Mark Reviews Movies

The Expendables 3


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Patrick Hughes

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Mel Gibson, Antonio Banderas, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Glen Powell, Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, Vitor Ortiz, Ronda Rousey, Kellan Lutz, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Kelsey Grammer, Terry Crews, Jet Li

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence including intense sustained gun battles and fight scenes, and for language)

Running Time: 2:06

Release Date: 8/15/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 15, 2014

After three movies, it's unclear if the various screenwriters behind these movies know what "expendable" means, and it's even more uncertain if anyone has any idea what they want to do with this series. The Expendables 3 once again throws together a bunch of "has-been" action stars (The quoted descriptor belongs to a character in the movie) to do what they did in movies throughout the 1980s and '90s: shoot a lot of bullets, pose while doing so, and make snappy comebacks to corpses.

There's also a sequence that relies on that old cliché of a ticking clock on a bomb, and of course, they stop it with few seconds remaining. Here's the kicker, though: The timer is stopped by a signal-interrupting device that is running low on battery power. How do we know this? Well, there's an indicator on the device counting down the percentage of battery life remaining.

A smarter movie might have a character note how they've eluded one timer only to have to deal with another one, or maybe one of these characters—perhaps one played by an actor who has encountered his fair share of digital timers in movies—might have joked about how complicated these things have become. Actually, a smarter movie wouldn't have given us either of the countdowns, but what are you going to do? There are two timers, and if screenwriters Sylvester Stallone, Creighton Rothenberger, and Katrin Benedikt don't realize how doubly useless that scenario is (a reminder that the countdown doesn't help the bad guys and shouldn't matter to the good guys), there's no reason to think that their characters are going to possess the awareness to recognize it, either.

More to the point, this series has moved from a first entry that introduced its lineup of stars and idled away the time with exposition until a visually ugly climax to a second entry that had a few more flashes of comic and action inspiration but still felt like it was twiddling its thumbs with expository dialogue. The third movie is more of the same, although it makes some wrongheaded alterations.

Seemingly aware of the fact that too many recognizable faces means that each of them will receive short shrift, the screenplay relinquishes the duties of the old, established team to a new one filled with younger faces. The result, of course, is that we're wondering where the guys we kind of knew went while we're watching Barney Ross (Stallone) initiate a group of new characters (played by Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Ronda Rousey, and Kellan Lutz). These characters, of course, receive only the basics of characterization during the lengthy string of introductions (e.g., an adrenaline-junkie hacker, an authority-questioning fighter, and a woman who can fight as well as her male counterparts) before they become even more interchangeable and non-descript than the old-timers.

They turn up again, of course, but the likes of Jason Statham (as Barney's right-hand man), Arnold Schwarzenegger (as a rival but helpful mercenary), Wesley Snipes (as an old team member whom the group breaks out of a black-ops prison during the prologue), and Dolph Lundgren (as a team member) only return near the end when they have nothing to do but participate in a bloodless shooting gallery featuring wave after wave of soldiers from anonymously Eastern European army. Jet Li comes back to the series to shoot a big gun (Of all the things to have Li do, this seems the least productive), and Harrison Ford arrives as a CIA operative who can fly a helicopter. Kelsey Grammer plays the guy who helps Barney find the new team.

There is a plot, although that listing of actors and what their characters do takes up the majority of time when there aren't bullets of varying calibers being fired. While on a mission to retrieve a bomb, Barney learns that Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), a former member of the Expendables who turned to a life of arms dealing, is still alive. The CIA wants Barney to capture Stonebanks alive so that he can stand trial for war crimes at The Hague.

Gibson brings some much-needed personality to the proceedings as a sneering villain who makes big speeches about the questionable moral standing of his former partner. Antonio Banderas also enlivens things as a frantically eager and excessively talkative mercenary who is desperate for work.

Even they get pushed to the side, though, and the climactic shootout in an abandoned housing complex is repetitive despite an onslaught of attempts to introduce some variation to the sequence (tanks, a motorcycle that comes into play for no sanely strategic reason, a helicopter dogfight, etc.). The Expendables 3 is humorless, protracted, and monotonous.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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