No film series in recent memory relies more on the sheer mass of its cast than the Expendables movies. I've seen the assembled talent referred to as the Traveling Wilburys of '80s Action Stars, but there were only five of those guys. This more resembles the cast of a '70s disaster movie, in which the trailer was basically just a recitation of famous actors' names while they stared up at something horrible happening in the sky. (Fred Astaire! Dom DeLuise! O.J. Simpson!) The ability to stuff so many people in one film isn't just the selling point—it's the project's one impressive achievement.
The Expendables 3 is easily the worst of a series that was never particularly good in the first place: more slapdash, lazier, mostly dull. But a review is sort of beside the point. The point is how all 17 of the actors on the official The Expendables 3 poster—and there are 17 actors on that poster, with only poor Robert Davi getting his name listed but his face left off—comported themselves in their few individual seconds of screen time. Wesley Snipes! Ronda Rousey! Whoa, Mel Gibson? Looking at the film through any other prism is a waste of time. So here's what each of them did this time out, in alphabetical order.
Antonio Banderas. Banderas plays a commando who desperately wants to be a part of the Expendables, but can't get Sylvester Stallone or Kelsey Grammer (who plays Sly's main recruiter, obviously) to give him a chance. He's one of the three or four best actors in this cast, but The Expendables 3 uses him exclusively as comic relief, and he dutifully mugs and vamps throughout. Amusingly, the minute Banderas comes onscreen, salsa music immediately begins playing on the soundtrack. This happens multiple times.
Randy Couture. The former MMA champ is 51 years old now, but frankly, he looks older than that; out of all the Expendables, he probably looks the most ancient. (Being regularly punched in the face for real, rather than all the fake punches his co-stars have taken, is likely a contributing factor here.) He's never saddled with too much dialogue in these movies, and that is probably for the best.
Terry Crews. Fans of Brooklyn Nine-Nine know how hilarious Crews is—in a cast full of very funny people, he's the show's most consistent source of laughs—but Stallone and company apparently have never watched the show, because they never give him anything funny to do. (I'll confess a certain cathartic thrill, however, when Crews takes out a massive machine gun—one still dwarfed by his cartoonish biceps—and yells, "Time to mow the lawn!" before firing into a whole gaggle of bad guys.) Presumably, Crews had schedule conflicts this time, because he's barely in the movie. He is shot and wounded early on—even though we've just seen Crews murder hundreds of people, the movie treats this injury as as grave an offense as any movie character has ever undergone—and is mostly absent from the rest of the film.
Robert Davi. It was very nice of Stallone to let Robert Davi's name be on the poster.
Harrison Ford. To see Ford—as revered a movie star as this franchise has ever approached—show up in an Expendables movie is to simply hope he escapes with his dignity intact. He makes it, mostly. He plays the secret government figure (named Operations Officer Drummer) behind all the Expendables' assignments, with an intensity that is absolutely unnecessary. (He's the sort of character who's constantly depicted in the back seat of a car, carrying a manila envelope.) It's thus a relief when, at the end of the movie, he dons a flight suit and starts shooting at shit from a helicopter. The only real cringe moment is when Ford, after blowing up a tank, yells, "Drummer's in the house!" No need for that, boys.
Mel Gibson. This is the first major film role for Gibson since, well, you know, everything, and I kept expecting him, playing the main bad guy (a former colleague of Stallone's, now wanted for war crimes) to cut loose and tap into that crazed, lunatic energy from Mad Max and the first Lethal Weapon. That guy may still exist, but maybe only when he's pulled over by the police, because here, when you look into his eyes, there's just no one home. That fire that drove Gibson's best performances—and he's easily the best actor in this film—has gone out; this is a man who doesn't really want to play anymore. His heart isn't in it. He looks like he'd just rather be at home. I'm not sure a Mel Gibson comeback is even possible—there are certain sins Hollywood just won't forgive, quite understandably—but if this is all the effort he's going to give, it doesn't look like he has much interest in a comeback anyway. Maybe everybody should just leave everybody alone after this.
Kelsey Grammer. As it turns out, Frasier Crane does not, in fact, fire any weapons in The Expendables 3. He's simply an old buddy of Sly's who helps him recruit a new generation of Expendables, for reasons the movie never quite explains. He wears a floppy hat, is constantly swigging out of a flask, and seems to be having a grand old time.
Jet Li. Li must have been busy: He's in the film for about 30 seconds and has only one line. There are still three jokes from other characters about how short he is.
Dolph Lundgren. No one in the whole cast looks more different than he did in his prime than Lundgren, who appears to have spent the decades since Rocky IV gargling turpentine. He still has that same lunkheaded goofiness, and this is the point where I remind you again that Dolph received a Fulbright scholarship from MIT.
Kellan Lutz. Part of the theoretical "new generation" of Expendables, Lutz is the next in the line of potential action stars that Stallone graces with an unofficial endorsement as The Next One before pushing him out of the way to take the spotlight himself. Lutz has potential, though, I'd argue. All the young actors in the movie give a lot more effort than their elderly counterparts, which I suppose makes sense.
Victor Ortiz. The championship boxer makes his cinematic debut as a weapons expert who we first see, lo, pounding a punching bag. The goal of any athlete making their first appearance in a movie is to avoid extreme embarrassment, and Ortiz mostly succeeds. Thankfully, salsa music does not play every time he shows up.
Glen Powell. I'll confess to having never heard of Powell before this movie—he's an up-and-coming Texan—but I'm going to assume he was cast as the technology expert because he's the only cast member capable of spitting out long stretches of technobabble dialogue coherently. That is not nothing.
Ronda Rousey. The UFC women's champion is of course introduced by kicking some jerks' heads in at a bar while wearing a dress—Stallone just can't believe a women could punch people like that! Aren't they just for fuckin'?—but later, she gets to put on her fatigues and really go to town. (On two separate occasions, she beats a guy to a bloody pulp and then shakes her head: "Men." One of these jokes probably would have sufficed.) Of all the young actors, she's easily the most believable action star—she kicks and stomps with impressive abandon. Her diction needs some work, but look at the rest of these guys: Their diction is just as bad or worse, and they've been doing this for 40 years. I bet this isn't the last time we see Rousey in a movie.
Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold and Stallone were actually sort of fun together in last year's Escape Plan, but here, Arnold just shows up like some sort of spectral presence, for no reason, out of nowhere. This is your typical late-era Arnold performance, looking like he just wandered onto the set, and the cameras just happened to catch him. He's smoking a stogie, he's trotting out his old catchphrases (he legit says, "Get to the choppaaaa!" twice), and he's back to his trailer in time to catch a nap and maybe bang the help. More power to him, I guess.
Wesley Snipes. Hey, Wesley Snipes! Wow! Welcome back, man! Snipes was once a truly exciting actor—Jungle Fever, The Waterdance, Sugar Hill—before becoming an action star and devolving into an endless spiral of Blade sequels. Then, of course, his tax problems sent him to jail for two and a half years—which seems like a long time?— before his release in 2013. He still has the old Snipes charm, and I hope he does something with this; it'd be fascinating to see what sort of demons an actor of Snipes' charm could conjure up from that experience. Here, he's a knives expert that Stallone breaks out of jail in the opening scene. When asked what he was in for, he says, "Tax evasion" and winks, because that's what sort of movie you're watching.
Sylvester Stallone. Because this whole franchise was his idea, Sly's always going to be at the center of these movies, which is sort of a shame—he has a certain dumb-guy charm. but remains a bit of a black hole as an actor, even after all these years. He's not the guy to build a movie like this around, particularly because his vanity is so overwhelming that it's sometimes all you can see. He's still an impressive physical actor: He sells every punch and scream and sprint away from an explosion like his life depends on it, even in his sixties. I wish he would direct these movies rather than just star in them; as a director, Stallone has a surrealist touch in his approach to violence that's irresistible. Here's a highlight reel from his final Rambo film in 2008, which is like Django Unchained's bloody shootouts, only drained of any self-reflexivity or irony. Which is to say they're sort of awesome.
Jason Statham. Still the best action star working, and still the guy you wish Sly would step aside and let do his business. Ford has some fun mocking his accent: "I can't understand what this guy is saying. Stop mumbling."
So, is this movie any good? No. You should probably see it anyway. These guys aren't going to live forever. (Right?)
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