When heading in to watch an “Expendables” movie, you know what you are getting. There is a huge influx of beloved classic action stars returning to the genre that they helped make iconic. However, with “The Expendables 3,” there is something added to the franchise, something that actually raises it up a level and makes it better than the previous two installments.
The movie starts out in familiar territory with Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) leading what is left of his Expendables team on a daring rescue mission. The rescue is for one of the original Expandables members, Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes). It is here where director Patrick Hughes sets the pace that the rest of the movie easily matches in a non-stop onslaught of action.
And, for that action, those who feared that the PG-13 rating would neuter the movie have nothing to worry about. Sure, there aren’t bodies exploding gratuitously, and some of the language is calmed down, but there are hundreds (maybe thousands) of deaths in this movie so the slaughter is exactly what action fans are looking for.
However, what makes this movie special is that this is not just another outing for the legendary action stars. Sure, we still get Terry Crews, Jason Statham, Randy Couture and Dolph Lundgren as the core of the Expendables team, plus new additions like Wesley Snipes and Harrison Ford, and the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jet Li. But, what makes this movie special, is at the end of the day it is a passing of the torch movie.
After the rescue mission, the old team immediately heads out on a new mission for Church, only to learn the arms dealer they are hunting is none other than Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), a man who helped form the Expandables team with Barney, and a man that Barney believed he killed many years before. The mission goes to hell and not all the members make it back in good health.
With this close call, Barney Ross chooses to retire his team, much to their anger and resistance, and sets out to form a newer, younger Expendables team. He locates a key associate who knows how to find willing soldiers (a fantastic Kelsey Grammer) and enlists a new team to go in and capture Stonebanks, because the government wants him alive to stand trial as a war criminal.
This team includes tech whiz and extreme sports enthusiast Thorn (Glen Powell), a real-life badass in Luna (UFC star Ronda Rousey), weapons specialist Mars (professional boxer Victor Ortiz) and a hothead with authority problems named Smilee (Kellan Lutz). This is where things get fun. While Barney wants to burst in with guns blazing to capture Stonebanks, his team mentions that would be a great plan “if it was 1985” and then they show him a better way to do things using technology and stealth.
It is the old guard meeting the new guard and is perfectly executed. As a matter of fact, their plan is an immediate success except that Stonebanks is not that easy to keep in their grasps and soon Barney finds his new team captured and only 48 hours to find them before Stonebanks kills all four. His old team returns and a new member named Galgo (Antonio Banderas) finally convinces Barney to let him come along and the rescue mission takes up the rest of the movie.
The best part about the movie is the new team teaching Barney a thing or two about this new generation of action and then learning to fight alongside the old guys when their backs are to the wall. Kellan Lutz is becoming a major Hollywood player, and while his last big effort (“Hercules”) was a huge disappointment, he impressed in it and continues to develop here as well. He has a huge future in front of him. Glen Powell was also spectacular in his role and his chemistry with Lutz was fantastic. He is another one to watch. Ortiz was fine in his role, but Rousey has a long way to go when it comes to actually acting. Her fighting was fine, but she was a torture to listen to when delivering lines.
You know what you get from the old guys. Harrison Ford replaces Bruce Willis as the liaison (“Church is out of the picture”). At one point, Ford says this was the most fun he has had in years, and it looks like that might be the truth. As mentioned earlier, Grammer was great in his role and Snipes was fantastic to see on the big screen again. Some of his lines were horribly eye rolling, but it is nice to see him back. And Antonio Banderas is one of the highlights of the movie as the motormouthed soldier who is having the time of his life.
Now, for the MVP of “The Expendables 3” – Mel Gibson.
Yeah, the popular thing to do these days is hate Mel Gibson for his mistakes, but I am not that kind of person. I prefer to let people try to redeem themselves rather than damn them for life. For Mel Gibson, this movie was a huge return to form. Honestly, his performance as Stonebanks was the best thing I have seen from him in many years. Gibson could have a huge career resurgence playing bad guys like this in movies, as he was just fantastic throughout the entire film. This is the Mel Gibson that I grew up enjoying to watch and I want to see more of him.
At the end of the day, “The Expendables 3” contains three giant action pieces with very little exposition in between. This is what action fans live to see and the film does not disappoint. The passing of the torch was perfect, but the fun still comes in seeing the old guys as well. If this is the final installment of the franchise, it was a nice farewell, but if there are to be more, this movie proves there is a lot of life left in these Expendables.