I can’t help but feel that The Expendables 3 is a sly warning from series mastermind Sylvester Stallone that the next generation of action star isn’t up to snuff. Kellan Lutz? Glen Powell? Victor Ortiz? Ronda Rousey? No thanks. I’ll take Sly and Arnie and Mel and Snipes and Dolph and Ford every day of the week.
The fresh faces are introduced after an operation to capture a weapons dealer by the name of Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) goes sideways. Stonebanks takes out beloved series regular Caesar (Terry Crews), causing a crisis of conscience in Barney Ross (Stallone). He has a history with Stonebanks and needs to take him out, but fears the mission is a one-way trip. As such, he doesn’t want to risk the lives of his aged friends (Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, and series newcomer Wesley Snipes). Instead, he’ll risk the lives of a bunch of 20-somethings who have yet to truly taste life.
I think we can all agree that the moral calculus here is a bit questionable.
The plot hardly matters, of course. We’re here to hang out with old friends, experience extended action sequences, and watch some stuff blow up. The Expendables series is like a class reunion, if your class consisted of demolition experts who can hit a moving target at 100 yards with a revolver.
And it’s in the hanging out that we are forced to confront the fact that this new generation of action stars can’t hold a candle to its predecessors. The performances by Lutz and company are wooden at best: They struggle with line readings and possess none of the charm and charisma of their elderly counterparts. Think about that: When Dolph Lundgren is outshining you in the charisma department, you have a serious problem. The Expendables isn’t so much a generic action film as a warning that the death of the generic action film is upon us.
It’s nice to see Mel Gibson back on the big screen. He runs circles around everyone else, young and old. He’s clearly having a lot of fun, using that deep-seated bedrock of crazy that has gotten him into so much trouble as a force for good instead of evil.
The Expendables is a bit of a who’s who of quietly conservative stars: Schwarzenegger, of course, but also Stallone and Mel and Kelsey Grammer, who has a bit part as an operator helping Arnold put his new team together. And there are more than a few dog whistles for right-leaning viewers: Benghazi gets namedropped when one of the newbies explains his backstory to Stallone, while The Hague is treated as a running joke by our muscle-bound do-gooders intent on stopping a war criminal.
Is The Expendables 3 any good? In its own way, I suppose. It’s occasionally quite fun, though the final action sequence is oppressively long and a bit monotonous. It doesn’t really make very much sense, but these things never really do. Maybe the series has run its course. It was kind of neat to see all these big names come together for a wacky adventure, but that trick only works a couple of times before people get tired of it.