The Expendables 3: The Longest-Running Inside Joke

Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his Expendables are hired by the CIA to take out a weapons dealer named Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), a former Expendable gone rogue. After one of his team is critically wounded, Ross retires the team and hires a newer team with the help of headhunter Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer). Ross and the new team manage to catch Stonebanks, but Stonebanks nearly kills Ross and captures his young protégés, threatening to kill them. After getting the old team back, Ross, along with newcomer Galgo (Antonio Banderas), rival-friend Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), and CIA agent Drummer (Harrison Ford), works to free the young Expendables and take out Stonebanks once and for all.

The Expendables franchise as a whole has two things going for it, and they’re the only things keeping it afloat—nostalgia and big-name action stars. The plots have been laughably bad, the majority of the characters are hollow in terms of development (minus Barney Ross, who gets deeper with each film), and the action sequences are over-the-top. But the nostalgia and stars keep people coming back.

Sure, the lines Schwarzenegger drops about getting “to da choppa” are lame. But for the people who grew up watching his movies, they’re a nice throwback. Arguably, they’re a throwback to a time when movies were a little bit more creative and original, which is only funny because this movie survives on recreating overused material so these aging stars can relive their glory days.

And you know, I’m okay with this movie. For one, it felt like a palate cleanser after Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles last week. But it was also fairly self-aware of its own ridiculousness (kind of like how 22 Jump Street constantly poked fun at itself for being an unnecessary sequel). It’s basically a giant inside joke among all of the actors, and once you get the joke, it’s easy to sit back and enjoy the movie for what it is. So let’s break it down.

We’re back with the main team—Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), Yin Yang (Jet Li), and Toll Road (Randy Couture). Now, in the first film, we got cameos from Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The second had Jean-Claude Van Damme, who was the villain named Vilain (*groan*). He obviously didn’t return because he got knifed by Ross in the end. So who did they add to this movie? Well, let’s take a look at the movie poster. Seriously, look at this Photoshop nightmare…

Expendables 3

Everyone and their mother is in this movie. And what in the actual f*** is going on? Did the photographer tell them to pretend they were doing promotional photos for a comedy romp about fighter buddies all coming to terms with their differences? Even Harrison Ford looks happy, and he’s been miserable for like 60 years straight.

Oh, right. New additions—Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes), Smilee (Kellan Lutz), Luna (Ronda Rousey), Galgo (Antonio Banderas), Thorn (Glen Powell), Mars (Victor Ortiz), Drummer (Harrison Ford), and bad guy Stonebanks (Mel Gibson). God save us if there’s an Expendables 4 because it’s already hard keeping track of these people.

The majority of these new additions are forgettable. Smilee, Thorn, and Mars…yawn. Ronda Rousey’s Luna is the movie’s token female, which thankfully means she gets awesome ass-kicking scenes instead of a love interest story (Thank you), but she’s still a space-filler like the other members of the young cast. Harrison Ford was a good draw because he rarely does movies anymore, but he was more or less like the grumpy grandpa dragged along on a road trip with the family he can’t stand being around (I bet that paycheck is nice, though).

Wesley Snipes got quite a bit of screentime in the film’s beginning when he was rescued from prison (which he joked was about “tax evasion”). He got a cool parkour, knife-fight sequence, too. But then he kind of dropped off into the background (like everyone else who’s not Stallone). Antonio Banderas got to play a motor-mouthed killer who nobody wants to hire, which is sadly on par with his current film career (Hang on to that Shrek money, buddy). And then there’s Mel Gibson. God, he plays crazy well. Not that we’re really surprised by this, but still. I like him as a villain. It just fits him, you know?

Now, Stallone’s Ross has been a consistent father figure to his team throughout all three films—and we see this even more so with the young team that’s introduced in this movie. Though both teams are made up of trained killers, he’s always worrying about them getting hurt. This worry is immortalized in the shot of the dog tags hanging in the team’s plane—a reminder to Ross of all of the members he’s lost.

Ross’s worry comes to fruition in the movie when Caesar is shot by Stonebanks. Ross blames himself for Caesar’s critical condition, which leads him to retiring his old team to hire the new team. Though he initially hires the new team because he wants people who are truly “expendable” (unlike his friends), he becomes a mentor to the young team, which is why he risks his life to rescue them. It’s cheesy, but it’s interesting that a movie based around the idea of “expendable” soldiers shows us the dynamics of their friendships and leadership.

One of the other themes that I found interesting was the discussion of mindless violence, which even critics have pointed out with each installment in this franchise. Each movie shows the Expendables shooting hundreds of people left and right without a blink of the eye. We’re supposed to justify this with “Oh, well, they’re the good guys, and the people they kill have killed way more people.” Yeah, that justification is almost more f***ed up than the violence itself.

Surprisingly, Stonebanks is the character to bring this up, not Ross (I was sure Stallone would write it for himself). This was an intriguing choice because having the villain be the voice of reason muddies the morality of all of the characters. In other words, when the villain sees the issue more clearly than the protagonist, uh, holy shit…problem.

As Stonebanks points out, the Expendables are supposed to be the good guys, yet they kill just as many people as the bad guys, so how does that make them any different than the bad guys? Don’t forget that these bad guys have lives and families, too. In one of my reviews a while back (I can’t remember which one), I said something along the lines of “What if that poor henchman needed a job to support his family, and this was the only option?” And it’s so true! We never think about these “mooks” because movies have taught us good guy vs. bad guy. And let’s be honest—morality and ethics aren’t black and white.

Unfortunately, this point is only brought up during Stonebanks’s villain speech and never gets mentioned again. To make matters worse, clearly, nothing went to heart because the “good guys” then lay waste to hundreds of henchman in the climatic action scene. So there goes the moral consciousness Stallone attempted.

Overall, The Expendables 3 is a movie that’s made for its actors, not for moviegoers. And once you accept that, it’s easy to enjoy it and be in on the inside joke (that joke being that these guys are aging actors trying to play “movie star” again). It’s not an example of great film, nor is it worthy of blockbuster season, but I don’t think it’s trying to be. It’s honest about how stupid it is, which is oddly refreshing. That’s exactly how I would describe it, too—”stupid fun.”

The Expendables 3: B-

For my radio review of The Expendables 3 on “Pat & JT in the Morning,” visit this link (starts around the 31:05 mark).

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