antonio Banderas as a motor-mouth, acrobatic Spanish former mercenary, he’s desperate to get back into the work and loves every minute of it when given the chance, but also possesses a bit more depth via his backstory. He really shows the rest of the team-members up when he joins them in the second half. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for Harrison Ford, who coasts through his appearance despite taking an aerial role in the climactic battle. It’s also very obvious that he’s playing a swiftly re-written version of the Bruce Willis character for the last two movies.
The film builds to a lengthy closing action set piece, which has a few exciting moments but feels clumsily edited at times. I imagine a lot of this had to do with trimming it down for the obligatory PG-13 rating; the film has an extremely high yet completely bloodless body count. Plus Stallone utilises a pretty odd kiss-off one-liner. Even though it looks likely to be the last of the series (its US box office opening suggests such), the overcrowded Expendables 3 has just about enough action and memorable supporting turns to get by.