Is the third time the charm? By now, no one should be surprised by the flimsy plot, the tepid dialogue peppered with eye-rolling catch phrases, or the nonstop detonations that exist solely for the sake of jaw-dropping visual trauma. It may be empty choreography but it’s nevertheless stimulating during choice moments. The formula of accumulating iconic action stars from the ‘80s and ‘90s and lumping them together onscreen has the potential to be routinely amusing, and it hasn’t quite crumbled into total futility, especially as the filmmakers continue to dig up new candidates for inclusion (but where’s Jackie Chan, who said in person that he wanted to be a part of the franchise but wasn’t approached?). Undoubtedly, only fans that remember the theatrical exploits of these once great, muscle-bound, one-man-army vigilantes will keep coming back for more, particularly as the creativity level gradually diminishes.
An armored prisoner transport train, holding a recently recaptured fugitive imprisoned for eight years at the Black Ops Denzali facility, suffers an aerial attack en route back to the compound. A helicopter containing off-the-books soldiers of fortune Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), and Toll Road (Randy Couture) swoops in to retrieve long lost “Expendables” teammate Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes), whom they need for a dangerous mission in Mogadishu, Somalia. Once there, they foil the plans of arms dealing mercenary Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), leading to their previously implanted heavy weapons master Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) to become seriously wounded.
Within the first few seconds of the film, guns blaze, hoping to appease fans that can’t sit through moments of exposition before the action initiates. But the opening scene isn’t nearly as elaborate or intense as the start of “The Expendables 2,” and goes on to nearly duplicate the hectic salvo of slugs leading to the rescue of an integral associate – as seen in the former picture. The script has run out of ideas before the story even begins! There has to be a variation on the rescue and revenge plot; even “The A-Team” found some range over their 97 separate storylines.
What’s worse is the overuse of computer imagery for explosions, which definitely appears less realistic. This is coupled with stunt sequences that are so preposterous they require further CG to implement, which similarly takes away from the impressiveness. Fortunately, the addition of Mel Gibson as the villain is by a great margin superior to the series’ other antagonists. His acting in general is noticeably better and he bothers to craft a sincerely wicked evildoer – who doesn’t need the obligatorily ominous music that ushers him in. Statham, on the other hand, seems to recognize the silliness of the dialogue and refuses to play along completely; the appearances of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Harrison Ford (as Bruce Willis’ replacement) garner laughs more than applause; Kelsey Grammer (who was never an action hero) and Antonio Banderas purposely use their screen time for comedy relief; and Jet Li is grossly underused in what amounts to less than a standard cameo.
It’s ultimately all just excuses to transition from one action routine to the next, journeying from Moscow to Las Vegas to Wyoming to Arizona to California to Mexico and finally to Bucharest, Romania for an overlong showdown (this latest entry is 20 minutes longer than the others). To satisfy his thirst for vengeance, Ross sacks his older crew and recruits younger, fresher troops to wage a stealthier, technologically advanced war (like “Mission: Impossible”) against Stonebanks, opening up the already large ensemble for the casting of Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Kellan Lutz, and Ronda Rousey – all significantly more youthful faces. There’s more intelligence gathering and planning, but it merely leads to yet another round of rescuing and avengement, heavier friendship themes, and the signature anticlimactic barroom parting shots.
- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)