Back in 1985, much fuss was made over Rambo: First Blood Part II’s kill count of 69. Rambo III (1988) upped the ante to 132, Rambo IV (2008) clocked 236. Add those three figures together and you might, just might, get close to the number of body bags ordered up by Sylvester Stallone and his team of muscles-on-wrinkles lunkheads in The Expendables 3. The 12A certificate is explained by a curious absence of blood: ‘frequent moderate violence’ is how the BBFC describes the ceaseless carnage.
Kicking off with the rescue of ex-Expendable Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) after eight years spent in Russian clutches with access to neither scissors or razor, this third instalment of Stallone’s geri-action franchise serves up an armoured prison train, choppers, planes, speedboats, tankers, trucks, jeeps, missiles, guns and knives to make Crocodile Dundee wee himself in its first 15 minutes. Everything explodes, Caesar (Terry Crews) winds up in critical care and the target of the mission, arms dealer Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), flees unscathed.
Retiring his team for their own protection, Barney (Stallone) then zips across America and Mexico to gather a younger, even dumber team (Ronda Rousey, Kellan Lutz, Ortiz, Glen Powell) with the help of Kelsey Grammar’s grizzly Bonaparte. Also signing on is Antonio Banderas’ eccentric Galgo, his verbal diarrhoea driving everyone mad – most of all viewers. New guys and gal in place, a 36-hour window opens up to take down Stonebanks in Bucharest…
While the new team members fail to make much of an impression and Snipes, after his big introduction, is quickly forgotten, The Expendables 3 marks a sizeable improvement on the first two outings. Director Patrick Hughes (who made polished action-western Red Hill) brings bigger and slicker set-pieces, the zingers are, well, zing-ier (“It’s a great plan… if it was 1985”) and the self-mockery scathes, with digs made at Snipes’ tax evasion, Stallone’s stroke and, most dangerous of all, Jason Statham’s accent.
And if the cast is now too big to handle (the old team inevitably get back in on the action, allowing for much dick-waving between whippersnappers and grandpas) then Schwarzenegger at least has fun popping up to fire big guns, chomp bigger cigars and bark “Get to da choppa!” Harrison Ford’s operations officer Max Drummer, meanwhile, is a good deal more engaged, in every way, than Bruce Willis’ Church.
And what of Mad Mel? Well, he steals the show. If you locked Max, Riggs and the hand puppet from The Beaver in a cell for 24 hours, only Stonebanks would walk out. Whether Gibson can ever again play a hero is debatable, but everyone can agree he’s a great villain.
More sure-footed than Expendables 1 and 2, and considerably more pumped up – it pauses for neither breath nor a change of colostomy bag. Dumb fun.