Film Review: ‘The Expendables 3’

Out with the old and in with the new?

Year:  2014

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Jet Li, Antonio Banderas, Kelsey Grammar, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Kellan Lutz

Directed by: Patrick Hughes / Written by: Sylvester Stallone and Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt / 126 minutes

What’s it about?

After disbanding his original crew, Barney Ross recruits new blood for a new Expendables team with a mission to take down notorious arms trader and former Expendable, Conrad Stonebanks…

In review

Following comeback hits Rocky Balboa (2006) and Rambo (2008), legendary action star Sylvester Stallone returned yet again in 2010 with The Expendables, the first instalment in an ambitious, ludicrous, yet highly entertaining and successful action film franchise.  With the series, Stallone has sought to unite the biggest cast of iconic action stars of yesteryear (with newer faces such as Jason Statham, Randy Couture and Terry Crews) in a no-nonsense mashup of the plethora of mindless popcorn action flicks of the 1980s and 1990s.

Stallone succeeded and healthy box office returns secured the production of 2012’s even bigger, more ridiculous The Expendables 2 another enjoyable and financially successful hit that guaranteed audiences a second sequel.  Unfortunately the release of last summer’s The Expendables 3 proved less successful reflected by more modest box office takings and lukewarm opinion.  Yet, the film still offers plenty of entertainment value if you’re willing to forego its underlying flaws (more on that shortly).

The Expendables 3 opens with the ‘rescue’ of Wesley Snipes’ ‘Doc’ from a heavily guarded train in an exciting and adrenalin fuelled opening sequence.  From there, Doc joins Ross, Lee Christmas (Statham) and the rest of the Expendables on a mission to prevent the completion of an arms deal in Somalia.  Events go awry as Ross is shocked to find that the arms dealer is the corrupt former Expendable Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson) and an ensuing battle results in the severe injury of Caesar (Crews).  This leads to Ross disbanding his regular crew in favour of recruiting new, younger, teammates with a mission to stop Stonebanks at all costs.

With the casting of The Expendables 3, Stallone has outdone himself once again with Harrison Ford (as CIA man Max Drummer, replacing Bruce Willis’s ‘Mr. Church’), Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas and Kelsey Grammar joining the established troupe.  The true coup though is Mel Gibson as Stonebanks, who succeeds previous Expendables villains portrayed by Eric Roberts and Jean-Claude Van Damme.  Gibson manages to deftly straddle the fine line between ridiculous and captivating in a manic performance that is one of the film’s biggest draws.

The flaws of The Expendables 3 arise from a misjudged attempt to draw in a wider audience with the reduced certification allowing younger viewers to participate.  The injection of ‘new blood’ (including MMA star Ronda Rousey) is not necessarily an unwelcome addition, however it’s when the focus of The Expendables 3 shifts to those new characters that you may find yourself yearning for the return of Statham, Couture et al (luckily it’s not long before they do).  At the end of the day The Expendables should not pander to commercial sensibility and recognise that it’s those who grew up on a healthy diet of the films of the likes of Messrs. Stallone and Schwarzenegger that will get the most enjoyment out of it.

With the reduced certificate in mind, the violence of The Expendables 3 is a little softer and slightly reduces the film’s edge, yet despite this the body count remains high and the action sequences are as explosive and exciting as the previous entries.  Director Patrick Hughes skilfully stages the numerous, huge, action sequences from the afore-mentioned opening scene and the subsequent mission in Somalia through to the bullet-ridden, knife-thrusting and tank-laden final battle.  It’s a shame however that the inevitable face-off between Ross and Stonebanks feels a little tame, lacking the punch of Stallone’s bout with Jean-Calude Van Damme in The Expendables 2 – maybe a victim of the reduced certificate?

The film’s script is perfectly adequate and has the expected mix of drama, cheesy dialogue and laughs that made the first two Expendables the enjoyable guilty pleasures that they are and quite rightly, The Expendables 3 finds the time to poke fun at itself and its cast with zany turns from Banderas and Gibson woven between reference to Snipes’ Tax evasion troubles and another of Schwarzenegger’s iconic quotes.

The bottom line:  The Expendables 3 is simple, effective entertainment that despite its weaker elements still manages to be as fun and as action packed as previous outings.

The Expendables 3 is available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download now.

Sylvester Stallone assembles another impressive cast of action stars in 'The Expendables 3'.

Sylvester Stallone assembles another impressive cast of action stars in ‘The Expendables 3’.