I wanted to like EXPENDABLES 3 better than I did.
Which, I guess, is another way of saying I wanted EXPENDABLES 3 to be better than it was.
I've long admired Sylvester Stallone, mainly for the way he stuck to his guns after writing ROCKY and then refusing many lucrative offers for the screenplay until he got one that included him in the starring role. It was a gutsy, believe-in-yourself gamble that rightfully paid off big.
I even forgave him his next phase where too much success too fast (not to mention the apparent brain-numbing effect that the mile-long legs and threaten-to-stab-your-eyes-out plastic boobs of Brigitte Nielson also played) turned him all Hollywoody and cocky and spun him off course for a number of years.
He fixed most of that with the wrap-up chapters (RAMBO and ROCKY BALBOA) to the sagas of his two most iconic characters.
And then he came up with THE EXPENDIBLES (based on an original concept by writer David Callahan). A bunch of nearly-over-the-hill action stars playing a crew of gritty, wild-ass mercenaries taking on the kind of dirty jobs no one else wants to touch … a throwback to those over-the-top action movies from the 80s and 90s that we never took too seriously but flocked to in droves and remembered fondly. This time around with a healthy dose of wry humor to balance the grimness of the bloody action.
EXPENDABLES I was a huge hit and EXPENDABLES II was also well accepted, with more of the same ingredients including expanded roles for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, who had received big billing in the original but only very limited screen time. There was even a bit more humor this time around, along with a dose of "youth" injected in the form of team member Liam Hemsworth, and even a babe (Yu Yan) for Stallone's character to get almost romantic with.
But now EXPENDABLES 3 needed something more. The novelty of the aging action stars (even with new players rotated in and out), the witty banter, and the kick-ass testosterone rush had been done … and re-done. Remember, even though Stallone and company does this kind of thing full tilt and does it very well, the whole phase had already played out once before about three decades ago.
What they tried for as a "new twist" this time around is where they almost lost me.
When one of the veteran members of the team (Terry Crews as Hale Caesar) is badly wounded in the film's opening sequence, team leader Barney Ross (Stallone) is deeply affected by the near loss of yet another man (there have been many others, we learn, and their dog tags are hung as reminders in their transport plane). Further upsetting Ross is the fact that during the attempted mission that went awry, the leader of the bad guys turned out to be one Conrad Stonebanks (played by Mel Gibson) who had been a co-founder of the Expendables years earlier, before he turned corrupt and Ross thought he killed him.
From there, Ross knows he has to go after Stonebanks --- to avenge Caesar and also to finish the job he thought he'd taken care of years ago. And here's the really weak, stupid part: Because he can't bear to risk any more of his veteran guys, the men he has bonded with and gone through hell with many times over, he rejects them in favor of going after Stonebanks, possibly his most dangerous foe, with a new, fresh, green team of mercs.
I won't go into any additional details so as not to spoil any more than I already have.
Suffice to say that the new team shows some mighty impressive moves and there's a whole flurry of exciting action. But, ultimately, they get their asses in a sling and --- excuse me, but if you didn't see this coming so it serves as a spoiler, I can't help it --- the old veterans have to re-form to help save the day.
I gotta admit that by the time the vets came back into the picture and joined up with the newbies, I had managed to choke down my frustration and I started to get into it again.
Remember, I said I wanted to like this movie more than I did – I didn't say I didn't like it all. The addition of Harrison Ford and even Kelsey Grammer were fun, as was female MMA champ Ronda Rousey playing (in a real stretch) an ass-kicking female member of the team. And Mel Gibson --- as wild-eyed, menacing, maniacal Stonebanks --- stole every scene he was in (along, presumably, with all the scenery he voraciously chewed up in the process).
All in all, I came away from the viewing … satisfied, I guess. Not really stoked – but satisfied. I laughed, I cringed a little, I was in awe at some of the action stunts.
Lot worse ways I could have spent two hours and six minutes. Plus I saw it at a bargain matinee, so I got no bitch.
It's mostly played on the big theater circuit now, so if you haven't seen it yet you'll probably have to catch it on cable or rental or whatever.
Whether or not there will be an EXPENDABLES 4 remains to be seen. This one didn't do so hot at the box office, partly due to a couple million pirated copies hitting the market before its release, partly because it got its ass kicked by those stupid mutant turtles … a fate nothing or nobody deserves, in my book.
I kinda hope there's another. I'll be ready again in a couple years. After all, by the time it was done, there was quite a bit more that I enjoyed about this than I didn't.