The Expendables 3 is the best of the franchise, owing largely to its runtime which gives the characters, story and explosive action more room to breathe – it’s a whole 20 minutes longer than the previous entries! This might not seem like much but it gives The Expendables 3 more beats to play off of and allows a more fully-formed arc, even if it still suffers from many of the same issues that plagued the first two films.
Patrick Hughes (Red Hill) directs a story by Sylvester Stallone which sees the Expendables come up against one of their own. Mel Gibson is Conrad Stonebanks, the traitorous co-founder of the Expendables who was long thought dead but is discovered very much alive. Indeed, Stonebanks handily defeats the team of mercenaries in an early encounter which leads Barney Ross (Stallone) to disband the unit in favour of new blood in order to apprehend his former ally for war crimes.
The fresh faces are mostly unremarkable, save for the experienced action stars also appearing here for the very first time. Wesley Snipes and Antonio Banderas are the two additions who get generous screen time, and both make an impression. Snipes proves he’s still good with a blade and gets in a good laugh at the expense of his real-life incarceration while Banderas plays a motor mouth with a childlike passion for combat. Kelsey Grammer has an extended cameo, and Harrison Ford also features as a grumpy CIA agent who makes a cheeky jab at Bruce Willis’ departure from the franchise. Rounding the cast are returning favourites: Statham, Lee, Lundgren, Couture, Crews and Schwarzenegger.
The old hands go through their paces, but of all the Expendables movies this one is the most balanced – everyone has their moment in the sun and it’s the new characters who rightly receive the most attention. Inevitably, there are a few weak points; the young tech-savvy crew, comprised of Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell and Victor Ortiz, is (pardon the pun) the most expendable, and the special effects are B-grade. The highlight however is Mad Max himself, who walks over everyone else whenever he’s on screen. Stonebanks is a terrific villain and a haggard Gibson plays him with just the right amount of Martin Riggs’ crazy, out-acting all of the meatheads – but that’s what happens when you throw in a genuine actor to the testosterone-fuelled mix.
The Expendables 3 further benefits from the fact that it feels like its own movie and doesn’t rely on constantly making references to its stars’ classic outings. Sure, there’s a line or two quoted from past exploits but it’s never as egregious and on-the-nose as it was in The Expendables 2. Stallone, at least, gets in a cracker one-liner that recalls the best of cheesy 80s action movie one-liners. And that, ultimately, is The Expendables 3 in a nutshell: an over-the-top tribute to the action movies of a bygone but not forgotten era. All the remains is to wait for the superior uncut version to be released on home release!