The latest iteration of Sylvester Stallone’s aging warrior franchise, The Expendables 3, is proof that sometimes even your low expectations can be far too high. For those who missed The Expendables and The Expendables 2, the Expendables are a band of veteran special-ops mercenaries who do the “dirty work” too nasty for the CIA, which is saying something. The movies offer the chance to see a package of eighties action stars (Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson) aging ungracefully, showing off still-bulging torsos and using the latest military hardware in spectacles of relatively bloodless mass carnage.
Easy, right? But The Expendables 3 seems even lazier than it needs to be, with a script that feels like it was sketched out between takes – while the detonation crew was doing the hard work.
A prequel set piece, involving an armoured train, a helicopter and a Middle Eastern prison, sees Barney Ross (Stallone) and his second-in-command, Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), trying to liberate a former bro in arms, named Dr. Death (Wesley Snipes). After greetings and comparisons of each other’s weapons, they head off to Mogadishu to take out an illegal arms dealer. The bad guy is a presumed-dead former comrade, Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), who has gone rogue. He’s so evil that he even buys abstract art and dishes out cruel sarcasm, snidely referring to his old friends as the “Deleteables.”
After capturing the evil colonel, the Expendables make an error and get their butts whipped. Then, around the movie’s 40-minute mark, Barney tells the Expendables they are now redundant: He is about to form a new, younger Expendables team. He goes on a road trip with his recruiter buddy, Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer), to visit various gyms, night clubs, fight clubs and mountain ranges, and assemble a new gang. Eventually, all the Expendables, young and old, come together and bond during a firefight in a dilapidated high rise in Central Asia, and everything blows up good.
As tedious as all of this is, there really does seem to be a military mind behind the movie, inasmuch as it is all about lists and inventory. First, there’s the old Expendables list (Statham, Jet Li, Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews), supplemented by the Expendable allies (Grammer, Antonio Banderas, Harrison Ford and Schwarzenegger). Then there are the young Expendables (Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell, boxer Victor Ortiz and the movie’s token female, Ronda Rousey). Add to that the inventory of place names that flash on the bottom of the screen every few minutes (Moscow, Somalia, California, Wyoming, Nevada). Not to forget the choppers, planes, knives, handguns, shotguns, machine guns and grenade launchers, all designed to get the armaments fans hot and bothered.
With so much going on, few characters get time to say more than a line or two at a time, though the rare quiet moments are as welcome as a popsicle in the desert. Stallone, with his immobile face and intermittently intelligible slur, doesn’t carry the dramatic baggage well. Banderas, as a motor-mouthed Spanish mercenary, is intended to provide comic relief, but only contributes unfunny annoyance. That leaves the most interesting performance to Mel Gibson, in his second villain role in a year (after Machete Kills), who tears into the part of an embittered psychopath with screw-you relish. Despite the self-inflicted personal setbacks that may have knocked him out of leading-man contention, Gibson may have a future in Hollywood yet.