The Expendables 3 (12A)

Sly Stallone and co return for another macho bout of sparring.

When a mission goes belly up Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) does the unimaginable and replaces his team with new recruits. It seems that the only way to settle bad blood, is with the introduction of new blood. And if all else fails, who cares they’re expendable after all!

The movie begins with Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) being rescued from a train. It’s the perfect excuse for a high-speed chase sequence with stuntmen leaping from carriage to carriage. Doc Death, we learn, has been in prison for tax evasion – just like the actor playing him. This sets the precedent for the entire movie.

Barney is beginning to worry that some of his crew are getting on a bit. His concern is reinforced when they screw up an operation to catch an unnamed target. So he tells the old guys to beat it and trades them in for younger models.

This new generation of Expendables includes Luna, played by the former Olympic judo medalist and top-rated UFC cage fighter Ronda Rousey. She is the only significant female character in the film but is woefully underused. She’s at the top of her (very savage) sport but the film treats her like a glorified Miss Moneypenny.

The younger Expendables are proficient in computer hacking and Evil Knievel-style motorbike tricks but they lack the true grit of their older forebears. The mission fast becomes a clash of classic old-school style versus high-tech expertise.

The plan is to take down Conrad Stonebanks (played by a lethargic Mel Gibson), the Expendables co- founder and notorious arms trader who’s hell bent on wiping out Barney and every single one of his associates.

Years ago, we’re not given the specifics, after Stonebanks “went dark” he gained the number one spot on Barney’s hit list. Until now Barney thought he had finished the job.

But just like any decent villain Stonebanks eluded death and is now making it his mission to end The Expendables at any cost.

It’s easy to keep track of Stonebanks because he’s greeted with a tuba blast of doom every time he appears on screen. We apparently need musical cues to remind us that Mel Gibson is a wrong ‘un. This is pretty basic stuff.

Still, there’s something in the macho sparring, the wanton death toll and the massive explosions that pulls you into the action once more. Plus, Sly’s not shy of giving the heartstrings the odd, brief yank. “We’re not the future anymore,” he tells his crew, staring glumly into a whisky glass.

Seconds later, he’s shaken the malaise and is back to murdering foreigners. It turns out you’re only as old as the henchmen you slaughter.

The Expendables movies are fast becoming the cinematic equivalent of Masters Football tournaments in which ageing players huff and puff their way around six-a-side pitches in a failed attempt to recapture the lost glories of their youth.

Stallone, Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger all carry on as if they are still in their burning, raging, action-movie pomp. They can’t quite hide the passing of time. Ford, now 72, looks smaller and more wizened than he did when he was playing Han Solo and Indiana Jones.

But don’t worry Schwarzenegger’s trademark quote is used like it’s going out of fashion much to the delight of the audience.

Barney and Stonebanks end up in a one-on-one (“mano a mano”) battle for supremacy and the movie ends on an epic but utterly nonsensical scale. But would you have it any other way? Probably not.

I enjoyed the movie in spite of its clumsiness and high body count. This was never going to be the hellish, explosion-fest that we’ve come to expect of an Expendables movie, not with a 12A rating.

Gibson and Antonio Banderas play their roles tongue-in-cheek, as if they are appearing in a pantomime at the Hackney Empire rather than in a serious action movie.

However the biggest problem is that the plot simply doesn’t stack up. The result is a movie full of action scenes interspersed with manly banter.

The movie lacks the romantic subplot of its predecessors, much to my delight. It’s as if the venerable action-heroes no longer have the energy for love as well as fighting. But hell who needs love when you can blow shit up?

By Ruth Walker
★★★☆☆

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