The Expendables is a movie series built on the gimmick of gathering up aging action stars and jamming them all on screen together. The problem with that is that after you’ve seen it once it starts to lose its punch. So they are left dragging more and more bodies off the street to keep the thrill of seeing all the stars in the same movie. So far, The Expendables has been able to keep bringing in new names. The problem then becomes giving all of these stars things to do together. That is a problem this series has never quite cracked. The bus load of new names added to this one didn’t do anything to alleviate that problem. Still, The Expendables 3 is a largely entertaining film. It is overloaded with characters, repeats a lot of plot points from the last film and is somewhat compromised by its PG-13 rating. But it is also often delightfully, ludicrously fun.
The character overload is a big problem, especially for a movie that sells itself on having all of these people in it. The movie is crowded and no one really gets a chance to shine, other than Stallone who is the one that the film revolves around. The original Expendables crew is shunted off for the bulk of the runtime, Arnold seems to champing at the bit to have more to do, and Jet Li is wasted yet again. That is just the returning stars. Banderas and Snipes bring some fun energy to the film. Banderas’s character’s enthusiasm contrasts with the tough guy characters that the rest of the crew plays, while Snipes’ comes off as more than a little crazy. The other newcomers don’t fare much better. Kelsey Grammar is fun, but he seems largely out of place and his recruiting section is overlong and saps most of the energy out of the middle of movie. After that, he’s gone. Harrison Ford seems engaged, even if all he’s asked to do is be grumpy. The kids that Stallone recruits, a group who barely get names let alone personalities, give a nice contrast to the old cast members, but don’t get enough time to distinguish themselves. Except for Ronda Rousey, who can fake fight as well as she can actually fight or just beat the crap out of a lot of dudes on set. Mel Gibson, who as ever is an entertaining performer regardless of his personal problems, does his best to make Conrad Stonebanks a memorable villain.
The plot is largely inconsequential, just a reason for the team to fight. On a mission Barney finds out their target is actually the thought dead co-founder of The Expendables. So he jettisons his crew and takes on a group of youngsters to go get him. Things go badly. The new kids in peril plot is not unlike the inciting incident from the second film, where the team is out for revenge for the death of the new kid. While the conflict between Barney and the villain is more personal than in the previous movie, the conflict plays out largely the same. Also, this time the movie is rated PG-13 rather than R. While the fight scenes are still entertaining, they are certainly not as visceral as in previous movies.
That contributes to the fun, Saturday morning cartoon vibe that the movie has going on. Banderas and Snipes play essentially cartoon characters and that final glorious fight is just straight up ridiculous. Despite being edited to never show the results of any gun shots or thrown knives, all of the fights in this film are fun. It starts with a crazy assault on a train and just gets more over the top from there. The biggest flaw in the Expendables 3 is that it doesn’t fully commit to being over the top. It flashes the craziness, but still tries to let Stallone have somber moments contemplating his mortality. Not that it isn’t possible to handle both in one movie, but The Expendables 3 doesn’t come close to managing it. The plot is predictable; they didn’t need to belabor it. Just give us viewers the violence we came to see.
The entertaining parts were entertaining enough that it is easy to forgive the less entertaining parts. I can’t say I actually liked the movie all that much, but I did leave the theater with a smile on my face. That is what is really important.