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The Expendables 3 Review: The Indescribable Expendability of Dumb

Slight improvements keep the brainless The Expendables 3 off life support...barely.

These days, 60 is apparently the new 30 and what better what to celebrate such an inappropriate consideration than to see a bunch of old dudes try to remain relevant in an industry that seems ready to show many of them the front door? This is The Expendables 3, a measurably better experience than previous entries, but still of little value beyond mindless action apathy.

With a smaller team, Barney (Sylvester Stallone) and his friends (Jason Staitham, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, and Dolph Lungren) raid a prison train to liberate the maniac Doc (Wesley Snipes) for what he calls 'tax evasion.' But soon the team is caught in a deadly shootout with Barney's former Expendable buddy Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), whose love of gunpowder and large-scale death is equally only by his love for fine art. When a teammate goes down, Barney decides to protect his friends by hiring a younger crew (Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Victor Ortiz, and Glen Powell) that get themselves captured. Using his contacts including standby Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the mysterious CIA man Drummer (Harrison Ford), and a talkative new recruit (Antonio Banderas), Barney heads to a final bloody showdown with Stonebanks, a fight which only one can survive.

Beyond the obvious, the problem with Expendables 3 is one of asset management and intent. There's not enough time to develop Drummer, Doc, and Galga enough, because all of our other leads need their time in front of the camera. A story about aging heroes brought to life by these three actors would have been a great film, their stories as diverse as the other, yet perfectly matched like a triangle. But it's also clear that the Writer Stallone saw only limited potential in those assets, mismanaging them with dime-store drama surrounded by explosions and unrelatable stunts.

It's not that Expendables is terrible, but even though I knew what I was getting before the lights dimmed, the result is decidedly taxing in many parts. The CGI makes The Legend of Hercules look like The Hobbit, a cornucopia of ridiculous helicopter maneuvers and poorly-lit green-screened night scenes. Actors speak in the most cliched manner possible, with Schwarzenegger reduced to uttering lines from his previous movies to remain relevant. And then there's the clown-car of elder 'heroes,' each of whom looks more ready for a fishing trip than taking on an entire army. Some emerge just long enough to keep our interest, then climb under their rock (or cryo chamber) before they're called upon again by Director Patrick Hughes. A newcomer to big Summer affairs, one can Hughes' mistakes all over the digital canvas, from overly-choreographed fight scenes to overly-simplistic camera angles that look no better than an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..

But within this evolving disaster, there are things which actually work. Snipes is fun to see on screen again, his crazy streak reinvigorated here as is Gibson, whose declaration to "open your meat shirt and show you your own heart" is the best line of the film. A reborn Ford is cagey and ready to get angry for our delight, a vast improvement over the near-zombie state of Bruce Willis. But the biggest surprise is Banderas, whose physical comedy is matched by his sensitivity as he relates to Stallone about the death of his team. When this happens near the beginning of Act 3, its appearance is such a surprise that I wasn't sure if a previous (and better version) of the film was accidentally cut in. These four performance give a much-needed boost of intelligence when onscreen, and their absences equally drive the IQ back down to near-comatose levels. There's also a sense that our heroes will mostly survive intact to have an overly-long goodbye over beer, and that lack of danger never elevates the feeling that our heroes are anything but bullet-proof.

With so many of them potentially collecting Social Security, it's hard to fathom why Stallone and company don't fade away to the semi-quiet convention circuit, signing autographs and sitting in panels while competent replacements help to forge the next chapter in action films. Like a former star quarterback who can't see that retirement is their next likely move, Stallone and Schwarzenegger's resistance to leave is actually complicating that needed transition. Violence for the sake of it is a 20th Century convention, and with more intelligent alternatives like The Bourne series already proving Hollywood's potential, The Expendables as a franchise feels like it's 20 years too late.

It's no secret that Expendables has become the victim of Internet piracy, as a DVD-quality copy of the film has now been downloaded more than 200,000 times just as its theatrical version is set to premiere. That will no doubt affect domestic ticket sales, which were considered low-hanging fruit at best and Hollywood pipe dream at worst. Such a situation reminds us that the Hollywood model of clinging to old habits does result in slow painful deaths. You can make three Expendables movies with mindless violence to boot, but talk of a Deadpool flick somehow makes studio heads queasy.

The Expendables 3 isn't worth much beyond the inevitable Netflix arrival, but with so many copies of the movie already leaked, it's hard to imagine this can gain traction above a quiet opening and an embarrassingly quick run. In a world where hyper violence is celebrated like a national holiday, Expendables 3 doesn't come close to separating itself from more deserving choices, its 'violence' feeling as old as these actors look. Luckily, there are bright spots in Snipes, Banderas, and Ford, none of whom are on screen long enough. When they are, the scene immeasurably improves, when gone it's like a black hole of dumb took their places. And yet, I think this is the best we're going to get from Stallone and company, heroes long past their prime like a quarterback that doesn't know it's time to leave the game. On so many levels, that time is now.

The Expendables 3 is rated PG-13 for violence including intense sustained gun battles and fight scenes, and for language and has a runtime of 126 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


As the stars get younger and the action gets tamer, Expendables comes to resemble more and more of its direct-to-video kin, and worth about as much of your time.
Micaella Lopez said…
Weak plot Weak acting awful catch phrases and blowing lots of stuff up.. Exactly like every awesome 80's action film.
If you like those flicks as much as I do you will love it too.
AC Repair Garland

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