Well, it took them three tries, but Sylvester Stallone and his grizzled gang of tough guys and renegades known as The Expendables finally made a film that I can whole-heartedly recommend. I was not an admirer of the first two films; I saw the appeal, and I may have even laughed a couple of times as the countless dumb jokes about age and virility. But there's something a bit more lived in and knowing (bordering on sensible) about THE EXPENDABLES 3. And I give a great deal of the credit to two people: new director Patrick Hughes, who made a terrific little Australian movie a few years back called RED HILL (he's also slated to do an English-language remake of the THE RAID, but we won't hold that against him...yet); and Mel Gibson, who embraces his villainous personal image to play a bad guy who's actually formidable and worthy of taking on this team.
Honorable mention should go to the great Wesley Snipes as Doc (short for Dr. Death), whose opening-sequence rescue from a high-security prison (he's in for tax evasion, he says; where do they get this stuff?) is one of the best openings of any movie this summer. There's a lot of talk about how "crazy" these old guys are, but Snipes sells it better than anyone in this franchise to date. I also give credit to Harrison Ford as CIA operative Drummer; for the first time in ages, Ford actually looks like he's enjoying himself and fully embracing the idea of being an elderly badass.
Story? What story? Gibson plays Conrad Stonebanks, who is a former OG Expendable who went rogue, was believed long dead, and now is an arms dealer. And all he wants is the Expendables extinct—simple as that. After almost getting the whole team slaughtered early in the film (and near fatally wounding Terry Crews' Caesar), Stallone's Barney Ross decided that to get to Stonebanks, he must disband the old crew (Jason Statham's Christmas, Dolph Lundgren's Gunner, Randy Couture's Toll Road) and bring together a younger team, with the help of a recruiter played by Kelsey Grammer.
With significantly less personality but a whole lot of new tricks, the new team (Kellan Lutz, Victor Ortiz, Ronda Rousey, and Glen Powell) gets ready to move in and take Stonebanks. And naturally, this is exactly what Stonebanks wants, quickly turning the tables and taking the youngsters, forcing Ross to come to him and toward certain death. Needless to say, it's age before beauty, and Ross finds himself relying on his old friends to save the day, with some additional help from Arnold Schwarzenegger's Trench and Jet Li's Yin Yang.
I talked earlier about some standout performances from the new faces in THE EXPENDABLES 3, but the film's true saving grace is, believe it or not, Antonio Banderas as the chatterbox Galgo, who is absolutely the funniest thing any Expendables movie has ever had. Let's face it, the level of humor these films have had in the past is someone referring to the team as "ladies." But Banderas is like a squirrel on meth, talking about anything and everything at a mile a minute, completely unaware that no one is listening. Galgo also happens to be an incredible athlete and all-around weapons master. But his greatest arsenal are his words, and he's got a million of them, and nearly all of them are quite amusing.
So what about this PG-13 nonsense? I'm guessing the only thing that would have been truly different between the released version and the eventual R-rated cut sure to be released on home video is the digital blood splatter after every knife slash. THE EXPENDABLES 3 is hardly a bloodless affair and the body count is astronomical, but honestly, I didn't miss the blood and whatever gore might have been added. And honestly, I love the idea of younger kids getting to see this installment. They probably won't know who 95 percent of these actors are, but they'll still have a helluva time watching them do impossible stunts and wield the largest guns in existence.
The pure entertainment value of this series has come about as close as it's likely to get to realizing its full potential this time around, and I was genuinely excited to see the sheer volume of impossible stunts, gunfire, explosions and hand-to-hand fighting offered up here. I don't know if another installment is in the works or not. A part of me hopes they quit while they're ahead, but when does that ever happen? Still, part three is so ridiculously fun that I could almost get excited if they keep them up—dropping some characters (Bruce Willis is M.I.A. this go-round), adding new ones, and actually seeing how new and old work together, hopefully as well as they do this time around.