They’re back. The washed-out, grungy, mercenary-assassin Expendables team returns to conquer another affluent bad guy in various fictional third-world countries oppressed by military corruption. Despite the change in director, the Patrick Hughes production is yet again reduced to the modern action movie archetype: guns, explosions, action sequences and corny one-liners. Expect to be disappointed.
The story starts with the old Expendables team rescuing locked-up member Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) in order to pull off a heist and kill Expendables co-founder Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), someone believed to be dead from a previously “successful” Expendables’ mission. After the team fails, leading to the hospitalization of Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), team leader Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) realizes the Expendables lifestyle is too risky and decides it’s time to retire the team. Continuing his mission to kill Stonebanks — partially for the money, partially to avenge Caesar — Ross travels the world with Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer) to assemble a younger, more ambitious, truly “expendable” team. This younger team consists of fighters who take on a more technical fighting strategy, using technology and hacking to fight their battles. Eventually, this team is captured and Ross reunites with his “retired” crew to save the youngsters.
“Expendables 3” ineffectively attempts to create empathy within its protagonist team — something customarily absent in action films oversaturated with testosterone — by implementing the concepts of brotherhood and family forged on the battlefield. These emotional ties, better suited for a military film, are sprinkled throughout the production but are never developed enough to add anything meaningful to the film. Thus, the only compelling bonds between characters — such as the relationship between Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) and Ross — were already established in the previous “Expendables” films. To add as collateral damage, the inclusion of such a large cast — similar to the “Ocean’s” Trilogy — rations little time for the major characters to interact with one another or with the audience, leading to an absence of individual character development.
The momentum of the film also lags in rather vital areas. Having no clear build up, climax or falling action, the plot proves to be rudimentary. “Expendables 3” completely conforms to the action-genre stereotypes: bullets constantly fly across the screen, and explosions light up the sky. Despite the considerable amount of violence, the combat is similar to the final battle scene in the “Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” lacking bloodshed. This doesn’t take away much from the action, but it does make the gunfights feel rather childish. It’s enough to warrant the first PG-13 rating in the series.
Nonetheless, there are hidden Easter eggs scattered throughout the film. Snippets of comedy can be found at random moments, which effectively alleviates the tension sometimes present between characters. The guns and technology used are modern and should make any “Call of Duty” or “Battlefield” fan content — Crew’s AA-12 shotgun, for example. Needless to say, the heavy-duty cast performs excellently together; the Expendables team, the antagonist Stonebanks and the guest appearances by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jet Li all complement one another and are wonderful to watch — despite the limited screen presence of Gibson and Harrison Ford.
While the film does have a powerful lineup of actors, it is nonetheless disappointing to see such an empty final product. Like the original Expendables team, the series itself may be due for retirement. Unfortunately, with the younger generation now sporting the “Expendables” tattoo, it’s safe to assume “Expendables 4” will be on its way.
“Expendables 3” could have included more engaging dialogue and deeper connections between characters and could have been much more than an entertaining fireworks show. It isn’t a good, old-fashioned, popcorn-snacking action film, and it sure isn’t profoundly meaningful enough to have audiences in awe. Yet, despite its deterring aspects, “The Expendables 3” is not terrible.
In fact, it is an improvement from its 2012 predecessor. It isn’t the summer blockbuster, but it is worth checking out. It easily earns its marks as high-quality, brainless entertainment: predictable and cliché. Cue the enormous explosion in background as this review slowly comes to its conclusion. Typical.
“The Expendables 3” is playing at UA Berkeley 7.