The first notable thing about the third outing of The Expendables in 2014 is that Sylvester Stallone finally shaved off that hideous dyed-black goatee, and it actually takes a few minutes to readjust myself to his clean-shaven face. While I’m thinking about it, it’s also worth noting that Stallone after all these years is still able to deliver that effective dead-behind-the-eyes gaze where you know he means business.
And another notable thing, which I didn’t realize until reading the Wikipedia afterward, is that it’s the only film in the franchise to get the PG-13 rating. Fans upset about that are silly, however, because, again, I didn’t even notice the difference or realize it until reading about it. It doesn’t change the film at all to go from an R rating to a PG-13 rating. The action still works. I don’t need to see buckets of blood or literal limbs falling off for it to be cool. Give me neat hand-to-hand combat with a steady camera and not so many cuts, and I’ll be happy.
For this film, The Expendables are dealing with a villain Stallone’s character knows well: Conrad Stonebanks, played by Mel Gibson, who used to be one of the crew but who turned bad. Much like the prior film, we learn about Gibson’s villainous character because he nearly kills one of The Expendables, Terry Crews’ character.
But, like all great superhero films, which ostensibly this is, the superhero has to doubt himself, and Stallone doubts himself and his ability to lead the old (literal description here) team here. Instead, he begins recruiting a bunch of young guys to meld the idea of 1980s action (Stallone) with 21st century technology. More than that, a lot of what’s infused in Stallone’s films these last few years is the idea that he’s aging and he’s getting old. That he can only do this for so much longer. It’s both a in-movie character point, but certainly, an out-of-character point as well. I always appreciate that bit of heart and reflection Stallone puts in his movies.
I will admit, out of the new crew he goes to recruit, I only recognized Antonio Banderas (who actually doesn’t join up for real until later) and of course, Ronda Rousey at the height of her powers, both as a dominant athlete and as a star. On that front, it was a bit of a bummer to not have Jason Statham and Wesley Snipes (new to the cast, and whose character I love in the beginning of the film because he plays the crazy-eyed psycho well) in much of the middle chunk of the film. As a result, you really feel the drag on that middle part of the film.
So, while we get an awesome opening sequence where The Expendables bust Snipes out of prison with a great train heist that could’ve fit in with classic Hollywood, and the climax scene is something straight out of a Marvel comic book film, where we have the entire ensemble battling an army with all kinds of fantastic action, the middle is a bit … forgettable and meh. For one, the new crew is able to capture Mel Gibson, and remember, their whole thing is being tech-smart, and none of them thought to check if Gibson would have a GPS on him?!
Anyhow, this film is still awesome. Harrison Ford is in it, and they actually give him stuff to do rather than being a stuffy suit, and it’s a lot of fun with the helicopter dogfighting. Enough said. Arnold Schwarzenegger is also back and it was a thrill to see him and Ford interacting. Perhaps the first time together?
Like I said, though, the ending sequence is great, and I must say, the highlight of which was all the fight scenes with Rousey. She looked great and dominant, as she should. But there was some neat stuff with motorcycles, Statham’s knife throwing, and even Stallone running about Naturally, like the prior film, it all comes down to fisticuffs between Stallone and Gibson, which Stallone wins again. They tease Stallone dying in an explosion at the end, but he’s still alive.
Overall, I would still rank this above the first film by a considerable margin on the strength of the bookends (opening and closing sequences), but it falls short of the second film. The second film was more taut, creative and funnier, and had a better villain in Van Damme.