The first Expendables move was a fun novelty throwback to the over-the-top action movies of the 80s and 90s, with the larger-than-life heroes and absurd action sequences where the hero inevitably triumphs over the bad guy. Sylvester Stallone wrote the movie, directed the movie, and contacted all his old buddies to see if they would want to come hang out and shoot some stuff. The first one was silly, ridiculous, and entertaining. The sequel compounded on the novelty of continuing to add action people, with Jean-Claude Van Damme playing the villain named Villain (seriously). There is no subtlety in these movies, everything is on the nose.
Much was made of the off-screen conflict between Sly and Bruce Willis prior to making Expendables 3. In Expendables 1 and 2, Willis played the shady CIA agent that gave Barney and his bunch of Expendables their missions. This allowed him to ride around in a Smart car with Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2, shooting things and trading one-liners. Sly asked him to come to Bulgaria to shoot for four days for this one, and Willis said he would for $4 million; Sly said he’d give him $3 million, and Willis refused. Sly stated he was “greedy and lazy”, and offered the role to Harrison Ford instead. Yes, that Harrison Ford. And, it was a great choice.
The plot for this one – again, does it matter? – is that Barney and crew break out ‘Doc’, one of the original Expendables team members (apparently the crew we have come to know and love in the last two movies is the second set of Expendables), from the prison he’s been in for the last 8 years. They then immediately head off on a mission that was once again brought to them by shady CIA agent “Church” to stop an arms dealer, which falls apart when Barney and Doc recognize the dealer as another member of the original squad, Stonebanks, who is supposed to be dead. Barney realizes he and his current team are old and worn out – so he visits another old friend, Bonaparte, to put together a bunch of youngsters to go after the dealer. They do – they fail – the kids all get captured, so Barney has to take the old guys to go back and rescue the kids and defeat the bad guy. Simple and straightforward.
Since the plot matters very little, the cast is the key and the reason this movie is such a fun piece of popcorn nonsense.
- Sylvester Stallone plays Barney Ross and is again grumpy, old, stiff, and difficult to understand. None of that is a complaint. He basically is playing himself –and the neck injury he suffered on the first Expendables is still evident, because he has that “wearing a Batman cowl” type head movement. You know, where you can’t turn your head, so if you want to look around, you have to turn your whole body. Hey – more power tow him for still making these after having a severe neck injury. He does a decent job, but I did find myself perplexed by how after three movies of acting like the current squad were his brothers, he would suddenly drop them when he felt the situation was too dangerous.
- Jason Statham plays Lee Christmas, and he really has so much less to do in this movie than he did in the first two. He basically hangs around and says a couple of smart-ass remarks. He didn’t really get a big fight sequence in this one, which is a shame, but hey – with any luck, we’ll get another Transporter movie. Maybe we’ll get a third movie with him and Jet Li after The One and War.
- Harrison Ford plays Drummer, and honestly, I cannot remember the last time I saw him enjoy himself in a role like this. He looks like he is having the time of his life. All the jokes in this movie are directly on the nose – there is no subtlety in an Expendables movie. So, when he first shows up as the contact instead of Willis’s Church character, he tells Barney that Church is “Out of the picture”, get it? He spends the first half of the movie in a suit grumping orders at Stallone, but for the climax, trades the business suit for a flight suit, and heads to his helicopter (which, as you know, he really can fly), and joins in the action with the same little grin that you’ve missed for the last 30 years. He steals the last third of the movie.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Trench again, and he’s still a walking cliché of his old trademarks, but for some reason, that fits on him. He hangs out in this one, trying to alternately talk Barney in and out of things, and teams up with Drummer and YinYang to assist at the end. I would love to have overheard some of the conversations he and Ford had on set. Just imagine the things those two could talk about.
- Mel Gibson plays Stonebanks – and I really really hate to say this, but he’s fantastic in this movie. Listen, a few years ago, Mel slipped and finally revealed his inner sexist, racist, asshole self to the whole world. I completely lost all respect for him (I never really had all that much). I will acknowledge that while I can’t stand Mel Gibson, his performance in this movie is really great. He’s a fantastic villain; I’m actually a little surprised he hasn’t done that more. There is one particular scene where Barney thinks he has Stonebanks captured, and Mel gets to launch into this crazy monologue while Stallone just stares at him, and you remember that once upon a time – this dude was a legitimate movie star. Also – kudos to Stallone for just letting Gibson go in that scene, and not trying to ‘act’ opposite him.
- Wesley Snipes plays Doc and I can’t tell you enough how happy I am to see him back on the screen. Again, Wesley Snipes himself had some issues (spent three years in jail for tax evasion – and has an ego that is almost unrivaled), but I have always loved his action movies. Drop Zone, Passenger 57, The Art of War, and the Blade movies are all amazing. To say nothing about the action comedies he did with Woody Harrelson. He has an incredible action presence, he’s a great fighter, and he owns the front third of this movie. The sequence from them breaking him out of prison to the mission immediately afterwards is all his, and he does such a great job. Get on Blade 4 – let’s get that moving, and please work it into the larger Marvel cinematic universe (can you imagine how awesome it would be to see Blade growling at Iron Man?). Also – there is the very on the nose joke when Couture and Lundgren ask why he was in prison – he says “Tax Evasion”, ha ha – get it?
- Dolph Lundgren plays Gunnar, the mad Swede – and really is just there to be large and intimidating. That works just fine in this movie, and he does a great job at it. He gets less to do in this one, but I am still happy to see him.
- Randy Couture plays Toll Road, and that ear is still all cauliflower-y. He also has less to do this time around, but is still large and intimidating.
- Terry Crews plays Hale Caesar, and must have had a scheduling conflict because he’s only in the front third of this movie. He is so unbelievably charismatic that I wish he was in more, but I will have to wait until the next movie. Or until the next Old Spice commercial.
- Jet Li plays YinYang, and doesn’t get nearly enough hand to hand combat moments (he’s Jet Li for crying out loud! Let me see him fight! Never mind, I’ll just watch Hero again). The movie did make me remember the American introduction of Jet Li in Lethal Weapon 3 (or 4?), which I bet you had forgot about. He didn’t have any scenes with Gibson in this, and mainly hung out with Schwarzenegger and Ford in the helicopter.
- Kelsey Grammer plays Bonaparte, and I really enjoyed his brief part in this. He basically is just the guy who walks Stallone around and introduces all the new guys. He gets all the exposition and does a great job at it. He surprisingly fit well with Stallone and I would be interested in seeing them work together again.
- Glen Powell plays Thorn, I am not familiar with him, but he was very entertaining and charismatic as the ‘tech’ guy/rock climber of the young group.
- Antonio Banderas plays Galgo, and while not young, he’s new to the movie. He absolutely steals the middle third of the movie (first third = Snipes, middle third = Banderas, last third = Ford). He plays an aging Spanish soldier who is looking for work, and keeps submitting to Bonaparte, and keeps getting passed over. His scenes where he simply will not shut up while working with Stallone are great, and if you never saw Assassins, or you just don’t remember it, check that out again.
- Victor Ortiz plays Mars, and is about as good as you expect a pro boxer would be in an action movie. He’s fine, as long as his dialogue is minimal.
- Ronda Rousey plays Luna, and likewise to Ortiz, is about as good as you would expect a champion MMA fighter to be. Similar to Gina Carano in Haywire (watch that if you haven’t) she looks great, has the physicality, and the fight sequences are awesome, but is not great in the dialogue scenes.
- Kellan Lutz plays Smilee, and is actually pretty good in this. He gets a pretty big intro, and it seems that he is being set up as the leader as the next group of young Expendables if they go that direction.
Overall, it’s super entertaining. I know there were a lot of grumbles about it going to PG13 instead of R like the previous two Expendables. But honestly, that didn’t bother me at all. I can do without them shooting bad guys and having the bad guys literally explode in fountains of gushing blood. The language wasn’t overly terrible in the others, so it’s pretty much the same here. There’s just a lot less blood. They don’t shoot any fewer guys – they still seem to be blowing away half an army, but the guys just bleed a lot less when shot. It’s weak on plot, weak on acting, but big on the inside jokes, the great action, and super fun entertainment. If we get another one, I will want Carl Weathers, Danny Trejo, and probably Jesse Venture involved. However, Stallone keeps saying he wants to do a female version – which would be awesome, and I think starts with Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hamilton, Pam Grier, Lucy Lawless, Angela Basset, Lynda Carter and Cynthia Rothrock.
9 out of 10 – I liked it way better than the 2nd one, and almost as much as the first one. Gained points for Snipes, Banderas, Ford, and Gibson’s performance (but not Gibson himself). Lost points for Rousey not being a good actress. I really wanted her to be, but she’s not – not yet anyway. Gained points for the insane amount of tanks at the end, and setting the climax in an abandoned hotel/casino that they could just blow up. But – lost points in missing an obvious joke (not sure how they missed, they included a bunch of others) – Snipes was wandering through was used to be a casino, and at no point is there a “always bet on black” line. Bummer.
Bonus Video 1: Demolition Man – the reason Stallone wanted Snipes in all three Expendables movies, but had to wait until this one, when he was ‘available’.
Bonus Video 2: Assassins – the reason Stallone wanted Banderas in this movie.
Bonus Video 3: It was Lethal Weapon 4.
Bonus Video 4: Cast Interviews.