The Expendables 3

With watered down action and talky drama, The Expendables 3 can’t keep up with the sheer weight of its iconic star cast.

As a sort of satirical homage to action films of the late ‘80s and ‘90s, The Expendables (2010) was more about crowd pleasing indulgence rather than critical appeal. Apart from over-the-top action, the film’s biggest appeal was its ensemble cast of Hollywood action heroes. This is what made the 2012 sequel even better. With this third installment, that ensemble list is stretched even further but at an exponential risk of quantity over quality. And that isn’t even the biggest problem in The Expendables 3.

Reprising his lead role as Barney Ross, leader of the titular mercenaries, franchise creator and script writer Sylvester Stallone appears to have made a series of fatal errors starting with his intention of aiming for a younger and broader audience, thus downsizing the R-rated brutality from the first two films to a more juvenile friendly PG-13 (PG-15 in the UAE) in this third installment. As such, firefights and explosions are concentrated at sporadic intervals. And in doing so, the body count rises but with barely any of the blood splatter we have seen in the previous films. Joining the cast is Wesley Snipes as Doctor Death, a knife expert and former Expendable who is rescued by Barney and the crew from a black-site prison. Doc’s rescue is followed by a failed covert mission in Somalia when they are outgunned by the very target they are sent to apprehend – Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), a ruthless international arms dealer thought to be dead. Turns out, Stonebanks was a co-founder of the expendables before going rogue. There’s a clever backstory that reveals why Barney and Stonebanks are archrivals, but before you know it, we are dragged into the middle of a frustratingly long and talky period where Barney disbands the original crew, only to recruit younger Expendables. And all of a sudden, no one has that trigger-finger itch anymore.

By displacing testosterone fuelled action with a huge chunk of drama, co-writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedict fill almost an hour with bar room small talk and the type of bromance found in buddy-cop films. Thankfully, humorous one-liners keep it going largely due to the inclusion of Antonio Banderas as an Expendable wanna-be with a motor-mouth to match. This is also the period where the original cast is sidelined by a new set of unknown actors – another scripting blunder that digresses from the whole point of cramming this installment with a plethora of action movie icons in the first place. Another misfire is allowing Mel Gibson to be Mel Gibson; in this case, a likeable but conflicted antagonist who is just not fierce enough for a warlord wanted by the Hague Convention. Other key additions include Harrison Ford who replaces Bruce Willis as the new CIA boss, and Kelsey Grammer who plays a street smart but retired Expendable. Their inclusion adds some significance to the story even if this means using up their screen time over some of the original cast.

Punctuating old-school action with dull dialogues, new director Patrick Hughes mixes it up with punchy lines from seasoned actors. As knife throwers, Statham and Snipes (as the self-proclaimed ‘knife before Christmas’) have plenty of lines to this effect. Meanwhile, returning cast members Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Randy Couture, and Arnold Schwarzenegger are in just for a few seconds. It’s too bad that they have more face time on the movie poster than in the actual movie. In the end, all that The Expendables 3 manages is a mix and match pandering of old versus new. This couldn’t be anymore literal in comparison to the film’s biggest flaw, and that is allowing a motley crew of action icons to be guided by a director who was probably a toddler when said icons were at the height of their glory days. The train wreck in the opening act says it all.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.