Well, here we are again. I enjoyed The Expendables, as did many other people. The Expendables 2, on the other hand, fell a bit flat. It was too busy being smug and self-referential to work as well as the first movie. Thankfully, this third outing is a bit of a return to form.
The plot this time sees Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) recruiting some newcomers to help him track down a very bad man (Mel Gibson) who was once one the same team as Barney. But will the newcomers be up to the task? Or will Barney still need some help from his regular colleagues (Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, and Jet Li)?
That's all you need to know. The essence of the movie has already been made clear from the advertising campaing. If you haven't seen it then let me surmise it for you just now: STALLONE, STATHAM, LUNDGREN, CREWS, COUTURE, LI, SCHWARZENEGGER, BANDERAS, SNIPES, FORD, ROUSEY, ORTIZ, LUTZ, POWELL, GIBSON. If this is successful enough to lead to a fourth movie then they're going to need a much bigger poster, because it's all about mixing the action beats with more star power than you'd usually glean from a dozen movies of this ilk. Everyone does a good enough job, all clearly having fun, and that fun is infectious. Gibson is a bit underused, although he does his best with the role, but
these movies always struggle to give everyone enough screentime
(Harrison Ford only gets a few minutes, and Jet Li pops up for what
amounts to a fleeting cameo).
Before opening in cinemas nationwide, The Expendables 3 was already getting a lot of attention for two main reasons. One, the content was being toned down to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Two, a torrent of DVD quality leaked online a few weeks before the big release date. For the first part, I have to say that I didn't notice this being a lighter affair. There may be less actual bloodshed, but the fights and stunts are all still top-notch stuff. As for that torrent, the conspiracy theorist in me wonders whether or not someone had the bright idea of doing that to head off any potential disappointment at the box office. I recommend seeing the movie in the cinema, with all of the action accompanied by some major, seat-rumbling, surround sound, and I hope it actually does well enough to satisfy all those involved.
Patrick Hughes may be the director this time, with Stallone on screenwriting duties once again (this time accompanied by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt), but this is a film, and indeed a franchise, that seems designed to work no matter who is behind the scenes. It's all down to the stars, it's down to the set-pieces, and it's down to the many fantastic stunt performers who help create such memorable moments.
Highlights include an opening sequence that celebrates Wesley Snipes joining the crew, and actually features a winking gag that works well, a sequence in which Stallone is joined by Kelsey Grammer as he looks to recruit his new team, Banderas being a non-stop motormouth, and pretty much any scene starring the lovely Ronda Rousey.
It's cheesy, it's dripping with machismo, it's completely over the top. In short, it's in line with the series, and delivers exactly what fans will be hoping for.