When Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez made their B-movie homage Grindhouse in 2007, it was bad, just like the real, schlocky grindhouse flicks of the ‘70s. The lesson was that if skilled filmmakers do a tribute to something that was bad to begin with, the result will simply be a well-made, bad movie.
Sylvester Stallone, writer and star of The Expendables series, has consciously made movies that recapture the bombastic nonsense of ‘80s action flicks like Cobra, Commando, and Missing in Action. With each one, he’s done a better job. That also means that each has been a worse movie, and indeed, The Expendables 3 is the worst yet.
The best part of every Expendables movie is the cast, and the third one has probably the most impressive yet. Over the movie’s two-hour running time, you’ll spot appearances from Antonio Banderas, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Robert Davi, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Kelsey Grammer, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Kellan Lutz, Victor Ortiz, Ronda Rousey, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wesley Snipes, Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, and probably more. Practically every character in the movie is played by somebody.
Despite the impressive cast — but also because of it — the Expendables series is now just too bloated with people, leaving barely any of the actors enough time to make any kind of impact. Old cast members from the previous movies like Crews and Lundgren are ditched early on to make space for the next generation (Lutz, Ortiz, Rousey), who are short-shifted to squeeze in older new additions such as Ford, Grammer, and Snipes, while still having to leave room for the madness of the new villainy of Gibson. Many of the appearances almost feel like cameos, with how quickly they’re introduced and then discarded.
The movie’s plot, or what semblance there is of one, centers on a group of mercenaries called the Expendables (led by Stallone). The team has been hired to intercept a bomb shipment and discovers that the bad guy they’re foiling is one of the founding members of the Expendables, Stonestreet (Gibson), who betrayed the team and was presumed dead. After one of the group is nearly killed by Stonestreet, the Expendables go on a mission of vengeance to track him down.
The acting goes a long way toward making The Expendables 3 mildly enjoyable. Gibson clearly relished the chance to show the world he’s still a talented actor and is quite good as the slimy Stonestreet. And everyone else over the age of 50, from Ford to Stallone to Grammer, just turns on the autopilot and enjoys being there. The mentality of the cast feels like that a summer weekend reunion, which is admittedly a little contagious to audiences.
If you spent the ‘90s and ‘00s audibly lamenting how they don’t make great action movies anymore like they used to in the ‘80s, or if you loved the first two Expendables, then The Expendabl3s The Expendables 3 will be exactly what you’re looking for. Otherwise, if you’re looking for a fun and intelligent action movie, just go see Guardians of the Galaxy or Lucy. The third of this trilogy may just be the most expendable yet.