Truth be told, I have never cared much for the pulsating aging biceps that populate Sylvester Stallone’s Expendables franchise. The novelty of seeing many of my favourite action stars, and a bunch of UFC fighters who somehow are considered action heroes despite never acting in anything of note, quickly dissipates the minute the generic gunplay and over-the-top explosions begin. Sure the series harkens back to glory days of the 80s action films, but there is a reason why that era fizzled out.
Audiences evolved and eventually demanded more from their heroes. Large physiques and excess carnage could no longer mask lifeless plots and horrible acting from nondescript villains. This is something Stallone failed to realize in the first two Expendables films. He fell into the trap of quantity over quality. Stacking all of the action heavyweights on one team, the previous Expendables films felt more like an exercise in excess rather than a fun time at the movies.
Stallone has clearly learned from his mistakes…to a certain extent.
The plot this time around involves lead Expendable Barney Ross (Stallone) blowing an operation when he discovers that a former team member, Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), is not actually dead. Knowing that Stonebanks is a ruthless killer, and fearing for his teams’ safety, Ross disbands the Expendables and sets his sights squarely on Stonebanks. Enlisting the assistance of his old acquaintance Bonaparte (Grammer), Ross assembles a much younger squad for his suicide mission to bring Stonebanks down. However, when plans go awry, the old and new squads must learn work together if they hope to stand a chance against Stonebanks’ army.
While The Expendables 3 is still unbalanced in regards to the number of big names on the side of good compared to those on the side of evil, the film is a noticeable upgrade on its predecessors. The biggest coup for the film is the fact that Stallone added members to the cast who are known more for their acting ability rather than previous action movie allegiances. Regardless of their actual amount of screen time the new additions, specifically Mel Gibson, Kelsey Grammer, Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas, and Wesley Snipes, make even the most standard scenes of exposition pop with energy. Even when they are clearly reveling in the silliness of it all – I am talking to you Banderas – it works far better than expected.
Mel Gibson in particular is especially good in the film. As if tapping into an evil version of Lethal Weapon’s Riggs Gibson’s Stonebanks is one of the more interesting villains to appear on screen this summer. I know that is not saying much, but he is a man that audiences would genuinely believe Ross would fear. Frankly it is great seeing Gibson both back on screen and embracing the string of villainous roles he has played of late. Speaking of individuals who it was nice to see on screen again, Snipes shows glimpses of the charismatic actor he once was before unfairly being regulated to straight-to-DVD purgatory. Stallone even lets Snipes sets the mood of the film nicely with a wonderful joke that is a nod to his real-life legal problems.
The extremely self-aware script is another bright spot that The Expendables 3 has over its predecessors. The film is filled with references regarding what it is like to be on top of the game one minute and discarded the next. Gibson’s speech to the younger Expendables can easily be a statement about his own career. Aside from the acknowledgement of the changing face of the action genre, the script is also peppered with subtle jabs at Bruce Willis and famous catchphrases from the past.
In many ways The Expendables 3 is the film I wish the previous films were. Sure the action is outlandish, but director Patrick Hughes orchestrates them with far more competency than either Simon West or Sylvester Stallone when they helmed the previous films. Truthfully, those going into the film should already be well aware of what to expect from an action standpoint. While The Expendables 3 may not be high cinematic art, nor does it pretend to be, I must admit that it was far more entertaining than I had anticipated. Make of that what you will.