Four years ago Sylvester Stallone and a group of indestructible tough guys exploded onto the big screen in “The Expendables,” one of those shoot-em-up, blow-em-up, mindless action/adventure films that offer pure escape entertainment. Two years later Sly and his boys were back in the sequel, and this weekend “The Expendables 3” stormed into theaters nationwide. Like the first two films in the series, the third installment should give addicts of pyrotechnics a really good fix, and even though you won’t see this movie listed among any Academy Award nominees, it’s fun to watch a bunch of aging action stars prove they still can fight.
The film begins with a great action sequence even before the opening credits roll by as Expendables Barney Ross (Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), and Toll Road (Randy Couture) orchestrate the daring rescue of Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) from a train carrying him to a military prison. Death is a former member of the Expendables, and in addition to being a medic, he’s an expert in the use of knives.
After they bring Death back into the fold, Ross and his buddies head to Somalia, where they plan to prevent a warlord from taking delivery of some bombs. Waiting to assist them in their mission is Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), who takes them to the place where the deal is supposed to go down and where Ross is about to get the shock of his life.
It just so happens that the guy delivering the bombs is Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), who was one of the founders of the Expendables. But Stonebanks was money hungry, and when he had a chance to get into selling illegal weapons, he decided to part ways with the group. Naturally this didn’t go over so well, and Ross killed him. Or so he thought. As it turns out, Ross and his team are no match for Stonebanks’ army, but before they vacate the premises, Caesar suffers a life-threatening injury.
Ross is now hell bent on taking Stonebanks down, but he decides he can’t do it with his current team. Therefore, much to the team’s displeasure, he disbands the group and goes in search of younger fighters. To this end he travels to Las Vegas and meets up with Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer), a former mercenary who agrees to help him recruit some new team members.
Bonaparte aids Ross in securing the services of John Smilee (Kellan Lutz), a former Marine, Luna (Rhonda Rousey), a tough nightclub bouncer, Thorn (Glen Powell), a computer whiz, and Mars (Victor Ortiz), a specialist in weapons. Bonaparte also introduces Ross to Galgo (Antonio Banderas), a deadly accurate sniper, but Ross rejects him at first.
The man who directs the Expendables’ mission is Max Drummer (Harrison Ford), a member of the CIA who with the help of former Expendables member Trench Mauser (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has located Stonebanks in Romania, and Ross heads there with his new team under orders to capture him alive. Things don’t go well, however, and Stonebanks ends up capturing all of Ross’s recruits and subsequently sending him a video to taunt him about it. Of course Ross decides to rescue them, and, predictably, when his former team members find out what he is planning, they join him, setting up an all-out war.
Although there’s nothing particularly original about “The Expendables 3,” it is fun to watch because of the ensemble cast comprising so many action stars. In fact in the film’s production notes former NFL player Crews, who portrays Caesar, makes this very point.
“We have Rocky, The Terminator, Indiana Jones, The Transporter, Mad Max, Desperado and Blade. It’s Stallone’s version of ‘The Avengers.’ It’s the biggest roster of action screen icons ever assembled, and these guys depend on brute strength, brains and determination to get the job done. And then we also have the young Expendables, who are potentially the next generation of action stars. It’s not just a movie; it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event.”
As is the case with all films of this nature you really need to suspend your disbelief because at least 50 gazillion rounds of ammunition are fired, and not one finds its mark among the Expendables. The film also features some excellent stunt work, and those who like explosions won’t be disappointed either.
Each member of the Expendables has a particular skill, and in the production notes Lundgren pointed out the actors in the film actually are capable of performing the feats their characters do.
“We really can do this stuff. I was a karate champion. Jason was an Olympic diver. Stallone has done a lot of training. Arnold, of course, was Mr. Universe. Terry Crews played pro football. We got the MMA champ, Randy Couture, not to mention the new people. We have a lot of people with real skills. When Terry picks up a hundred-pound Gatling gun with one hand, that’s him doing it, and I think that adds a certain reality to the whole experience.”
When you watch this film, it’s obvious that all the actors had real blast (pun intended) making it. All of their actions are very smooth and natural, and they never really appear to be acting.
As far as individual performances are concerned, I thought Banderas and Gibson stole the show. Banderas’s character never shuts up and thus provides a lot of comic relief. Gibson, on the other hand, imbues his Stonebanks with the same kind of maniacal glee that he brought to Martin Riggs in the “Lethal Weapon” films. In the production notes Gibson explained how much he enjoyed making the movie and how he prepared for his role.
“This film was great fun for me. How often do you get a chance to just hang with the guys and blow a bunch of stuff up? I think the fact that no one is taking themselves too seriously is a big part of the appeal. I wanted to make sure that Sly didn’t look like he was beating up a fat old man. So I went to the gym and worked every little muscle group, stayed off the carbs, and got my strength up. This stuff doesn’t get any easier, but it was incumbent on me to keep up with the rest of the tribe.”
“The Expendables 3” is not deep, thought provoking, or profound, but it is quite acceptable escape entertainment, and it earns the final score of a surprising seven. And if Sly and his boys return for a fourth go around, I plan to join them.