So to preface this review, let me just say that I am an unabashed Expendables fan and a lover of action movies in general. Watching those 80's/90's action movies with Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone and my absolute favourite, Arnold Schwarzenegger was for sure one of the big reasons why I became such a big movie lover. I wanted to see every classic, semi-classic and pure garbage action movie ever made. That's why I was so pumped for the first Expendables. It spoke to me, it was like a love letter to everything that was great about action movies. Looking back on it now, it could've been better but The Expendables 2 which came out two years later alleviated quite a few of those problems.
The Expendables 3 has been greeted with a lot of criticism from just about everyone. Its box office opening was also pretty soft and that could potentially make 3 the final film of the series. The makers are pointing their finger at piracy from the big publicized leak some weeks ago while everyone else thinks its the PG-13 downgrade from the original R of the first two films, series fatigue or just plain old mediocrity. Going into The Expendables 3, I put all of that out of my head and geared up to hopefully be entertained.
Expendables leader Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) leads his team to extract a former Expendables member Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) from some prison located in a country which probably doesn't exist. Following this, they make their way to Somalia where Barney Ross wants to break up a weapons deal. The weapons dealer turns out to be ex-Expendables Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) who betrayed the Expendables way back when but had been thought to be dead. Stonebanks critically injures Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) and makes his escape, leaving Barney Ross with two choices; disbanding the Expendables forever or revenge which would most likely destroy the team anyway.
The opening of The Expendables 3 is pretty silly which is fine with me. Expendables has always had a permanent wink going on but what's really interesting about this third entry is that the wink actually kind of disappears completely after Doctor Death has been broken out. The Expendables are dying and they're getting old at the same time. As much as The Expendables have been a long running joke of old gun-toting geezers to a lot of people, the question of age is well addressed here and it's done with a certain amount of gravitas. I was completely taken aback by the change in tone and I liked it truth be told.
The change in tone doesn't mean that the film ditches everything that made the past movies fun. There are lots of one-liners referencing past action classics (or-not-so-classics) and tons of crazy action mayhem. There are some pretty cool stunts as well and I was pleasantly surprised by how the action was all captured. Patrick Hughes who is a relatively new kid on the block doesn't get everything as silky smooth as you might want. Apart from maybe three or four times where the action was a bit too erratic to properly see what was going on, the cinematography is definitely satisfactory and I never real yearned for the movie to be the R cut either. The past two Expendables movies were just littered with CGI blood which looked awful. Obviously the best case scenario would be to use some real squibs, but I honestly preferred this to the fake CGI option.
In terms of the characters, there are some disappointments as well as some successes.
Terry Crews being out for the whole film is pretty disappointing because he had always been a big highlight of past Expendables movies. What's interesting is that his role was originally for Wesley Snipes who was busy at the time with his tax evasion business. Now Snipes gets the screen time while Terry Crews was busy with the TV series Brooklyn Nine-Nine. In terms of Wesley Snipes, what a success he is. He plays Doctor Death exactly how you'd want Wesley Snipes to play him and he's my favourite of the new characters on the good side. On the bad side, lots of people have said Mel Gibson steals the show and he really does on more than one occasion. He's completely unhinged and for sure the best villain of the series. I even loved Jean-Claude Van Damme tons from 2 but Gibson is a step up for sure. There's no real right-hand man to steal the show like Stone Cold Steve Austin or Scott Adkins so it's really just the Mel show. Harrison Ford is also a lot of fun to watch too but for Antonio Banderas, I'd have to say that he passes the hamming it up comfort zone on more than one occasion. But overall he makes for a pretty fun side show. There are also some new young team members who are there to bring down the average age of the cast. Well actually they're there to represent the new tech-knowledgeable youth that will take over one day.
So how are these youngsters? Two of them are professional fighters like Victor Ortiz and Ronda Rousey while the other two are regular actors. Glen Powell and Kellan Lutz are just OK which is better than what I'm used to when it comes to Lutz. Ortiz and Rousey are a little rough in certain instances but Rousey is the one who comes out the best because of a scene she gets to have a heart to heart to with Sly. Waaay too much time is dedicated to introducing these characters but I did enjoy the banter between the old guard and these youngsters.
Other criticism that I can think of would be that there is some pretty atrocious CGI in this film which looks like it belongs to the nineties. Additionally, there are a lot of faceless enemies that are doing nothing more than getting filled with bullets and there isn't enough screen time for Arnold Schwarzenegger, but like there ever would be in an ensemble movie. Jet Li is also really underused and he never even gets the chance to display any of his martial arts skills.
From all the negativity surrounding this film, I was expecting a truly horrible movie. But that's not what I got in The Expendables 3. I got a movie that tried something different in the sense that it turns up the serious meter. Remember the scene from the first Expendables with Mickey Rourke talking all serious? Yeah, there a lot more of that this time around and I welcome it. The action which is the most important thing is well done, relatively well captured and it's fun, pure and simple. Some jokes fall flat but most succeed. Plus I got to see my favourite action stars minus spoilsport Bruce Willis all in one movie. What more do people want?