With Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes. Written by Sylvester Stallone and Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt. Directed by Patrick Hughes. Rated PG-13 for violence including intense sustained gun battles and fight scenes, and for language. 126 minutes.
Perhaps the most ironic thing about Sylvester Stallone’s series of movies featuring aging action stars is that most of them–including Stallone–can’t attract audiences for their own movies. However, throw them all together in an over-the-top picture featuring more bullets fired and bombs exploding than in a small war and it’s a huge hit. THE EXPENDABLES 3 shows no sign of the franchise slowing down.
As before, the plot is disposable. Barney (Stallone), Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture), and Caesar (Terry Crews) open the film with a big action set piece where they bust their compatriot Doc (Wesley Snipes) out of prison. It opens the film with a bang–including a train crashing into the prison–and marks the first major film appearance of Snipes in five years. Where has he been? Well, Doc tells us in the first of several in-jokes that makes the audience feel they’re part of the game.
While many critics have, correctly, noted how much the “Expendables” series owes to ‘80s action films, Stallone has a deeper debt to an entirely different group of movies: the 1956 “Around The World in 80 Days,” “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” Those films each had a list of guest stars (or guest toons) and part of the attraction was recognizing each one as they appeared.
Here it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, returning as Trench, a competing mercenary who sometimes works with Barney. Oh look, it’s Harrison Ford, replacing Bruce Willis (with a quip acknowledging that), as Barney’s CIA contact. Hey, there’s Mel Gibson as Stonebanks, the arms dealer who is the film’s villain. Isn’t that Antonio Banderas as the motormouth who wants to join Barney’s team? Wow, there’s Robert Davi as someone wanting to buy a nuclear device from Stonebanks. What’s Kelsey Grammer doing here? Probably the oddest casting of the film, Grammer proves perfect bringing his droll delivery to the role of Bonaparte, who helps Barney put his new team together.
New team? Yes, the plot contrivance here is that after a botched job where they are outwitted by Stonebanks–whom everyone thought was dead–Barney lets his old team go and brings in a new crew (Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Victor Ortiz, Glen Powell) who are younger and more adept at modern warfare. You can guess where the plot is going, leading up to a big showdown with virtually the entire cast–plus Jet Li.
Stallone, who shares credit for the script, remains the leader of the group and the star of the film, but he’s generous with all his co-stars, making sure each of them get moments to shine. If you get into the rhythm of it, there’s definitely fun to be had, from Ford’s character not understanding Statham’s British accent to Banderas’s manic warrior who stops in the middle of a battle scene to pay court to Rousey. Rousey is the one woman in the crew and a real life MMA fighter. It’s to the film’s credit that she’s taken seriously and not just used as eye candy.
“The Expendables 3” is late summer fun for action fans. You don’t take it seriously for a moment, nor are you expected to. For fans of the genre, though, this series is their “Roger Rabbit.” The only regret is that some older action stars, like Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson, didn’t live to appear in them.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.