The Expendables 3 ✮✮
by Glenn Lovell
Everything is bigger and slicker in “The Expendables 3,” Sly Stallone’s second sequel to his surprise hit of 2010. In fact so much money and hardware have been thrown at this reunion of the puddy-faced comic book mercenaries that in places it feels like an installment of “Fast & Furious.” Still, Barney Ross (Stallone) and his team of Vietnam-era vets, who hire out to the CIA, have plenty of fight left in them. And based on a preview audience’s response to the new release, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the old gang dusted off their Looney Tunes artillery for an “Expendables 4.” (Editor’s note: The action adventure tanked its first weekend, making an “E4” now seem unlikely.)
Hewing to the formula of its predecessors ‒ and every James Bond thriller, for that matter ‒ “E3” opens with an outrageous rescue mission, introduces a new arch villain (international arms dealer Mel Gibson), and showcases hot spots in Africa and East Europe, including Mogadishu and Bucharest, site of a pitched battle that’s so over the top it makes the most cold-blooded video game seem restrained.
For what it’s worth, “E3” is better directed than the first two installments. We have Aussie Patrick Hughes (“Red Hill”) to thank for this. He opens with the best action sequence in the series thus far. Barney, Christmas (Jason Stratham), Gunnar (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Caesar (Terry Crews) swoop down in a helicopter and intercept an armored prison train carrying original team member Doc (Wesley Snipes). The sequence, obviously inspired by Konchalovsky’s “Runaway Train,” brings out the mad demolition expert in us.
It also comes with the year’s best punchline.
Asked “Why’d you get locked away in the hole for eight years?” Snipes, newly sprung from prison in real life, deadpans, “Tax evasion.”
When one of his team is wounded in a dockside donnybrook, the cigar-chopping leader feels responsible. He disbands the old team and replaces it with a younger, hipper version that includes a street brawler, a rock climber, a surveillance whiz and a female bouncer-martial arts champ (Rhonda Rousey). The recruitment hunt is straight out of that old Western “The Magnificent Seven,” right down to the clownish tag-along, this time played by a very funny Antonio Banderas channeling his obnoxious Puss in Boots character.
Bruce Willis as the CIA go-between Church doesn’t show for this outing (something to do with being shelved by the agency). He’s replaced by Harrison Ford, who seems happy to have the work now that Indy Jones is retired. Arnold Schwarzenegger also returns to trade lame insults with Stallone. He tries to muscle his way into the action, to no avail. Ditto Jet Li.
Again per formula, “E3” spaces out four extended action sequences. The first three are neatly orchestrated and fun, especially the untypical “Mission: Impossible”-ish break-in of Gibson’s compound. The fourth, which runs 20 minutes and is set in the crumbling remains of an abandoned high-rise (shades of “Full Metal Jacket”!), reminds us that in the high sweepstakes game of action cinema more definitely is not more. As the beady-eyed Gibson enjoys the ruckus and Banderas performs his running “I’m sooo happy” shtick, tanks, motorcycles and gunships rain fire on the building.
Four years ago Stallone could barely get arrested. He had run more than one franchise into the ground. The difference between the “Expendable” movies and the “Rocky”/“Rambo” movies is that the “Expendable” movies were never very good to begin with; they had nowhere to go but up. And, darn, if they haven’t caught on. But mainstream acceptance comes at a price. Stallone and Hughes may not have stinted on the overall body count but they’ve softened the violence considerably. In place of R-rated exploding heads we now have PG-13 cutaways.
You have to hand it to the (finally!) graying Stallone, he knows how to cut corners. His latest even includes a wrap party. Having survived the fireworks, Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Ford, et al. gather at a local watering hole to celebrate their macho selves. Ford, flashing a goofy grin, assures his host, “I haven’t had so much fun in years.”
THE EXPENDABLES 3 With Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Mel Gibson, Antonio Banderas, Ronda Rousey, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Directed by Patrick Hughes; scripted by Stallone, Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt. 126 min. PG-13 (for profanity, over-the-top battle mayhem)