★ ★ ½
Of the 12 most prominent male actors in director Patrick Hughes’ The Expendables 3, ten are 50 or older, while the babies of the group, Jason Statham and Terry Crews, are 47 and 46, respectively. To put this in perspective, Danny Glover was 40 when he uttered the immortal line, “I’m too old for this,” in Lethal Weapon. This really underscores why the third film in SylvesterStallone’s increasingly tired series feels ready-made for an AARP endorsement. To be fair, Stallone—who also co-wrote the script—and his merry band of mercenaries are well aware of this fact, and play up their competence by making the picture a sly commentary on the pitiful state of modern action stars.
After breaking his old friend Doc (Wesley Snipes) out of a secret prison, Barney Ross (Stallone), has to hunt down Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), a former comrade who has since become an international arms dealer. After Stonebanks escapes during the initial raid on his compound, severely wounding Caesar (Crews) in the process, Barney disbands the current team of the Expendables (Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren, Statham, Crews, Snipes) because he can’t live with the thought of any of them getting hurt.
With the help of well-placed contact Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer), Barney recruits a new squad who possess better tech skills than his former team. However, when the newbies end up getting captured by Stonebanks, the old crew step up to save the day—with additional help from the overly eager, motormouthed Galgo (Antonio Banderas), Barney’s new government handler Drummer (Harrison Ford), and old pal Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger).
As the movie plays out, just about every member of this overstuffed cast gets some audience-pleasing bit of business. Gibson gives a gleeful, evil eyebrow raise before shooting one of the good guys, Snipes gets to mock his well-publicized legal troubles, Banderas gives the film a much needed dose of comic relief in its second half, and Statham does something very rare for him—he smiles. These little moments are a treat, but the movie itself is a behemoth, an exercise in too-much-is-never-enough.
It doesn’t help that Hughes shows no affinity for coherent direction during the action scenes. Everything is cut so quickly that you can’t appreciate the balletic sequences of hand-to-hand combat. All you can do is wait for the inevitable bloodless explosions that you know will be plentiful in an action film with a PG-13 rating, and hope that somebody does something funny when the smoke clears.
While the first two installments in this series buzzed with the nostalgia of watching icons relive their glorious past, this entry goes one step further. By having a crew of young Expendables get kidnapped, Stallone is commenting on the lack of contemporary action heroes. As disappointing as The Expendables 3 is, he has a point. With the exception of Statham, there really aren’t any stars now in the mold of Stallone, Schwarzenegger, or Bruce Willis in their prime. Comic-book protagonists have taken over the role of action hero for modern moviegoers; as a result, there’s a core audience who want these odes to the tough guys of the recent past, no matter how uninspired they are.