To say that THE EXPENDABLES 3 is the best installment of the franchise is sort of like saying that having hayfever is better than contracting bubonic plague. Theyre both unpleasant, but one is infinitely preferable, not to mention survivable, than the other. Theres also the fact that the former is caused by posies (as well as ragweed), and the latter is borne by flea-ridden rats, which is another way of saying that there are one or two actual bright spots in this outing that pits posturing machismo against common sense.
Sylvester Stallone, who came up with the story for this episode, as he did for the first two, has had a few epiphanies. One, that this over-the-top festival of testosterone works better when it is making fun of itself. Hence when new addition Wesley Snipes is asked why his character was consigned to a black ops facility for eight years, he says that is crime was tax evasion. And, further hence, such quips take precedence over the truly awful excuse for a plot, and almost win out over the truly awful excuse for melodrama. Sly has not quite gotten to the point where he can laugh at himself without having to also prove that one old guy (he has, gasp, let his hair go grey-ish) can take out an armed squad of younger amoral thugs. Two, that its a good idea to add a woman (Ronda Rousey) to that ragtag team of good guys for hire for impossible missions, aka The Expendables. That she proves her mettle by taking out a couple of drunks in an upscale club using only her determination and bare hands while balancing on high-heeled sandals, well, were not really supposed to be taking any of this seriously.
Which brings me to the brightest light in this flick. That would be Antonio Bandaras as an ebulliently delighted mercenary doggedly pursuing Sly for a place on his team. He chitters away with a joie de vivre about killing that is oddly infectious. For all the heroic posturing done by Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Snipes, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, and Jet Li, Bandaras is the one who comes off as truly larger than life.
As for why there is a place on the Expendables team, its finally occurred to The Expendables boss, Barney (Stallone), that his team may just be getting too old for this sort of thing. And while that might make sense for Lundgren, why he would think that of Statham, the star of his own series of action franchises, is one of the many silly elements in this film. It is, however, the excuse for Sly to criss-cross the continent in a variety of snazzy outfits looking for new talent with the help of Bonaparte, played by Kelsey Grammar. Its a buddy element, and not entirely awful, if only it gives us our first look at Bandaras character as he rages against being considered too old to play soldier anymore. And Stallone sports a pork-pie that exudes a certain insouciant panache.
Which brings us to Mel Gibson as the villain of the piece. He is smugly psychotic, glaring intensely into the camera or into Slys eyes as he mouths threats and summons armies to do his bidding. In short, one-dimensional stunt casting that is neither execrable nor particularly notable. The action, however, is, beginning with a train running into prison and building to that army storming a bombed-out casino in a fruitless attempt to kill 10 people. Again, were not supposed to be taking any of this seriously. Certainly Harrison Ford as the government guy in charge of the mission isnt, and thats to his credit. He plays it just a hair short of full-blown irony and walks away smelling like a rose. Jet Li, on the other hand, fares less well if only because he fails to look comfortable wielding a machine gun. And perhaps thats as it should be for a world-class martial arts artist. As for Arnold Scharzenegger, he glares, he smokes his cigar, and he looks unaccountably pleased with himself.
If Stallone could let go of that last bit of ego and embrace not just his aging, but also the potentially rich fodder for satire with which this franchise might gift us, we may have a guilty pleasure that is less about guilt and more about fun. Until then, theres Bandaras, and maybe one day, a spin-off of just his character. Its happened before. Three words. PUSS IN BOOTS.