Expendables 3: No Movie This Stupid Should Be This Complicated

The final shootout is cool, though.
Phil Bray/Lionsgate

As far as movie franchises go, The Expendables series is less a genuine attempt to make actual action movies and more a cinematic equivalent of the Lillian Booth Actors Home: somewhere leathery, down-on-their-luck stars can go when they're in need of a warm bed and a nutritious, fiber-rich meal. "I like using people that had a moment and then maybe have fallen on some hard times," creator and now-established philanthropist Sylvester Stallone told Entertainment Weekly in 2011. "We also need some new blood in there, a Navy Seal-type, because with the Expendables, none of them have 20-20 vision anymore. They need some help, man."

In The Expendables 3, the latest installment in the franchise, the recipient of this last-action-hero largesse is Mel Gibson, who hasn't had much to do since Apocalpyto (public episodes of anti-Semitism, it turns out, are not so conducive to Hollywood careers). Gibson plays arms dealer Conrad Stonebanks (you have to assume Stallone and his two-co-writers used an action movie-algorithm for these names and roll with it, or you'll get a terrible headache), who, it transpires, was the co-founder of the Expendables with Barney Ross (Stallone) many (many) moons ago. Stonebanks and Ross were the two best friends and paid killing machines that anyone could have, until, as Stonebanks puts it, Ross's "pesky moral conscience" got in the way, forcing Stonebanks to ditch the merry band of mercenaries and become an international arms dealer.

That's it, really. And you could be forgiven for doubting the existence of this supposed moral conscience given the carefree manner with which Ross and returning Expendables Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture), and Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) off anonymous henchmen in the first 30 minutes. But they do manage to rescue Doctor Death, a one-time member of the group played by Wesley Snipes, who exists primarily to make jokes about tax evasion and engage in knife-throwing contests with Christmas.

After Caesar is gravely wounded in a showdown that simultaneously reveals the existence of Stonebanks, Ross, who’s played by an actor two years away from 70, ditches his team of 50-somethings because they're too old, which is a bit like octogenarian Hugh Hefner retiring Bridget Marquardt from his coterie of bunnies after she turned 35. This gives Ross the opportunity to bring in a new fleet of characters including Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer), a sort of recruitment professional for mercenaries who travels around the world with Ross helping him pick out a wrinkle-free crew.

During this montage of scenes in exotic locales, Stallone sports a series of ever-more-extraordinary outfits, including a pork-pie hat and a formal blazer that appears to be fashioned from a Navajo horse blanket. His face, meanwhile, is a shade of mahogany that might cause even John Boehner and George Hamilton to raise an eyebrow, and he has increasing difficulty forcing it into recognizable expressions. When Ross first sees Stonebanks, whom everyone has long believed is dead, his top lip quivers infinitesimally until it almost looks like a sneer—an approximation of what we're supposed to believe is rage. But his trademark growl, three octaves below a baritone, is as velvety as ever it was in the bygone Rocky/Rambo era.

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Sophie Gilbert is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees The Atlantic Weekly. She was previously the arts editor at The Washingtonian.

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