Delivers exactly what it promises – if you like these action vets, that’s great news. 

By Chaz Lipp
 

The Expendables 3 is a crowd-pleasing, action rave-up that’s very arguably the best of Sylvester Stallone’s late-career hit franchise. Though its 126-minute running time is more indulgent than its tighter-paced predecessors, it basically had to be. Ex3 packs in the biggest, rowdiest, heaviest-hitting cast yet – screenwriter Stallone and director Patrick Hughes (Red Hill) had to add time just to fit everyone in. In addition to the core group as seen in parts one and two, Stallone reunites with Demolition Man co-star Wesley Snipes and Assassins co-star Antonio Banderas. We also get Mel Gibson as the mega-baddie (and former Expendable), Harrison Ford as a grizzled CIA op, and Kelsey Grammer as a mercenary recruiter. With a cast like this, it’s easier to get through an occasional dull stretch (of which there honestly aren’t many) with the promise of another star appearance.

Also new to the series is the addition of some young, new blood. Ex2 featured a nice turn by Liam Hemsworth as an ill-fated new team member, but this time out Expendables’ boss Barney Ross (Stallone) assembles an entirely new team. After the potentially fatal wounding of one of his best men, Barney decides he cannot risk the lives of his most beloved friends. The target this time out is Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), a former ally who turned very bad. Long believed dead, Stonebanks emerges as an illegal arms dealer who’s working with some very dangerous warmongers in various corners of the world. Though Barney’s crew is good and pissed about their abrupt dismissal, Lee (Jason Statham), Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), Caesar (Terry Crews), and Toll Road (Randy Couture) have little choice but to step down. Barney, with help from Bonaparte (Grammer), puts together a “young and dumb” (as Lee puts it) team including John Smilee (Kellan Lutz), Luna (Ronda Rousey), Thorn (Glen Powell), and Mars (Victor Ortiz).

That’s a lot of characters to juggle and not everyone, old or young, gets a full taste of the spotlight. But luckily the plot is breezily simple enough that it never bogs down the way the first Expendables sometimes did. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger, returning as on-again, off-again Expendables’ ally Trench Mauser, seems a little lost in the shuffle (his funniest moment comes when Trench, patiently waiting for Barney to arrive at a checkpoint, exclaims, “This is boring!”). Jet Li’s Yin Yang checks in for even more of a cameo than his Ex2 appearance. There’s more wink-wink, knowing humor thrown into the mix than ever before (including a jab at the absent Church, played in the previous films by Bruce Willis).

Director Hughes keeps the action moving at a good clip, even if it’s fairly workmanlike. For longtime Stallone fans, it’s a blast seeing him reteam with some old co-stars, as well as share the screen for the first time with big stars like Ford and Gibson. The latter, in particular, seems to relish the opportunity to dig into his first role in some time to capitalize on his still-potent charisma. Stealing the show from everyone is Banderas as motor-mouthed Galgo, an acrobatic weapons expert who quite literally talks himself into a spot on Barney’s newly expanded team. He epitomizes the spirit of energetic, lighthearted action fun that Stallone has always strove for with The Expendables films.

Though Ex3 is, in fact, the first PG-13 film of the series, fear not. There’s still a high body count, only less digital blood splatters. Stallone has been moving toward a “kinder, gentler” Expendables ever since toning down the violence in his misguided DVD recut of the first film. Rumors persisted that Ex2 would be PG-13 at Chuck Norris’ insistence (it wasn’t, but Norris’ aversion to foul-language was taken pretty seriously). The action still hits hard in Ex3, there just isn’t an abundance of CG blood. The stunts are impressive. The camaraderie between Stallone and his cronies (particularly Statham) has grown even more substantial. I can’t imagine why anyone who enjoyed the first two films won’t be satisfied.

Images: Lionsgate

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Chaz Lipp

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