Back in 2012, while reviewing The Expendables 2, I wrote the following regarding the first Expendables film:
So you have this old friend who tells you a new story involving people from your youth. This story plays on nostalgia and features plenty of old faces in familiar situations. By the end of the story, you smile. You’ve enjoyed yourself perhaps a little more than you would have because of the nostalgia value. The story presented, after all, wasn’t all that earth-shattering or, to be blunt, particularly good.
I went on to state that while I enjoyed the first Expendables film and felt the second was an overall better work, the problem with The Expendables 2 was that it didn’t benefit from the lure of nostalgia as much as the first and therefore didn’t appeal as much as the first.
Fast forward to 2014 and the release of The Expendables 3. This time around, one big name (Bruce Willis) is gone, replaced by an arguably bigger name, Harrison Ford. The villain of this piece, played by Mel Gibson, is also a far better known and accomplished actor (if more controversial) than either Eric Roberts (E1) or Jean Claude Van Damme (E2).
So, is The Expendables 3 any good?
For my money, this is the best of the three Expendables films. Having said that, it still isn’t all that great a film.
The movie starts off quite horribly, with a very unimpressive (and filled with absolutely terrible CGI) action set piece involving an Expendables raid on a prison train carrying Doc (Wesley Snipes), one of their “lost” members. Thankfully, that terrible opening leads to a far better action sequence involving arms dealers in Somalia. It turns out the Expendables’ target, Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), was the co-founder of the group and one time best friend/partner of Stallone’s Barney Ross. He is a man Ross thought he killed years before and the hatred between the two is palpable. It is their hatred that raises this movie’s stakes higher and makes what follows more personal than what we had in the previous two films. Stallone and Gibson are given wonderful opportunities to play off each other, something the other Expendable films never had.
The hatred between Ross and Stonebanks leads to the Expendables leader dropping his co-horts and hiring a new crew because he’s more willing to risk their lives than his “family’s”. A cold blooded decision, certainly, but it is a cold blooded business.
But Ross grows to respect and, yes, love this new group just as much as the old and when they fall prey to Stonebanks he is forced to rescue them with the aid of his old team plus a new entry (Antonio Banderas, delightfully wacky). Much mayhem follows.
Strangely, I had a Wild Bunch feeling for the later half of the film and was hoping we were headed in that particular direction. Alas, the film goes too soft in the end and the triumph is never quite matched with sadness.
A further note: It was fun to see Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jet Li in their smallish roles in the film. I thought they were used just enough to amuse us but not too little (E1) or too much (E2).
In conclusion, if you enjoyed the first couple of Expendables films you should enjoy the third. The draw, once again, lies in the nostalgia factor and seeing several icons of yesteryear inhabit the same movie frame.
Too bad the film goes a little too soft in the end.