Let’s be clear here: when you’ve seen one of The Expendables films you’ve pretty much seen all of them. Each time the cast is largely the same, the plot is largely the same and the action is also, as you might suspect, largely the same. The result is that these films are certainly interchangeable if they’re not entirely expandable altogether, but that doesn’t have to mean there isn’t dumb and sluggish fun to be had. Movies like these are guilty pleasures, motion pictures you might want to watch when you’re in the mood to turn off your brain and just want to enjoy straightforward fights, loud shoot-outs and big explosions. For their latest foray into this territory, Sylvester Stallone and co have come up with a lean premise to tie the action scenes together: when Conrad Stonebanks, the co-founder of the Expendables, reemerges and tries to have his old team killed, Stallone’s Barney is dead-set on taking his old friend down with the help of an entire new group of people. Unsurpisingly, machismo ensues.
It’s as good a plot as any to kick off the mayhem, but movies biggest problem is that, for long stretches of time, The Expendables 3 is actually quite dull. With its running time of 126 minutes the film is clearly overlong, and with no story or characters to keep you invested, it struggles to sustain itself. It’s all fine and dandy that The Expendables 3 doesn’t try to give us developed characters or an inventive story, but then it has to make sure it does what it sets out to do flawlessly. To that end the movie has to make sure you root for these one-note types, has to keep the pace up, and also really needs to bring it in the action department. Sadly the execution here isn’t nearly as good as you’d want and, in large part, that has to do with the Expendables themselves.
Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and Randy Couture return for this third entry in the franchise, but they seem bored and reluctant. There’s no spark to their performances here, which is a problem in a film that focuses on these actors’ characters. Terry Crews fares far better and delivers his bad one-liners with gusto and charm, but unfortunately he isn’t in the film all that much. Instead much of The Expendables 3 focuses on a team of younger heroes and, much like with the old crew, there’s only one man here who makes it work: Glen Powell plays an adrenaline junkie/hacker and his smartass is truly a guy you quickly learn to like. Strangely, the one person you’re sure to root for is Conrad Stonebanks, the villain of the film: Mel Gibson infuses this bad guy with all the right amounts and kinds of crazy, and his performance here is perfectly suited for the hammy and ridiculous pulp that is The Expendables 3. Newcomers Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Kelsey Grammer and Harrison Ford also embrace the movie’s dumb and fun nature, which leads to a few good moments, but not nearly to enough to give the film the energy boost it needs.
The action is also very basic: there’s fisticuffs, some knife-throwing, a lot of shooting and some computer-animated helicopter action. It’s all lackluster, repetitive and uninspired, and it fails to raise the bar when compared to the previous two entries in the franchise. Especially when compared to what other current action films are doing nowadays, like The Raid 2 or even the Bourne, Mission Impossible and Bond franchises, The Expendables 3 is a reminder of how far (fire) fight choreography has come over the years and how much more exciting film makers can execute and frame brawls and other action moments right now. While the movie is populated with ’80s action stars, the fact remains that ’80s action really is dated now and that it doesn’t appeal to viewers like it used to. Things truly have changed, have become more exciting, and The Expendables 3 fails to acknowledge that fact. That’s not being nostalgic, it’s being stupid, and it’s a surefire way to truly become expandable.
While some new cast members and Gibson’s villain do their best to lend a healthy dose of fun and crazy to the film, the fact remains that much of it just doesn’t work: the action is boring, the pacing is off and many of our heroes look like they would rather have been somewhere else. 4/10