If the trailers are any indication, "The Expendables 3" is the last film in the franchise (the words "One Last Ride" keep being thrown around). So they've rounded up all the old folks (among them: Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Robert Davi, Wesley Snipes and Kelsey Grammer) and placed all kinds of guns in their hands and sent them about their business.
Is this one any more or less entertaining than the other two installments? And should there be an "Expendables 4"" Read on to find out. Ovaltine not required but certainly recommended.
1. The Opening Sequence Involves Breaking Wesley Snipes Out of Prison
This is important and amazing because a.) the sequence is pretty cool and b.) the fact that the people behind this new "Expendables" (primarily Stallone, who shares a screenwriting credit and has largely overseen the franchise) have a huge sense of humor. A few minutes after they bust Snipes out of this armored prison train, someone asks Snipes what he did to get locked up in an off-the-grid penitentiary. "Tax evasion," Snipes snarls, you know, because he was actually locked up for tax evasion. (I wonder if he got the "Blade 4" screenplay I sent him.) This new "Expendables" outing has a much better sense of humor than the previous two, which were movies that were never quite as cool as they should have been.
2. Wesley Snipes Is Really Great...
Once Snipes gets out of prison, he's really funny and weird. It's a nice reminder how he rose to a certain degree of international superstardom back in the day. And it's just a joy to see him back, having so much fun. He's a great addition to the "Expendables" team.
3. ... But They Forget About Him Pretty Quickly
But they kind of forget he's even around after about 20 minutes. That's because there are all sorts of unnecessary plot elements that need to be introduced, although Snipes does stick around at least long enough to engage with an ongoing, totally phallic gag involving the size of his knives (compared to the knives of Jason Statham). Ah, metaphoric dick-measuring. Does it get any better?
4. Antonio Banderas Steals the Show
Hands down, without a doubt, Banderas, as a would-be Expendable who lost his old crew, absolutely steals the show. He may as well have been wearing a bandit mask and a shirt with horizontal stripes. He's such a wonderful, live-wire performer and fits in with the milieu of this movie so well. How it took them this long to add him to the line-up is actually the most baffling aspect of his involvement. He's great.
5. This Is Easily the Best 'Expendables' Adventure Yet
If it hasn't been made abundantly clear, this is quite handily the very best "Expendables" outing yet. Everything about it is just better -- it's quicker, it's funnier, it's easier to follow. And the performers, across the board, seem more engaged and comfortable with the material. There seems to have been a collective decision made that this one was going to be way more fun. And it is. It totally is. Harrison Ford, for one, seems to be having the time of his life, in a fairly limited role (he takes over the role of a shadowy government agent from Bruce Willis -- upgrade!) This is the "Expendables" we've been waiting two movies for.
6. Even With A PG-13 Rating, It's Horrifically Violent
One of the more savvy decisions, at least from a financial standpoint, was to have the movie be rated PG-13. Not only would it take a bite out of the "Guardians of the Galaxy"/"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" audience, but it would soften things up considerably, especially after the CGI blood pack fantasia that was "Expendables 2." But that's not to say that "Expendables 3" is tame. There are literally thousands of unnamed goons that are ruthlessly gunned down. It's kind of shocking. It's like Stallone's "Rambo," except that these guys aren't being turned into flying packets of goo. Maybe that'll surface in the unrated Blu-ray. But it's not here. So if you're a parent and you're taking a kid to see "Expendables 3," mollified, somewhat, by the more inviting rating, just know that things are still pretty harsh in Expendablesland.
7. Mel Gibson Makes For a Good Baddie
It's not such a stretch to see Mel Gibson as an evil arms dealer with dreams of world domination, and not just because he played a slightly more cartoony version of this character in last year's regrettable "Machete Kills." But Gibson is actually quite good in the role, synthesizing the manic energy of some of his best performances and his real-life battiness, into a compellingly watchable character. Good job Mel!
8. Director Patrick Hughes Adds Some Style
Young director Patrick Hughes only had one feature under his belt before this: the tiny Australian thriller "Red Hill" (which is, in case anyone was wondering, highly underrated and totally rules). He brings a nice, fresh energy to "Expendables 3" and actually attempts some stylistic flourishes -- some longer shots, some slow motion, and a general effort to tell the story through the visuals. (Relying on this script is always a bad idea.) His attempts are admirable and appreciated.
9. The New Kids Are the Worst
One of the biggest bummers of "Expendables 3" is that the midsection of the movie involves Stallone firing his old cronies and going for a bunch of new recruits. This section is terrible. And the new kids are the worst. It takes all the momentum out of the movie. The silver lining, as much as there is one, is that they introduce a female Expendable in the form of UFC fighter Ronda Rousey (clearly the part was written for Gina Carano, but that's neither here nor there). It was nice to see some gender diversification in the Expendables universe but otherwise this whole second act was B-O-R-I-N-G.
10. The Possibility of a Fourth Film Isn't the Worst Idea
By the end of "The Expendables 3," you'll probably be so caught up with all of the old men posturing and one-liners (yes, Arnold says "Get to the choppah!") and endless explosions that, if they announced that there would be a fourth movie for sometime in 2016, you'd probably be more than okay with it. And that's really saying something.
"Expendables 3" is in theaters now.
Photo courtesy Lionsgate