It’s hard to take The Expendables 3 seriously. It’s not like the prior installments were exercises in cinematic restraint, what with Jean Claude Van Damme roundhouse kicking a dagger into a man’s heart, but the third installment of Sylvester Stallone’s self-congratulatory brainchild is especially overcooked. This is a film where bodies pile up without a single one amounting to much of anything, where the ways characters are introduced will serve as their only development for the duration of the movie, and where the series’ downgrade from an R rating to a PG-13 means only that the film’s standing as a paean to bloody, hyper-masculine ‘80s action cinema feels more dishonest than ever before.
This is probably as good a time as any to mention that the first hour and 15 minutes of The Expendables 3 feels like the team assembly sequence in MacGruber, but without the WWE cameos or the hilarious payoff. The film’s opening siege allows the Expendables to free a heretofore unmentioned old member, Doc (Wesley Snipes), an ex-medic who’s gifted with all manner of knives and daggers and blad… never mind. However, things go wrong when Barney (Stallone, who once again co-writes) discovers that the man they were hired to take on is actually Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), a former Expendable and current top-tier arms dealer.
This is all perfunctory, really. The need to stop Gibson is secondary to ensuring the maximum number of opportunities for tough-shit posturing. It’s less gendered than usual, thanks to the presence of Ronda Rousey as the first female Expendable, but the new recruits at large (boxer Victor Ortiz, Kellan Lutz) are given little more to do than glower and be young, so that the older crew are afforded the maximum possible number of opportunities to acknowledge that they’re still getting too old for this shit. (The older additions, from Kelsey Grammer to a woefully underused Harrison Ford, barely stick around long enough to register.)
For a film so imbued with a throwback spirit, The Expendables 3 is remarkably out of touch with what made the films it so desperately wants to emulate memorable. The gritty pathos of Rambo and the gallows humor of Predator or Die Hard are almost completely missing, with only the xenophobia and halfhearted writing intact. The drama between the two generations of Expendables only serves to get the film to an acceptable theatrical length before they team up to, as Roger Ebert used to put it, blow stuff up real good. That is, fake things; the film’s poorly rendered CGI explosions serve to illustrate how far away it truly is from its cast’s respective heydays. Only Antonio Banderas, as a motormouthed parkour master, and Gibson do anything memorable. And when 2014 Mel Gibson is giving the most endearing and memorable performance in a film, well …
Even the film’s climax, taking place in a broken-down hotel in the dubious nation of Azmenistan, neglects to generate any intrigue out of its flurry of punching and bodily harm. The self-seriousness of the series’ earlier installments is instead supplanted by a general sense of apathy and serves as a thrilling montage of people you might’ve liked in other stuff collecting a hearty paycheck. But don’t worry. They’ll quite possibly be back for more, as illustrated by the film’s ending, which lands closer to an episode of Cheers than anything most of the Expendables have ever appeared in.