It's obvious that a great deal of talent — one might even say genius — went into “The Expendables 3.” I refer, of course, to the work of the lawyers and agents who structured the deals and, even more, of the production people who had to organize the shoot to allow the most efficient use of the A-list stars in the smaller roles. Harrison Ford, Jet Li and Arnold Schwarzenegger were each presumably in and out within a few days; Mel Gibson a tad longer. Coordinating their schedules must have required a lot of organizational agility.
Some of the action icons who appeared in one or both of the two previous “Expendables” films (2010 and 2012) are missing in action this time around — Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude van Damme, Steve Austin and Gary Daniels for a start. Willis' absence is the source of one of the funnier throwaway lines.
In their places, we get first-timers Antonio Banderas, Wesley Snipes and a “new generation” of Expendables — Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Victor Ortiz and Glen Powell — whose recruitment is central to the plot.
In the 007 tradition, “Expendables 3” opens with a rock 'em, sock 'em action sequence of limited relevance to the rest of the film: Barney (central star Sylvester Stallone, who also directed the 2010 original), Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunner (Dolph Lundgren) and Toll Road (Randy Couture) bust former Expendable Doc (Snipes) out of captivity, as he is being transferred from one foreign prison to another — destroying the latter in the process.
This is followed in short order by another over-the-top sequence: Under orders from CIA desk jockey Drummer (Ford) — the replacement for Willis' Church — they pull off an operation in Mogadishu, during which Hail Caesar (Terry Crews) is seriously wounded. But Barney suffers an even greater psychological wound when he discovers that the target is Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), with whom he cofounded the Expendables. Barney believed he had killed the turncoat Stonebanks years ago, but the latter is alive and currently the world's number one illicit arms dealer.
Because the shaken Barney decides he needs to recruit new blood, he “fires” the old gang and brings in young 'uns — plus, through a fairly amusing plot contrivance, a new oldster, the motor-mouthing Galgo (Banderas). Another hour or so of bloodless carnage ensues.
Barney's dismissal of the old gang never really makes sense, and we know that, before the final credits, they'll arrive to save the day, and the two generations will learn to work together in harmony and appreciate each other's virtues and get all chummy and roast marshmallows together. There's a lot of talk about the kids bringing new skills to the table, but it's mostly vague and hypothetical; Thorn (Powell) is a hotshot hacker, but that's as far as it goes. More troublesome is their lack of heft on screen. They have little of the charisma — or at least the iconic familiarity — of the oldsters.
“The Expendables 3” is what it is, and, as bang-bang, blam-blam action spectaculars go, it goes down pretty smoothly — thanks to the sure hand of director Patrick Hughes (who has only one previous feature under his belt). There are a few decent stunt concepts amid all the shooting and blowing things up. Of course, the good guys hit their targets about 90% of the time, and the bad guys' hit rate is maybe 2%, but then realism is not really the point in this franchise and its ilk.
On the plus side, it has a lot more humor than the earlier entries, mostly provided by Banderas. On the down side, it's unnecessarily more than 20 minutes longer, which is — you should pardon the expression — overkill.
ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).