Through two movies Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables has been nothing but unfulfilled promises. The mandate for the franchise was pretty simple: gather the greatest action heroes of the '80s and indulge in every silly cliché the genre had to offer. Action movies today are pretty terrible but their stars are even worse, so it should have been easy to have fun hyping the old guard while bashing the current one. For a lot of reasons Stallone was never able to make things click, but with The Expendables 3 he finally gets it right. This is the explosive old school flick we have been waiting for all this time.
One of the major problems was the bloated cast never really added anything of value. What good were the creaky bones of Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Damme? Especially when there were so many characters neither really did much, anyway? The Expendables 3 fixes that with the inclusion of Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Kelsey Grammer (!!!!) and Mel Gibson, all of whom attack their roles like they've been waiting for just this opportunity. Even the screenplay, which is rife with all the terrible one-liners we'd be disappointed not to hear, actually resembles a real story. Wha??? Heaven forbid somebody remember to give these muscled behemoths something to do.
And what they do is make blowing stuff up and killing folks look like more fun than it should. A daring train assault springs free Doc (Snipes), an original Expendable locked away for years after a botched mission. He's keen with a blade (how ironic that Blade is good with a blade! Oh, Sly aren't you clever?) and makes good with the quips, which makes him perfect to rejoin Barney (Stallone) and his team of grunting old mercs. And this time it's perfectly okay to call these guys a bunch of old fogeys because that's essentially what this film is all about. After taking down some random, vaguely Middle Eastern bad guy, the Expendables are shot to crap by international arms dealer Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), leaving Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) in a coma. Stonebanks, who probably has the worst name in Expendables history, has an old beef with Barney that stretches back to the group's formation. He's dangerous; so dangerous that Barney decides to leave his aging team in the dust and recruit some new blood.
The junior league of modern hot shots consists of failed-Hercules Kellan Lutz, sexy UFC champ Ronda Rousey, boxing champ Victor Ortiz, and Glen Powell. With the exception of Rousey the new squad isn't nearly as interesting as the old crew and watching their recruitment is a serious drag. But it does afford us the chance to see Banderas as the chatty pest, Galgo, a mercenary nobody seems to want on their team. Banderas knows the score on movies like this (he was just in Machete Kills) and he's never been funnier. While he's too old for it now but he would have made for one Hell of a Deadpool twenty years ago, based on this badass and hilarious performance alone.
Whereas Harrison Ford, yes Han Solo himself, isn't given a whole lot to do here he has a good time while doing it. Whooping and hollering while manning a rescue copter, with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jet Li spraying bullets dementedly by his side, it's easy to see that this is what The Expendables always should have been. Another bright spot is Gibson, clearly indulging in yet another chance to play a ridiculous bad guy (he was also in Machete Kills in a similar role) who resembles the maniacal Martin Riggs if he went full-on nuts. It's great stuff, slickly directed by Patrick Hughes who keeps the pace moving while edging out the gory stuff that would have upset the MPAA apple cart. For once the PG-13 rating didn't seem like an obstacle to be overcome, and that's with more action than in the first two films combined. The final sequence alone, a massive tank onslaught where every Expendable struts their stuff, is a cornucopia of violence, terrible jokes, and amazing vehicular feats that would make the Fast & Furious cast blush. Jason Statham (kind of in the background this time) and Snipes measure their...knives...in the middle of a firefight, Banderas hits on Rousey while she just hits people, and Stallone is still somehow faster than artillery fire. Even the final showdown lives up to expectations with Stallone delivering one truly amazing, groan-worthy catchphrase that is destined to end up on t-shirts. In short, it's pretty awesome.
So what are the odds of there being an Expendables 4? Hopefully there won't be any passing of the torch going on but with Stallone finally finding the winning formula these can go on as long as his aging bones will allow. There are still too many stars out there who need their moment in the napalm. One guy you won't ever see is Bruce Willis, who had a very public spat with Stallone over money and quit the movie after appearing in the first two. For a good time, count the number of occasions in which a character calls Willis' character, Mr. Church, an a-hole or disparages him in some way. Clearly the smoke has not cleared on that feud and hopefully the smoke hasn't cleared on The Expendables just yet.