Old, dumb, but still pretty fun, the crazy gun show that is The Expendables 3 gets an infusion of new blood (but don’t worry, most of it has been edited out).

The Expendables 3

Release date: August 15, 2014 (USA)
Director: Patrick Hughes
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Kellan Lutz, Kelsey Grammer
Running time: 126 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13

Mel Gibson is wasted in The Expendables 3. If there’s one glaring issue with this collection of explosions and muscles which calls itself a movie, it’s that the third act sidelines the greatest action movie mullet of the 80’s in a control room, berating a collection of vaguely Eastern European goons behind a bank of computer monitors. Which is a complete waste of the guy, because when he’s on, Gibson is legitimately terrific as a bloodthirsty arms dealer and one-time Expendable out for revenge.

Besides that, whaddya want? The Expendables 3 drags its collection of aging action heroes out for a third round of mayhem, stuff blows up, and everyone (or their stuntmen) look good doing it. The story – Stallone’s merc Barney seeks revenge against Gibson’s character’s earlier act of revenge – barely registers, but provides just enough of a backdrop to justify getting Harrison Ford to show up and look like he’s having more fun than he’s had in years.

There is a plot, people: after an operation in Somalia goes bad, Barney realizes that his one-time nemesis Stonebanks (what a name) is still alive despite taking a bullet to the chest. He returns the favor to Terry Crews’ Cesar, and Barney, fearing for the lives of his team, disbands the current crop of Expendables and decides to round up a new, young, and reckless team for a likely suicide mission to capture Stonebanks.

Why does Barney think that it’s better to sacrifice the lives of four young mercs rather than the oldsters he’s collected over the past two movies? Why does the U.S. government (represented here by Harrison Ford’s character Drummer) want to take Stonebanks before the Hague for war crimes? If there’s any government that has a DGAF stance on the Hague, it’s ours. Seriously, why didn’t anyone frisk Stonebanks?

If you’re wondering how all this dumb is going to warrant what’s largely a positive review, I won’t lie: I had a little soft spot for the movie from its fairly ridiculous opening: Barney, Christmas, and the surviving gang attack an Eastern European train carrying a high-security prisoner, Wesley Snipes’ character “Doc.” Everything around this sequence is kind of dumb: why does the strongman/general or whatever have portraits of himself everywhere? What kind of weird war crime did Doc commit to end up not only behind bars, but being escorted on a train outfitted with anti-aircraft guns?

And yet, and yet, action movie fans, it’s hard not to get a little stirred up by the meta moment where Christmas cuts Doc loose, and the latter realizes he’s free (and able unleash elbow strikes upon some evil soldiers). Snipes did his bit in jail for tax evasion, but even before that, his action career was on the decline, with a series of direct-to-video misses, presumably as the actor tried to pay off his mounting legal bills. And here he is – back and a little crazy for the first time in what feels like forever. It’s a genuinely affecting moment in a movie that strains a lot at sincerity about what it means to be one of these tough, old guys (and good on Snipes for playing the role as Simon Phoenix minus the mohawk).

Oh, I haven’t even mentioned the new crop of Expendables because they’re mostly kind of there to provide some new special moves in the big finale. While they look great snapping necks and holding guns, series newcomers Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell, Ronda Rousey, and Victor Ortiz barely register as people in the film, mostly ending up as bait to lure Barney out of hiding and into the final confrontation with Stonebanks.

As actors, Ortiz and Rousey fare the worst, but let’s not pretend that 1984-1989 was filled with a bunch of great Schwarzenegger performances. The duo bring some interesting new physicality to the film, Rousey mixing some MMA prowess into the gunplay while boxer Ortiz wrecks a bunch of nameless soldiers while fleeing explosions. Give them both some time and better material and a pair of action stars might just emerge.

Let this be the barometer for whether or not you should see The Expendables 3: does the idea of Harrison Ford doing a serviceable Han Solo impression about a military chopper make you smile? How about the prospect of a mano-a-mano brawl between a swollen Stallone and a not-quite-as swollen Gibson? Even if it sidelines the established characters for a quartet of poorly-fleshed out newcomers, there’s enough action to paper over the flaws so that they’re not problems for The Expendables 3.

7Overall Score
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