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The Expendables are back again for a third adventure, bringing in new old and young members for the ride in a toned down adventure.
After a mission goes wrong in Mogadishu, Somalia, one of the Expendables is severely injured and Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) finds out a man who he believed was dead, Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), is now a ruthless weapons dealer wanted by the CIA. Ross is hired by a CIA agent (Harrison Ford) to capture Stonebanks and not wanting to risk his own men, he sets out to hire a new team to bring down the sociopath, including an adrenaline junkie hacker (Glen Powell), an ass-kicking woman (Ronda Rousey) and a troubled ex-soldier (Kellan Lutz).
The Expendables 3 sees another choice of direction for the series. The first movie was a violent throwback, the second was a much more self-aware affair and part 3 sets out to cater more to modern sensibilities by having a PG-13 rating and bringing in a younger team. One of the big appeals of the series is gleeful R-rated violence as we watch soldiers and henchmen being shot to pieces. The producers wanted a PG-13 rating believing it would make the third movie more money, but it does neuter the action. This is noticeable when people are shot, when Expendables members use knives, the camera work using quick pans, the quick cut editing and a deliberate cut away from a use of the F word. It takes away the sadistic pleasure of goons betting shot to bits.
The Expendables 3 sees new members join the cast. Some are logical choices like Wesley Snipes and Mel Gibson as the villain. Antonio Banderas was game for his role as the comic relief, having plenty of physical energy, though he was properly filling the role that was intended for Jackie Chan. But the movie decides to bring in a new generation of action heroes to play with Stallone, people who have not proved themselves in the action genre yet. They are blank slates, anyone could have filled the roles, the hacker who can do anything, the weapons specialist etc…. Rousey is a good MMA fighter, but my God, she cannot act as she gives a wooden delivery. Say what you will about the acting abilities of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dolph Lundgren, but at least they have personalities.
A strength for the sequel is Gibson. Jean-Claude Van Damme was good in The Expendables 2 as a physical threat to The Expendables, but Gibson was a ruthless sadist and diabolical planner. He sets traps and was willing to kill at a moment’s notice as he chases money and plays up to the insane persona that he now has. He could have easily been a Bond villain.
Talking about Bond, The Expendables 3 attempts a Skyfall-like theme of the old team and their techniques of brute force being seen as outdated and the young team’s use of technology and stealth being seen as the way of the future. While it is an attempt, The Expendables 3 is nowhere near the leagues of Skyfall as the movie does not have anything to say about the changing world or changes in the action genre. The screenplay is terrible; no one expects Shakespeare from the series, but The Expendables 3 suffers from logic holes in the characters actions (characters who are meant to be highly trained soldiers) and forced references and jokes to recapture the magic of the second movie. One joke that I found particularly irksome due to my nationality is a joke that Harrison Ford cannot understand Jason Statham’s accent.
Statham is still the strongest comedic performer, having the best lines and banters with Snipes as their characters have a friendly rivalry. In the last movie Schwarzenegger references The Terminator movies, in this one he references Predator and Commando.
Australian director Patrick Hughes takes over the series. He clearly has his hands tied by the PG-13 rating, particularly for the first 30 minutes when the action is heavily cut to hide the violence. A stealth sequence was a stronger action moment as the young team act like a special forces team. The best action moment was the final act where Hughes gives us a massive battle. It was a full on war, featuring tank warfare, men causing havoc with dirt bikes and Rousey wrapping herself around many soldiers. It was a large set piece that allowed all the members of The Expendables a time to shine and show off their skills.
The CGI in the movie is absolutely terrible, taking away a sense of physics as we have an awful aerial chase and characters surviving numerous explosions to the face. The other movies could get away with this due to the gleeful violence, but not so much for this adventure. The Expendables 3 screws up a simple green screen shot of two people in a car and used cheap stock footage of Bucharest. The cinematography by Peter Menzies Jr. had a real ugly and grim quality to it which is really disappointing considering he has worked on movies like Die Hard: With a Vengeance and The Incredible Hulk.
The Expendables 3 is a ridiculous affair with an entertaining final battle, but it has lost much of its charm due to the producers misguided attempt to chase a younger audience; an audience it does not need. The Expendables 2 is still the best movie in the series.