They’re the old guard. They’re almost out of the game. But they’re the best mercenaries the world has ever seen. Played by the greatest action stars of recent decades, they’re The Expendables and they’re back to level yet another country in Expendables 3.
A lot of people do not get the appeal of The Expendables. That’s because you need to have grown up in a specific time in order to properly understand just how much of a celebration of the action genre the movies are. First, let’s look at the cast over the course of the past two movies and the upcoming one. Mind you, this isn’t a complete list, but let’s just say that the names that follow are a best-of list of action stars of the 1980s and 1990s.
- Sylvester Stallone
- Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Jason Statham
- Jet Li
- Dolph Lundgren
- Wesley Snipes
- Jean-Claude Van Damme
- Chuck Norris
- Bruce Willis
- Mel Gibson
- Antonio Banderas
- Mickey Rourke
- Terry Crews
- Harrison Ford
Anyone growing up in the last two decades of the 20th century at least knows who these people are. Basically: If you’ve ever liked an action movie from those decades, chances are very, very high that it starred one or more of these people.
Watching the movie is not just nostalgia. The Expendables are more than just a couple of old guys sitting around reminiscing about the old times. Sylvester Stallone and his crew of mercenaries are not only aware of their roots and the inherent silliness that comes with the genre as well as their being old and still doing physically impossible stunts but they also have fun doing it. The Expendables are a fun romp for fans of action movies as well as people who just enjoy big explosions on the big screen.
With that premise and that star-studded cast, it was obvious that the first movie that came out in 2010 was going to be a huge success. In The Expenables mercenary leader Barney Ross and his team of elite warfighters take out the terror regime of the small island of Vilena. Ultimately, the entire island’s army is defeated by six mercenaries who then ride off into the sunset. After 103 minutes of explosions, one-liners and fun on screen, The Expendables had gunned themselves into the hearts of audiences. And Jet Li fought Dolph Lundgren.
In the sequel that came out in 2012, The Expendables had to defeat Vilain – you see where the cheesiness lies in this, yes? Vilena, vilain and so on? – played by Jean-Claude van Damme who gave a wonderfully deranged villain in probably his best performance since JCVD, during which he showed that he can do a serious part as well.
Next week, the third part opens in Swiss cinemas. While it’s still the same romp that viewers are used to, it’s the weakest of the three. The question that raises its ugly head is this: Have The Expendables run out of steam? Have they become too old?
Blast from the Past
After having fought what looks like the entire world and freeing the man known only as Doc, played by Wesley Snipes, The Expenables have levelled an entire garrison complete with a village using nothing but a train. But they don’t get much time to rest: The Expendables soon find themselves on a routine mission fighting what looks like the entire world in a harbour. Suddenly, Barney Ross sees a familiar face: Conrad Stonebanks, played by Mel Gibson. Stonebanks co-founded The Expendables back in the day but betrayed the team and committed horrible murders on innocents. This made him a persona non grata in mercenary circles, because the mercenaries are men of honour and friendship. Thus, there’s no killing innocents ever. Even if a team of mercs ends up levelling a country here and there, the innocents must live.
At this point, it’s worth pointing out that The Expendables appear to have magic bullets. Not only is reloading something that only needs to happen whenever it’s dramatically convenient and adds to the tension of the film, but they never hit innocents. In part 2 The Expendables fire what looks to be about a million shots at a couple of enemy combatants who had innocent hostages. Everything blows up, but nobody innocent dies while all the bad guys drop dead.
Stonebanks, however, does not have honour or loyalty. He is disrespectful towards everyone and commands a small army. Now, it’s up to Barney Ross to stop him. But the leader of The Expendables thinks that he can’t endanger his aging allies. So he fires them and hires a bunch of new people. They’re played by:
- Kellan Lutz
- Ronda Rousey
- Glen Powell
- Victor Ortiz
This is where the movie’s weakest part starts.
It’s the Combination, Not the Explosions
The Expendables relies on a rather specific recipe: Old action stars of years gone by do the most outrageous stuff. Thus, introducing new action stars or people who want to get into acting just doesn’t work. Because that’s not what viewers came to see. It’s not bad as the young team performs a rather successful surgical strike against enemy headquarters. They expertly combine daring gunplay with hacking and observation whereas the old team would just have walked into the evil overlord’s fortress and just shot everything up.
So the second act of the movie pretty much removes all that what makes The Expendables who they are.
Until Barney Ross goes to save the young team on his own and the old guard demonstratively stands in front of Barney’s plane and Jason Statham’s Lee Christmas informs Barney of the following:
You were stupid enough to get yourself into this mess! And we’re the only ones crazy enough to get you out of it!
What follows is the usual stuff that is incredibly glorious. Once more, an entire country is being levelled and during these scenes, even the new guys get to shine. Daring motorcycle stunts, excellent fight choreography and explosions everywhere.
A Little Bit More than Just Explosions
But big, exaggerated action scenes are not the only thing that The Expendables 3 has to offer. Apart from the main plot that serves to lead the team from one soon-to-be-levelled town to another, the Expendables are dealing with loss. Because every now and then, some of the old mercenaries die in the line of duty. Antonio Banderas’ character sticks out that way. Seemingly an obnoxious and very annoying character, he deals with the loss of his entire former crew and he’s the only one left standing. While this is dealt with in a sentence, it elevates Banderas’ performance above that of comic relief.
What persists to be the greatest strength of this film is that the actors are very obviously having a lot of fun. They frequently overplay their characters and bounce off of each other really well. This is especially obvious when looking at all the scenes when Jason Statham and Sylvester Stallone are in the same scene. Those two just get along great. Some characters are getting thrown under the bus a bit, because it’s clear that Sylvester Stallone is obviously the star of the show – most notably, this happens to Wesley Snipes – but there’s plenty enough for fans of all the actors.
In other news, it’s amazing how charming Harrison Ford is.
This movie also marks the first time one of the Expendables gets seriously injured. When Stonebanks first enters the stage, he shoots Terry Crews’ character in the chest. This shows Sylvester Stallone’s Barney Ross that they’re not playing and that epic gunplay with one-liners isn’t all they do, that there’s actual danger.
Of course, when it comes to the actual danger, all the worries and all the character backstory are forgotten as windows shatter, grenades are launched, people die and buildings collapse after firefighting inside.
Here’s to Many More
All in all The Expendables 3 is a decent action flick. Fans of the old guard get what they hoped for with an interruption in the middle where the young team needs to do their thing. There’s a decent excuse for a story, amazing action that is so over the top that it never stops being funny and one-liners that reference all the glorious moments of the past.
Even better: There will be a fourth part. And even more better, if that phrasing makes grammatical sense, is that there’s talks of a movie titled The Expendabelles which is basically The Expendables starring an all-female group of mercenaries.
The Expenables are here to stay and that’s amazing. So here’s a trailer that shows you some of what you’re in for. The movie opens in Swiss cinemas on Thursday, 21st of August 2014.