Steve James replaced the brief shot of topless women with hundreds of men being
machine-gunned to death, “Life Itself” might have gotten the PG-13 rating “The
Expendables III” hilariously brandishes. To quote The Waco Kid, Sly Stallone
and his band of merry old action stars “kill more men than Cecil B. DeMille,”
yet somehow this is more kid-friendly than bare breasts. In fact, no one in “The
Expendables III” takes his shirt off, presumably because Terry Crews’ obscenely
massive pecs alone would almost guarantee an R.
It is genuine
farce to follow the gore-soaked prior installments of this franchise with one
where people manage to get shot 72 million times yet never lose an ounce of
blood. Throats are slit and villains are impaled on impressive-looking cutlery
with suitably gruesome-sounding effects, yet the bodies may as well be filled
with air or Lucky Charms marshmallows. When one considers that “The Expendables
III” plays as a torch-passing from my generation of action fans to the current
generation, that PG-13 is an old man’s sly jab at the toughness of young
whippersnappers. The audience for the first "Expendables" grew up on the hard-R
brutality its stars dished out in the '80s and early '90s. Once the younger actors
of today get tossed in the mix, the series suddenly takes a kinder, gentler
approach to its extreme violence.
This has to
be an intentional wink from Stallone and his contemporaries. They know their
days are not only numbered as action stars, but probably should have ended long
ago. It’s no longer just about old-school smashmouth displays of force in today’s
actioners. Tech-savviness is the new black. As crazy as this sounds, this isn’t
a hypothesis crafted from thin air; it’s actually the plot of “The Expendables
(Stallone) hires a new, younger crew after his usual cronies botch a mission.
Barney feels his old band of brothers have given enough to the Expendables, so
he retires them. Part of the change of heart stems from Barney’s realization
that Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), a man he once thought he killed, is the target of
the botched mission. Stonebanks shoots Caesar (Crews), sending Barney on the
guilt trip that leads to his disbanding of the team.
demanding that his crew enjoy the rest of their lives, Barney embarks on a
suicide mission with his younger charges, all of whom are skilled not only in
combat but also in those computer thingees Barney just doesn’t understand. Of
course, the new kids on the block manage to get kidnapped by Stonebanks,
forcing Barney to call his old team back into action. This is a glorious pander
to my middle-aged brethren.
to the part of the review where I’m supposed to justify my favorable rating by
telling you to “turn your brain off” in order to enjoy “The Expendables III.” I’m
not going to do that, because that’s an insult to you, me and the movie.
Instead, I want you to pay close attention to “The Expendables III“, because if
you’re on its wavelength, you’ll discover an incredibly self-aware streak of obsessive
compulsion running through it. When it comes to nostalgic detail, this is a
Russian nesting doll of a movie. Allusions beget deeper allusions, tying the
levels together in an almost endless game of “Six Degrees of Action Movie Separation.”
There’s a Marvel Universe-sized dollop of slavish devotion for fans of
Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Statham and Gibson.
Antonio Banderas co-stars as Galgo, a candidate for Barney’s new crew. Banderas
and Stallone last appeared as antagonists in the Wachowskis’ “Assassins”.
Rather than recreate that character, Banderas instead plays a cross between
Puss ‘n Boots and Joe Pesci’s Leo Getz character from the “Lethal Weapon”
series. Gibson repays the favor by repeating a line from Banderas’ “Desperado.”
In the climactic action sequence, Gibson also gives viewers the chance to see Riggs
from “Lethal Weapon” battle Rambo for the belated title of “Craziest Tough Guy:
repeats catchphrases from “Commando” (“I lied”) and other movies, while Wesley
Snipes makes his entrance on a literal money train (minus Woody Harrelson)
before reuniting with his nemesis from “Demolition Man.” Even that PG-13 evokes
memories of the rating on the third installment of the R-rated Mad Max series
(starring Stonebanks himself). Practically every line and every combination of
the older Expendables characters evokes this type of connection, and the movie
knows it’s doing so. That contributed greatly to my good time.
If you choose
not to get trapped in the movie’s spider web of nostalgia, there are still
pleasures to be had. Gibson sinks his teeth into his big villainous monologue,
and seeing him with his mouth taped is sure to inspire applause. Snipes gets a
good joke about tax evasion and several action scenes to remind us that we
should “always bet on black.” There’s charming chemistry between Statham and
Stallone, and a helicopter-flying Harrison Ford shows up to use the type of
language Spielberg and Lucas wouldn’t let him use as Han Solo nor Indiana Jones.
Expendables are given the Muppet Babies treatment; they’re portrayed as
mini-versions of their original counterparts. Standing out from this bunch is
MMA fighter Ronda Rousey who displays a leadership quality that aligns her with
Barney despite her stereotypical entrance fighting several men while dressed
for maximum hotness. I hope I live to see the day when a woman open a six-pack
of Whup-Ass while decked out in curlers and furry Mommy slippers rather than a
miniskirt and heels.
As dopey and
bloodless as the action sequences are, they keep the film moving at a brisker
pace than its 2-hour-plus running time indicates. The film culminates with a
scene so preposterous that, if it is indeed Stallone’s swan-song in the action movie
genre, it’s a worthy exit. We’ve seen hundreds of instances of heroes
outrunning Joel Silveresque fireballs. Stallone outruns an entire building as
it collapses from strategically placed bombs. It’s no spoiler that he survives,
but after this, there’s nothing left to prove and no place to go but down.
film series, “The Expendables III” sows the seeds for its own youthful reboot.
Let’s hope “The Expendables 4” is filled with “Rocky III”-style montages of
Stallone and company imparting expertise before riding off into a calm,
explosion-free sunset. This series has run out of nostalgia to coast on, but
what a final burnout it had.